Sunday, July 7, 2013

Indian Updates: Part of Manipur's forests may be diverted for hydel project (7 Jul 2013)

Part of Manipur's forests may be diverted for hydel project

NEW DELHI: The environment ministry will consider clearing a whopping 300 sq km of forests for projects in the next meeting of its Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), the statutory body which appraises projects that require forest land.

The proposals before the FAC include the controversial Tipaimukh hydroelectric dam, which alone will require submergence of 227 sqkm of prime forest land in Manipur that will destroy 82.47 lakh trees.

This is the second largest forest diversion ever asked for, by a hydroelectric project in India. It involves vast swathes of forests and bamboo clumps on lands that are used by communities for shifting cultivation.

The project has been locked in controversy for years with Bangladesh too voicing concern about the project on Barak river.

The environment ministry records say, "Tipaimukh hydel project requires more than one-fifth of the total 118,184 hectares of forest land diverted for execution of 497 hydel projects in the entire country after the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into force. Requirement of 24,329 hectares of forest land for the project is the second largest for a single hydel project for which approval under the law has been sought so far."

It goes on to add, "The forest land required for the project is more than 100 times the average rate of diversion of forest land for 497 hydel projects for which approval under the FC Act has been accorded by the MoEF."

In 2012, the FAC had decided to send a sub-committee with external experts to review the project.

But the sub-committee visit did not materialize. In fact, the ministry of external affairs said the "Tipaimukh dam project is a very sensitive issue in Bangladesh," and recommended, "In light of this, it is requested that the visit may kindly be kept at a low profile without publicity/media interaction."

The sub-committee visit fizzled out with experts on board objecting to a hurried and superficial trip.

The area, by the government's own admission, is home to endangered flora and fauna. The senior-most state forest official has noted, "No compensatory measure would help in mitigating the adverse impact caused by loss of such large forest tracts on the habitat, flora, fauna, biodiversity, micro-climate and environment unless additional non-forest areas in affected districts or adjoining districts are taken up for compensatory afforestation."

The environment ministry too said, "Despite the compensatory afforestation in degraded forests in all the forest divisions, this vast stretch of forest area proposed for diversion shall be a net loss for the state's forest area, as well as forest cover."

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