With concerns being raised over the adverse effects of the Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project in Assam, Environment and Forests Minsiter Jairam Ramesh Thursday indicated that it may not be scrapped, though efforts will be made to minimise the downstream impact.
'I cannot assure that the project will be stopped, but we will take all necessary measures to ensure there is no adverse effect of Subansiri on the downstream area,' Ramesh said replying to a calling attention motion in the Rajya Sabha on the environmental impact of big dams in the northeastern region.
'I can't become the minister to stop all projects,' Ramesh added.
The minister said that he will visit Assam Sep 10 and consult experts and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), which is building the dam, to find ways to minimise the environmental damage.
NHPC is developing the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydro Power project in Dhemaji district of Assam.
An eight-member expert committee from IIT-Guwahati, Gauhati University and Dibrugarh University has recommended a thorough review and redesign of the 115-metre high dam on the Subansiri river, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. Environment groups and the All Assam Students Union have demanded the immediate stoppage of work.
The expert committee submitted its report to NHPC in June.
Clarifying that the concept of downstream impact is a recent one, the minister said that for future projects, it will be ensured that these issues are also considered.
'For all the projects which have not got clearance so far, we will not be insensitive as in past. River basin and downstream studies will be conducted and if a project has an adverse impact, it will not be given environmental clearance,' Ramesh assured the House.
The minister said that dams were critical not only from the point of view of creating clean electricity but also from the strategic point of view.
'The dams are also of strategic importance. If we don't build dams on the Siang River (in Arunachal Pradesh), our claim from China will weaken,' he said adding: 'The dams in Bhutan are also of strategic importance so don't say anything against our dams in Bhutan'.
Ramesh said that while rivers in Arunchal Pradesh had potential for producing 50,000 MW of power, harnessing the potential without damaging the environment was the challenge.
The minister added that an audit of already constructed dams is also being undertaken to ensure their viability.