Delays continue in India at 2,000-MW Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project

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Opposition continues to the 2,000-MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Power Project (LSHEP) at Gerukamukh, Dhemaji, India. On Nov. 11, local news outlets reported opposition groups stopped trucks carrying transformers and additional construction items for delivery to LSHEP.

Information is unclear on how the opposition made operators disembark the material, originally loaded from a warehouse in the District of Nagaon.

Work on LSHEP began in 2005, and published estimates for its development were US$1.16 billion. The run-of-river project consists of a concrete gravity dam and powerhouse in northeastern India, being developed by the state-run National Hydroelectric Power Corp. (NHPC). At the time, concrete completion was scheduled for February 2014.

In May 2003, then-India Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced the 50,000-MW Initiative, a program designed to add 50,000 MW of installed hydropower in 16 states by 2017. A total of 5,600 MW was planned on the Subansiri River in three projects that include the following:

• 2,000-MW Upper Subansiri HEP
• 1,600-MW Middle Subansiri HEP
• 2,000-MW Lower Subansiri HEP

The site borders the Assam and Arunachal Pradesh districts and is the largest NHPC project in India, according to NHPC. The actual dam is in Assam, 2.3 km from Gerukamukh, but the powerhouse is located in Arunachal Pradesh.

Soma Enterprise Ltd., one of the companies involved in development, said the LSHEP site has seen delays for a myriad of reasons, including monsoons, land use issues and unforeseen geological conditions.

Construction came to a halt Dec. 16, 2011, due to anti-dam protests launched by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and other organizations, according to government reports. Much of the opposition centers on amounts of water released from the dam. Local residents also think release amounts will have a negative impact on fishing in the Subansiri River and the people living downstream.

Additionally, a lawsuit to stay LSHEP construction filed by organizations that have vested interests in the dam’s operation was presented to the Supreme Court of India. But according to court records, the court declined to intervene in the case. As a result of the Supreme Court’s position, Assam Public Works (APW) sought redress of their specific concerns via the National Green Tribunal (NGT). APW President Abhijit Sarma filed a petition on behalf of the district with NGT in January.

According to India’s Ministry of Environments and Forests (MoEF), NGT operates under the authority of the “National Green Tribunal Act.” The act was adopted in 2010 by the Parliament of India as "An Act to provide for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."

Several delays have prevented NGT from hearing arguments, but on Oct. 20 NGT ordered the petitioner (APW) and the defendants (NHPC and MoEF) to appear before the tribunal on Dec. 10.

Published reports in India estimate LSHEP costs have exceeded US$1.97 billion and continue to rise each day the project is delayed.
 

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