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Dam Concern

'Dam Concern' From The Sentinel, Arunachal Pradesh edition, August 14, 2010

According to the Arunachal Citizens’ Right (ACR), the attempt by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to assert the ‘‘first user’’ rights on the rivers of Arunachal Pradesh in order to ‘‘negotiate’’ with China has not gone down well with the various sections of society in the State. Coming out openly against the stand, the ACR has termed the decision of the Centre to impose large storage dams on Subansiri, Siang and Lohit rivers as ‘‘unilateral’’. In a statement issued in Itanagar, the organization said that when the policy of large dams in Arunachal Pradesh had already created a controversy in the State, with communities living in the various river basins of Subansiri, Siang and Dibang registering their strong protests against the mega dam projects, making storage dams a fait accompli was an affront on the people of the State. They are people who remain pawns in the larger energy security policy of the government and now in the geopolitical relations between India and China, the ACR said. ‘‘Rather than making us, the people of Arunachal Pradesh, the sacrificial lambs and guinea pigs in the India-China geopolitical strategy and negotiations, India should immediately explore the possibility of a discussion with China on the issue of riparian rights and sharing of the water of rivers which flow through both the countries,’’ the organization added.

It is incumbent on MoEF Minister Jairam Ramesh to pay heed to voices like that of ACR. This organization has raised a very valid point: that instead of making the people of Arunachal Pradesh sacrificial lambs and guinea pigs, New Delhi should start negotiations with Beijing on the issue of riparian rights and sharing of the water of rivers that flow through both the countries. This newspaper would like to add that if such a dialogue process is initiated, which is unlikely though, given the kind of mess that Indian diplomacy has turned out to be, New Delhi must talk from a position of strength. But since this is unlikely, the question now is whether the people of both Arunachal Pradesh and Assam likely to be affected by the mega dam projects would be left to fend for themselves; whether for the government ‘‘strategic edge’’ due to such dam projects rates a far higher priority than the lot of a helpless people likely to endangered by the business of dams. Ramesh says that dams are critical not just from the point of view of generating electricity but also from the strategic point of view. But the minister is choosing to overlook the fact that anything strategic related to Arunachal Pradesh in relation to China’s aggressiveness cannot be so centred on dams. Ramesh’s is an excuse. His is also an attempt to add an unnecessary strategic dimension to the issue. It is bizarre that the MoEF should treat the mega dams issue as a strategic concern when what is really strategic is world-class infrastructure development in Arunachal Pradesh on the same scale and as marvellously as done by China on the other side of the border with the State. What is also strategic is how New Delhi deals with Beijing’s routine claim that not just Tawang but the whole of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory. The idea that India will be able to further assert its position on Arunachal Pradesh by building dams on its rivers, despite expert opinion against it, is ridiculous.

Assam has already demanded that the inter-ministerial group studying the water resources of the region should determine if such dams are safe in what is a highly seismic zone. Expert opinion ought to matter the most. Reckless construction of mega dams in a zone known for intense tectonic activities as a replacement for namby-pamby diplomacy is unacceptable. Ramesh is a well-educated minister. One hopes he would act sensibly.