The issue of big dam construction in the Northeast, which has been at the center stage in Arunachal Pradesh, is now steadily gaining momentum in the state of Assam as well. The situation has reached such a stage that the deliberations in the coming days may well decide the fate of the ruling Congress party in Assam.
This is certainly a big threat to the political agenda and the interest of the Unite Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government at the Center. Continuing to speak in political terms, the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam has also warned agitation programmes to resist mega dams in the NE region.
The environmental threats that mega dam projects like on Ranganadi and Kopli rivers and indeed the downstream impacts of big dams in Arunachal Pradesh are of great concern. Smaller dams like on river Kurichu in the neighbouring country Bhutan have already caused lot of damage to habitation in the Barpeta, Nalbari, Baksa, Kamrup, Morigaon, Nagaon and Lakhimpur districts of Assam.
Recently, the cry of local people in the region has been taken some heed by Union Minister of Environment and Forests, Mr. Jairam Ramesh. Mr. Ramesh has written to the Dr. Manmohan Singh led UPA Government to stop all dam construction work in thee region and requested for an assessment to study and survey the impacts that these proposed and ongoing dams will have on the region.
To increase momentum and gather and make louder local voices against such threats, the voluntary organization Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) has come forward in solidarity. The group has started a signature campaign with the aim to garner one lakh signatures and submit these, along with the memorandum, to the Prime Minister.
According to KMSS secretary Akhil Gogoi, “The agitation is aimed to be developed into a joint one with the involvement of all sections of the people and democratic organizations of the state and even the anti-dam peoples’ movements of the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh. It will not spare anyone siding with the mega-dam lobby and will also prevent drawing of the power grid line through Assam’s territory.”
During a rally organized by KMSS in July this year, noted social activist and leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan Medha Patkar condemned the Assam Government against allowing construction of mega dams on the Brahmaputra River. She had warned, “The people of Assam and the northeast would revolt if such dams are allowed to go ahead. Construction of dams would kill the Brahmaputra and kill the people of the region and we shall never let such projects to continue”.
Besides KMSS, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK) held an interactive meet at Gerukamukh on October 24 with the members of the Expert Group that studied the Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Power Project (LSHEP) along with general public on the mega dam issue . In its final report the Expert Group suggested that the construction activities of the LSHEP should be brought to an end.
It has also forbidden construction of any mega dam in the seismically sensitive foothill areas of the Himalayas. Another group Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has also threatened a vigorous agitation on the mega dam issue if the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi fails to withdraw support of the mega dam lobby and extend unwavering support to the recommendations made by the Expert Group and the Assam Assembly House Committee on the issue.
It definitely will take long to ensure a fair decision and steps for environmental protection of the Northeast region. And perhaps even longer to ensure that the region witnesses only ‘sustainable’ development. But the first steps have already been taken, thanks to the social activists and civil organizations who have come forward to become the green voices of the region and who are now acting at the local level to demand change that will surely have positive global impacts.