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India Approves Its Largest-Ever Hydropower Project along China border despite Environmental Concerns

Introduction: India has approved its largest-ever hydropower project in the northeastern region bordering China. The project is estimated to generate 2,880 megawatts of power and has an estimated investment of 319 billion rupees ($3.9 billion). The project is expected to take nine years to build and will be built over 5,000 hectares of forest land. The government has classified hydropower as renewable energy, and India sees it as key in its transition away from coal. However, large-scale environmental damage and dislocation of communities to construct dams have hampered those plans.

Picture: Kumaon Jagran

Background: India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and with a population of over 1.3 billion, the demand for power is high. To meet the rising demand for power, the Indian government has been focusing on increasing its renewable energy capacity. In this regard, hydropower has been given significant importance due to its ability to provide a consistent and reliable source of energy.

Hydropower and Environmental Concerns: Hydropower is a clean and renewable source of energy that does not produce greenhouse gases. However, the construction of hydropower projects often involves the displacement of local communities and the destruction of natural habitats. The construction of dams can also have significant environmental impacts, such as altering the flow of rivers, causing sedimentation, and reducing the availability of water downstream.

In the case of the Dibang project, the construction of the dam is expected to displace local communities and cause significant environmental damage. Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator for nonprofit South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, and People, has expressed concern about the viability of such projects due to the high cost and low benefits.

Project Timeline and Potential Risks: The project is estimated to take nine years to build, and the estimated investment includes 67.2 billion rupees of government support for flood moderation and enabling infrastructure, such as roads and bridges connecting the construction site. However, several other projects in the Himalayan region are running years behind their original schedule, with some blamed for loosening the earth and forcing local evacuations.

Thakkar has also expressed concern about the potential risks associated with the project, given that the Himalayan region is a disaster-prone area. He argues that every such project is going to act as a force-multiplier for potential disasters.

Conclusion: While hydropower has the potential to provide a consistent and reliable source of energy, the construction of large-scale hydropower projects often involves significant environmental and social costs. The Dibang project, which has been approved by the Indian government, is expected to displace local communities and cause significant environmental damage. Given the potential risks and concerns expressed by experts, it is important that the project is implemented in a manner that minimizes the environmental and social costs and ensures the safety of local communities.

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