By- Priyankan Goswami
After Arunachal Pradesh, dams and hydroelectric projects in Bhutan are what the people of Assam needs to be informed about and keep a close eye on. With no halt to the mega dam projects in Arunachal Pradesh in spite of multiple strong and angry protests by several public organizations in Assam, there is little chance that Government of India would take any proactive actions to ensure that dams and hydro projects under development in Bhutan does not create floods or other natural disasters in the Brahmaputra valley. The Indian Government would especially not want to interfere with Bhutan’s development since Bhutan has been acting as its obedient brother since 2003 when the small Himalayan Kingdom flushed out rebel outfits like the ULFA and NDFB from its jungles with military offense under India’s orders. As such it becomes imperative that any probable disaster that can range from hydro-projects and dams in Bhutan are looked upon by the people and public organizations of Assam and put pressure on the Government for any detecting any probable threat and preventing the same.
With NHPC entering into an agreement on 14th March with Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority set up by Royal Government of Bhutan, to extend engineering and design consultancy services for the Project, India has actually started extending support to such hydro-projects in the neighboring country. On the other hand, India’s old partner in dam and hydro-power projects, Hydroproject, one of Russia’s oldest engineering institutes specializing in the development and design of hydraulic engineering facilities, is involved in creating a unique hydro power complex in Bhutan, called the Sankosh River hydro power complex which is going to be one of the five tallest dams in the world with 4,000 MW capacity! Needless to say, with the Northeast India and Bhutan falling in a strong seismic zone, construction of such a mega dam is more of a threat to downstream Assam with people in lower Assam having to fear about not only sudden devastating floods but also huge losses to the ecological and biodiversity balance. The probability of earthquakes because of such huge dams, called Dam induced seismicity or Reservoir-induced Seismicity can not be ruled out too. For example, various reports including the one from NASA had reported that China’s 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which killed an estimated 80,000 people was caused due to Reservoir-Induced Seismicity (the phenomenon of earthquake due to dams) of the Zipingpu Dam. One can imagine what devastating effects such mega dams in Bhutan, only some hours drive from the capital of Assam, can have in a high seismic zone like Assam. It would also be worth mentioning that Hydroproject is also a part in design and construction of the upcoming 2,000 MW capacity, 230 meter high concrete dam in upper Subansiri river, which is estimated to be completed in 2016. Strangely there seems to be no discussion about this project either by the Government or by public activists who had been opposing construction of dams.
The Bhutan Government might have not realized the magnitude of adverse effects such mega hydro projects can have to neighboring Assam. Leave alone devastating floods and earthquakes, the risk of drop in soil productivity and depth, among other probable serious changes to Assam’s floodplain agriculture can not just be ignored. Unfortunately at dam conferences nowadays, the discussion centers on finding fresh markets to exploit and new ways to sell dams to a skeptical public. Bhutan is now a prey to exploitation through such obsolete and risk prone methods of hydro power and with India ready to play indifferent to its north-east region, the risk for the state and the people can only increase many fold. Bhutan, as a good neighbor, needs to prove and justify our people on why the dam is indeed required, along with some good Risk Assessment and Mitigation plans based on the severity & detection of all risks associated with the construction of big dam.
And to the public organizations like Krsihak Mukti Sangram Samiti or other organizations who have held strong anti-dam public rallies in the state, we can only appeal to open their eyes to the dams in Bhutan and not just focus on the Arunachal Dams. However, only shouting, protesting and staging against these issues will continue to keep us in the same place, unless we have a strong political support who cares for the people, someone who gets into the action mode and work out solutions. Alas! We do not seem to have such strong leadership in our motherland anymore.