Skip to content Skip to navigation

Gogoi's Dam in a quagmire?

In 2007, scholars, academicians, intellectuals, journalists, student bodies and members representing the civil society submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India apprising him of the negative effects of Big Dams. It has since then cost a series of events, campaigns, protests, demonstrations and arrests to mobilze and drive home the point that describes well the imapct of Big Dams in the lower reaches.


Even as India ranks 5th in the world in terms of explotable hydro potential, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan is confident of not constructing any dams on the Ganga. “...No dam is allowed to be built that lessens the flow or create problems to the lower riparian states,” she assured during a Lok Sabha debate in December 2011. But Gerukamukh and the people inhabiting either stretches of the River Brahmaputra are not lucky. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is toeing the line between NHPCL and the Centre and is oblivious of his peoples' aspiration and resentment. He is confident that he will be able to demand a larger share of power and nevertheless believes that the $2 billion 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydel Project which was supposed to be completed by September 2010 is a dire need of the hour. In the process he buried under the carpet important factors like ecological imbalance and rehabilitation & resettlement.


According to Peter Bosshard, Policy Director at International Rivers, French export credit agency Coface provided $100 million in funding for Subansiri's turbine contract. According to official data, only 38 families will be displaced if the dam is completed. Yet the project will wreak havoc with the agriculture and rich ecosystems of the Subansisri and Brahmaputra floodplains. Meantime quarrying at Subansiri has already killed the elephant corridor along Assam-Arunachal Pradesh escalating man-elephant conflict.


The 60 MW Kurichu Dam overspill in 2011 submerged number of villages in Lower Assam and clogged the approaches to the Manas WildLife Santuary. The Government of Bhutan and its media however refutes this and earlier such occurances for reasons known best to them. On the other hand about 2/3rd of the Kaziranga National Park submerged with water fed from the River Brahmaputra that rose above the danger level at several places in Upper Assam devastating agricultural land. These are thin instances but the scenario of NHPCL backed dams underway is altogether different even citing the most advanced technological strides as cue. Big Dams harbor the capacity to change the entire demography of the State siting on Seismic Zone V whether it be for the absence of an adverse-effect fallback plan or taking into account the vagaries of climate change.


Climate change is likely to cause such changes in local and regional weather and climate patterns that would jeopardise dam operations and trigger more complex and intensive impacts downstream. It has been projected that Himalayan river basins like that of the Brahmaputra river may experience increased summer flows and more flooding for a few decades initially, due to rapid melting of Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan snow and glaciers according to Damming the Northeast India - a well documented paper brief by researchers Neeraj Vagholikar and Partha J Das.


GPS studies have shown that due to geodynamic processes (i.e., tectonic plate movements) different stress patterns have developed within the surface causing large magnitude earthquakes in the Himalayan region. Geoscientist have proved that large scale anthropogenic interventions by storing huge volume of water within the mountainous gorges can influence the plates and geodynamic movements. This corroborates what the tectonically active zone of Assam would hold in the future. The Northeast Himalayan region of India is one of the most seismically hazardous zones in South Asia according to the International Geographical Correlation Programme. As for downstream impacts the most common downstream effect of large dams is reduction of flood peaks, thereby reducing the frequency, extent and duration of floodplain inundation. Reduction of channel-forming flows reduces channel migration.


Assam in the very first place does not have an effective contingency plan in place for earthquakes where directives for constructing high rises is concerned. The capacity and claim to be able to avert situations arising due to dams is nothing less than sort of political shortsightedness in support of the Look East Policy. LEP pursues four broad objectives: reform and liberalisation, sustained rapid growth, regional economic integration and equity-based development. The LEP is seen as instrumental in addressing internal disparity in India’s development, and fostering more equity-based growth. The economic development of India’s seven north-eastern states in particular lags behind the nation’s development. They have felt neglected in terms of investment and government spending for some time. Through the LEP, India hopes that linking its north-eastern region with peninsula South-East Asia will kick-start economic development, and help the seven states to develop infrastructure, logistics, agrobusiness, trade, investment and other commercial activities. Trade with South-East Asia also has the potential to turn the region from land- locked to land-linked25, providing India with land routes to Burma, Thailand and other peninsular South-East Asian countries. While the LEP is an initiative from the central government, the seven north-eastern states are strong supporters of the policy. With all these and more Assam has not been able to prepare for a possible seismic disaster.


The issue is gathering steam because neither the State nor the Centre has been able to openly describe the measures under formulation to contain downstream impact for the 208 MW of the 2000 MW share earmarked for Assam as per the notification of the Union Ministry of Power. The excess 1792 MW is intended to be traded to power deficient states to help generate revenue much at the cost of environmental degradation and the people. The Electricity Act 2003 provides an option to the power producers to sell their electricity whereby they are not required to route their power through the State Electricity Boards.


In absence of the Central Dam Safety Organization as proposed in the Dam Safety Bill 2010, dam safety guidelines laid by the Central Water Commission escapes check. NHPCL in its Downstream Impact Study of the Ongoing Subansiri Lower Power Project at Gerukamukh Report vide clause 9 assures that study showed that the downstream of the river harbours a rich fish diversity (138 species) with other aquatic animals in abundance depicting the example of a good ecosystem. Any alteration of river flow and physico-chemical characteristics of water due to regulation of the river will have an adverse impact on the whole ecosystem and especially, migratory fish like mahseer and other giant cat fishes. Clause 10.2.2 Part-II of the Report states that even after redesigning of the dam, its operation will have many environmental and socio-economic problems in the downstream. To minimise the imapact 31 recommendations have been suggested to counter eventualities which seems to have vaporised now. The WAPCOS Demwe Project EIA on the other hand has been outrightly flayed and dismissed by the MoEF.


The downstream people will loose their habitats and trades - their agriculture and fishing for good. The Governments of Assam and India have chosen to gamble with its laws and natural resources and is itself in a catch 22 with a string of dams, big money half-spent and power profits at stake while regional, national and international anti-big dam bodies are closely watching. Its time Tarun Gogoi makes public how he proposes to protect a geography referred to as a Very High Damage Risk Zone by seismologists. He is pretty close to receive the study report from the Group of Ministers assigned for the purpose with about 50% of the dam completed.




Author info

Syed Miraz Ahmed's picture

Writes, edits and researches. In 2013 he was conferred the Rotary International District 3240 Young Achiever Award for his work in the area of environment and digital journalism. In 2006 he was awarded first in the category of Wildlife Photography by the Department of Environment & Forests and Tourism, Government of Assam.

Add new comment

Random Stories

Armed Arunachali Miscreants attack Assam Forest office

26 Jul 2007 - 1:10pm | editor
Lakhimpur : A group of miscreants from Arunachal entered into Assam on Thursday morning and attacked the forest officals in the forest office at Dulumukh. 13 people were injured including 2 Assam...

ULFA attacks tea estate office

18 Jun 2010 - 4:04pm | editor
Sensation prevails in Tinsukia after suspected Ulfa men torched a tea estate office on Thursday. Four armed youth came to the manager's office of Bajrangapur tea garden and sought manager Indra Barua...

Health Check-up for Scribes at GPC

30 Jan 2012 - 2:00pm | Nava Thakuria
Down Town Hospitals have organized a health check-up camp for the scribes at Guwahati Press Club on February 1, 2012. The camp, organized to celebrate the anniversary of the DT hospitals, will...

Bomb blast in Paltanbazar

28 Jul 2013 - 9:06pm | AT News
Guwahati slips into a reign of terror amid fear of ULFA attacks when a powerful bomb explosion rattled the city on Sunday evening leaving atleast 8 people injured. The explosion took place in...

Other Contents by Author

The U.S. Consulate General, Kolkata in collaboration with social enterprise Contact Base, is launching a youth entrepreneurship initiative – Y4BIZ (Youth for Business) in four cities Guwahati, Patna, Ranchi and Kolkata. The program in Guwahati took place in association with the local organization, Startup Assam. The Y4BIZ program aims to support a promising group of 50 young entrepreneurs, and transform their business ideas from the initial stage to a sustainable business model. The 50 entrepreneurs will be selected by a rigorous screening process after the launch events in all four cities. This will be followed by an online capacity building and mentoring program run by the IC2...
The People’s Democratic Council of Karbi-longri (PDCK) Thursday rubbished what it term ed as a “strange” news report aired by News 18 on November 7, 2017 with graphics of photographs and videos on the basis of a police claim. “The news report emphatically asserted that our Home Secretary, Mir-ang Sir-ang was and is directly involved in cases of poaching rhinos in the Kaziranga National Park. The allegation made by the greedy Assam Police personnel and corrupt forest department officials against PDCK and its Home Secretary for killing rhinos is baseless and fabricated. It is an insinuation of the worst kind manufactured out of thin air in order to tarnish the image of this promising...
Investigators from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) returned to India this week to continue the search for remains of U.S. personnel missing since World War II.  Last year, DPAA deployed a team to northeast India for 30 days in search of remains for unaccounted-for U.S. airmen, and this is their fifth mission to India since 2013. There are approximately 400 U.S. airmen missing in India, most of whose remains are believed to be located in the Himalayan Mountains in northeast India.  During World War II, the United States provided supplies to the Chinese Army by flying over the Himalayas, a route known as “The Hump.”  Many of these aircraft went missing and were...
The People's Democratic Council of Karbi-longri (PDCK) an affiliate of the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWSEA) Sunday condemned the atrocities committed by what it terms ‘Indian occupation forces’ upon two arrested persons, namely Rau Engleng and Longsing Teron.  “They used electric shocks and beating as a method of torture to extract information and forced them to confess. These practices are gross violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Convention,” said the outfit.  Stating statutes, PDCK said that occupation forces should recognize the International Humanitarian Law and the Law of Armed Conflict, which protect persons as a target for...
One Planet Academy, a digital portal was launched ​in Guwahati on Wednesday as a part of WWF-India’s initiative in partnership with Capgemini to create awareness ​in the area of environment and ​ ​ educate students and citizens through an interactive ​ interface​. Leveraging the affinity of today’s learners towards technology, the website focuses on various environmental themes and is a digital hub for schools, teachers and students that brings under its ambit a digital training and resource centre. One Planet Academy is the first of its kind digital hub for environment education for schools, teachers, students and citizens. The OPA is designed to be a one stop destination for engaging not...
The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, Sunday filed an FIR at Bhangagarh Police Station, Guwahati, seeking immediate arrest and prosecution under the Criminal Procedure Code following remarks made by Jorhat Lok Sabha Constituency MP, Kamakhya Prasad Tassa on Saturday in a meeting held at Sonari in Charaideu District. Tassa described Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi as 'garbage' in the presence of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. 
The final round of the 10th International Edition of the Wild Wisdom Quiz, organised by WWF-India and Discovery Kids in association with Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), was held at WWF-India, New Delhi on October 6, 2017.The event saw participation from 28 city level winners across the country and 2 winners from Nepal.Wild Wisdom Quiz has grown in strength over the last decade and has reached beyond the country, with Nepal running its first edition of the quiz in 2017. In India, the Wild Wisdom Quiz is being run across 817 schools in 14 cities with participation from approximately 50,000 students. Run in the format of a competition, the quiz is a fun way to help children learn...
Organized by Abiogenesis Society with sponsorship from North East Council, Ministry of DoNER, Shillong; Artist Aloud as Digital Promotion Partner, Asian News International (ANI) for international news coverage and Doordarshan Kohima Kendra for live telecast, the festival aims to showcase music made by indigenous social groups of the region.The main event on October 7, will see a very strong line up at IMC Hall, Dimapur from 5:30 pm featuring eight renowned artistes and bands.They are: Summersalt – a folk fusion band from Meghalaya who has been featured in the Bollywood film Rock On 2, Jambili – a folk fusion band from Assam, Imphal Talkies – a six member folk rock band from...
​​A land without ruins is a land without memories – a land without memories is a land without history: so wrote Reverend Abram Joseph Ryan, an American poet, popularly known as the Poet – Priest of the South and also as the Poet-Laureate of the Confederacy. Ruins are not alone physical remains of a building or a structure, but embodiment of memories. The past is deeply entrenched in them. Even in a stage of dilapidation, besides the stories of glory and loss, they also weave narratives of a sense of being part of that past which stand right there to be touched and felt. The historical monuments of the pre-colonial Dimasa state today lie in a state of ruins across vast geographical areas...
The proscribed United Liberation Front of Asom [ULFA-Independent] expresses delight in the arrival of the under seventeen Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup soccer matches in homeland Assam. “I, on behalf of my organisation, thank FIFA for bringing International Football to this remote part of the world and a warm welcome to the FIFA officials and players of different nations to Assam,” states Abhizeet Asom, the elusive Chairman of the outfit.He believes that the people of Assam will immensely benefit by the experience, learning about international standards in football by witnessing the ways and manners of the teenage players from different countries and...