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Arunachal Pradesh granted Petroleum Exploration Licenses to OIL

Arunachal Pradesh has granted Petroleum Exploration Licenses (PEL) to Oil India Limited (OIL) for exploration of petroleum products in seven new blocks and one for a block as extension to the existing Jairampur block. Chief Minister Pema Khandu handed over the licenses to OIL Chief General Manager (FB) Inderjit Baruah and his team here this morning.

In a meeting with the Chief Minister last September, OIL officials had urged the state government for early issuance of Forest Clearances (FC) for the identified blocks so that Environment Clearance can be obtained from the Central Ministry to begin survey and exploration.
Baruah profusely thanked the Chief Minister for fast-tracking and completing the process within a short span of time enabling OIL to start its explorations from this month.

The exploration blocks awarded to OIL spreads across Changlang, Tirap, Lohit, East Siang, West Siang and Lower Dibang Valley districts.
Wishing all the best to OIL, Khandu requested the PSU to keep in loop with the local administration during exploration, which includes explosions, so that people in the vicinity can be intimated in advance besides putting in place precautionary measures.

He also suggested that the PSU may adopt public utility facilities like roads, which are exclusively used by the company. This he said would facilitate better cooperation and support from the local populace. He also urged for providing services to the locals through the PSU’s CSR activities.

Khandu further emphasized that a part of the royalties received through such projects should be utilized on development and welfare of the local people in the vicinity. He asked Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar, who was also present in the meeting, to ensure this by putting in a place a robust mechanism.

“Local people of the district where such projects are developed should get first preference on the benefits from the project,” he asserted.
The Chief Minister was informed that exploration of each block consists of two phases viz initial exploration phase and subsequent exploration phase. Exploration period of each phase is about 3 years with a provision for additional one year extension. The total exploration period is for 8 years.

The grant of licenses for the aforementioned blocks would lead to significant increase in exploration and production activities in oil sector in Arunachal Pradesh. In the long run discoveries from these blocks would go towards enhancing domestic production of petroleum and reduction of import dependence of the country.

It may be noted that in order to accelerate exploration activities in the country, Govt of India had offered 55 exploration blocks spread across offshore and onshore areas under the Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP) and Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP) Bid Round-1.

The Directorate General of hydrocarbon (DGH), Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas conducted bidding of exploration blocks under OALP Bid Round-1 from 19th Jan, 2018 that concluded on 2nd May, 2018.

Under this bidding process OIL bagged 9 blocks, 7 of which falls in Arunachal Pradesh. In addition, the Ministry also granted the Jairampur Extension PEL Block measuring an area of 23.25 sq km falling under Changlang district to OIL on nomination basis.

Meanwhile, the OIL officials informed that the detail project report for the proposed pipeline from Kumchai (Kharsang) in Arunachal Pradesh to OIL’s Duliajan FGS in Assam for transportation of natural gas is complete and submitted to the state government as directed. The proposed cross country pipeline would cover a distance of 60 kms of which 18.85 kms will be within Arunachal territory. Once it starts functioning, the natural gas, which at the moment is burnt off without much utilization, can be put to commercial use earning revenue for the state government. (Northeast Today)


Bridge on the river Brahmaputra in Tibet completed

The construction site of a bridge crossing the Yarlung Zangbo River of Lhasa-Nyingchi railway in Sangri County of Shannan, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The rail-laying work of a 4,615-meter-long bridge crossing the Yarlung Zangbo River of Lhasa-Nyingchi railway was completed on Sunday. The Lhasa-Nyingchi railway features complex geological conditions, with a total length of 435 km, 75 percent of which are bridges and tunnels. The construction work began in 2015 and is expected to be completed in 2021.

The rail-laying work of a 4,615-meter-long bridge crossing the Yarlung Zangbo River of the Lhasa-Nyingchi railway in Sangri County, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, was completed on Sunday.

The Lhasa-Nyingchi railway features complex geological conditions, with a total length of 435 km, 75 percent of which are bridges and tunnels. The construction work began in 2015 and is expected to be completed in 2021.

The construction site of a bridge crossing the Yarlung Zangbo River of the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway in Sangri County of Shannan, Tibet. /VCG Photo

(Cover: The construction site of the bridge crossing the Yarlung Zangbo River of the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway in Sangri County of Shannan, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. /VCG Photo)


Bhutan launches national policy for energy efficiency, conservation

THIMPHU- – Bhutan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs launched the much-awaited National Policy for Energy Efficiency and Conservation on Monday.

The policy is formulated to help govern the demand side of energy management and serve as a guiding tool for all sectors to implement energy efficiency and conservation measures.

According to the ministry, this policy would focus on energy use in building, industry, transport and household appliances. The energy efficiency and conservation measures in these four sectors will reduce the energy consumption.

The policy is expected to reduce import of petroleum, dependence on fossil fuel through various alternative solutions and efficient use of resources, officials said.

While hydropower electricity remains the top source of revenue towards GDP growth, over the years the import of fossil fuels have increased drastically, according to the ministry.

In 2018 Bhutan imported close to 108 million-U.S. dollar worth of fossil fuel that accounted for more than 67 percent of the earrings from hydropower export. In 2017 the import of fossil fuel accounted for about 71 percent of the revenue earned from export of hydropower.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma welcomed the launch of the policy. The four sectors of building, industry, transport and household appliances have potential to save energy if used efficiently, he said.

As per government record, the building sector in Bhutan contributed to 42 percent of the total energy consumption in 2014, while the industry sector consumed 37 percent. The transport sector consumed 19 percent of the total energy.

Successful implementation of this policy will help save at least 155 kilowatts of electricity in a year, the policy stated.


Resolve deep differences on implementation modality

Bhutan and India Governments has not been comlied with the implementation modalities for the 2560 MW Sunkosh Hydropwer Project. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bhutan in August 2019 the joint statement of both the governments said, that given the the huge benefits that would accrue to both countries from the 2560 MW Sunkosh, they agreed to finalize the implementation modalities for the Project at the earliest to enable commencement of construction.

However, it is exactly major differences over this implementation modality which has pushed the project into a deep quagmire.

It has been learnt that even after numerous meetings, including a recent one in October 2019, the Indian side still wants to adopt the Turnkey model whereby they want to hand over the project design and construction to an Indian Public Sector Undertaking company which will have full control with no Bhutanese role.

The PSU in question being considered by India maybe the National Hydropower Corporation of India.

The Bhutanese side is dead against this as this would mark a big departure from the current system of shared management control and more so because the course of the design and construction of Bhutan’s biggest hydro project would be out of Bhutanese hands.

The heart of the problem seems to be the opposing lessons that the Indian and Bhutanese sides have taken from the much delayed Punatsangchu I project.

The Indian side seems to be of the view that since there was shared management control in P I there was nobody really accountable and instead blame was being laid at the door of certain technical agencies like the consultants of the project among others.

The thinking in India is to implement Sunkosh in the same manner as hydro projects are done in India with a single PSU being in charge and accountable for everything from design to construction.

On the Bhutanese side the lesson learnt is that significant reforms and changes have to be made but the current joint management system must continue as it is a bilateral project.

One problem that has been identified by the Bhutanese side is that the Authority can meet only a few times a year and this delays decision making. Another issue is the need for more technical and qualified people.

A host of these issues were identified in Bhutan’s High Level Hydropower Committee Report which studied the issues under a microscope and in over three detailed reports.

The suggestion from the Bhutanese side is to have joint management control with the the key change being that the authority appointing an ‘Executive Committee’ of hydropower and technical experts and delegating it powers to manage the project construction and also take decisions.

Unlike the current system, there would be hire and fire powers and people would be hired and paid based on competence and fired for not being able to do a good job.

The High Level report had said that the current practice of appointing management teams by respective governments could be done away with and instead the governing bodies should agree to select and appoint professional management teams based on competencies and whose retention should be based on performance.

It calls for competitive selection processes in the selection and appointment of project employees, while there should be preference should be given to Bhutanese and to building local capacity.

With increased Bhutanese loan components in the GOI projects, the report calls for more active participation of the Bhutanese from the preparation of DPRs to the approval of DPRs to project financing and management. The Indian proposal would run counter to this too.

Bhutan has around 1500 professionals in the hydropower sector right from the Chukha days and they could be involved in the Sunkosh project.

One factor that the Bhutanese side has also looked at is that none of the hydro projects built in India by Indian PSUs have either been on time or within the budget. In fact, on an average Bhutanese projects have been completed much faster and in budget with the joint management system and with comparatively cheaper tariff rates.

The Bhutanese side has also had an unpleasant experience with Indian PSUs when it came to the four joint venture projects. Bhutan had agreed to the JVs with the anticipation that it would be faster and more efficient but the reality was the opposite.

From day one there were several issues with the PSUs making unreasonable demands that even violated the agreement between the two countries, refusing to come with their share of funding, fighting for additional control and many other issues.

The poor quality equipment supplied by Indian PSU BHEL in Mangdechu and other projects before it has also not inspired much confidence.

The Bhutanese position is that ultimately the project will be owned in Bhutan and stay in Bhutan and so it would be crucial to have Bhutanese management and people who will remain accountable.

Bhutan’s hydropower sector has also been roundly criticized by its own citizens for building much more projects than Nepal but still being behind Nepal in hydro skills and capacity.

The Sunkosh management control issue ultimately goes back to the P I project. The Indian side sees complete control by a PSU as a solution while for the Bhutanese it is equivalent to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

However, if one were to take a closer look at the origin of the P 1 problem a major portion of the blame can be assigned to flawed technical advice given by the lead consultant and Indian PSU, Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) and its partner Central Water Commission (CWC) which is also an Indian government agency that advises on civil works in P I.

A Joint Audit Report conducted by the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) of Bhutan and the Comptroller General Audit of India (CAG) for the period -April 2012 to March 2013 showed that the PHPA, its main consultant WAPCOS and the CWC knew that there were geological weaknesses at the right bank area but still went ahead with the tendering of the dam on the same site in 2009.

A geo technical appraisal report prepared by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) saying GSI had identified some weak geological features at the dam site was deliberated by officials from GSI, CWC and WAPCOS on 10th February 2009. The report pointed out that this may entail additional cost.

The GSI report also said that additional investigations were required for the exact delineation of the weak geological features.

However, Chief Engineer of Designs CWC in the 10th February 2009 meeting had said, “The only additional information is about the presence of shears and faults in the left and right abutment. These faults can be satisfactorily addressed technically but may entail additional cost. Thus the dam location and layout of various project components remain as shown in the tender drawings and no review thereof is warranted on geological considerations.”

So instead of conducting further investigations before awarding the tender, in what was both a cavalier and procedurally questionable manner, PHPA’s consultant WAPCOS, on behalf of GSI, issued a clearance for the project dam bids to be opened on 16th February 2009.

Finally, work was awarded by PHPA to the dam contractor Larsen and Toubro on 27th March 2009.

However, an investigation report conducted between 29th April 2009 and 17th September 2009 by GSI showed serious problems in the current right bank of the project.

After the first major slide in July 2013 CWC had claimed that it has the expertise and capacity to resolve the issue but two more slides occurred in 2016 and 2019 pushing back the project dates each time.

Bhutan’s High Level Committee Report in fact calls for the separation of consultants between project investigations and actual project implementation as the practice of retaining the same consulting firm compromises the possibilities for changes and innovations and is also a conflict of interest.

While Turnkey is the main issue both sides have also been discussing on the financing modality. The Bhutanese side is pushing for 70 loan and 30 grant to be given by India like in the current projects.

The Indian side has given options one of which includes 80 loan and 20 grant and another is a taking a loan from the EXIM bank in India.

The Bhutanese side is insisting on 70 and 30 and that while India can get the loan from any source it should be gotten by the Indian government.

The parameters of tariff negotiations for Sunkosh may also be a future matter to consider as the Indian side in the past had proposed changing some components of the tariff formula to bring down the tariff rate. A complication here is that the project will be an expensive one and tariff is usually cost plus and the cost also includes the cost of financing which may also be higher.

One proposal from Bhutan to control the cost of the project is for India to first release the grant component so that work can be done without any loan interest during construction.


The Sunkosh project was announced as part of the 10,000 MW by 2020 project in 2008 but from 2009 itself the Indian side started voicing financing concerns for doing all 10,000 MW projects.

In 2014 September money for the Detailed Project Report for Kuri Gongri was put on hold.

Then in November 2014 when the then Indian President visited Bhutan an announced list of 5,050 MW projects included JVs but omitted Sunkosh and Kuri Gongri.

The former government then got into hectic diplomacy to revive these two projects. In 2015 and 2016 Indian officials offered the JV route for Sunkosh.

However, the Bhutanese side stuck to the Inter Governmental model. A big breakthrough was achieved when the Indian government in 2017 and 2018 in stories first reported by The Bhutanese agreed to the IG model for Sunkosh.




No more waiver, Bhutan to levy charges on Indian tourists

Regional tourists take selfies at the National Memorial Chorten, a prominent religious landmark in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. (Photo by Phuntsho Wangdi)

Bhutan mulling to impose entry fees for regional tourists

To ensure that the country remains an exclusive tourist destination, the Bhutan Government is planning to introduce a few measures. With Bhutan witnessing growth in the footfall of tourists, it has been rapidly marching toward mass tourism destination, mostly facing overcrowding issue from the neighbouring countries.

While many foreign tour companies are pulling back from the country citing that it has turned into a noisy place, many foreign tourists are complaining that they are bound to pay much higher tariff for hotel rooms than regional tourists.

Now people from BangladeshIndia and Maldives enjoy the status of regional tourists in Bhutan. And in such a situation, when the Bhutan Government is trying to find a solution to tackle the overcrowding problem, the regional tourists might have to prepare themselves to face the brunt.

As per latest news reports, the Bhutan Government is planning to control tourist inflow within a year by introducing a fee for regional tourists as recommended by the Pay Commission.

Bhutan mulling to impose entry fees for regional tourists

Recently, the Fourth Bhutan Pay Commission has also recommended that the government should impose a minimal Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) on regional tourists. And if implemented, charging SDF will help the government to earn revenue of around INR 4.25 crore on an annual basis.

The government is also planning to regularise the rates of low-budget hotels in the country and ensuring that hotels take in a limited number of regional tourists. Further, as per reports, the Tourism Council of Bhutan will also be monitoring the hotel facilities in the country.

Not just this, the country will also keep a check on the number of foreign vehicles entering the country.

The iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery in the Paro Valley is Bhutan’s most famous tourist site. Founded in the eighth century, the Buddhist temple clings to a cliff 900 meters above the valley floor. (Photo by Phuntsho Wangdi)

Wedged between India and China, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan has long been regarded as one of the world’s most exclusive destinations, off the beaten track for the average tourist.

Until recently, a cautious approach to developing international tourism, in line with a “high value, low impact” strategy that requires foreign visitors from most parts of the world to spend a minimum of $250 a day during peak season, had limited arrivals while generating substantial economic benefits. Tourism is the country’s biggest hard-currency earner, bringing in $85.4 million in 2018, and overall revenue is second only to hydropower.

But Bhutan’s reputation as an exotic, luxurious destination is being wrecked by an explosion of regional tourists, mainly from India, who are not subject to the minimum daily spending requirements imposed on travelers from farther afield. They can also travel in tour groups and stay in budget accommodation, and are not required to employ guides.

The influx has been so overwhelming for the landlocked mountainous nation of just over 750,000 people that some high-end tour operators are now considering pulling out because they feel that Bhutan can no longer be sold as an exclusive destination.

Robin Smillie, an American tour operator who has been leading high-end travelers to Bhutan since 2001, said he plans to end tours to the country by April 2020 because of overcrowding at prime sites such as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, also known as Paro Taktsang, a cliffside Buddhist temple.

Regional tourists take selfies at the National Memorial Chorten, a prominent religious landmark in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. (Photo by Phuntsho Wangdi)

“Since 2001 I have successfully sold Bhutan as a high-end, less-traveled destination to seasoned travelers,” he said. “Imagine their dismay when they arrive at the foot of Tiger’s Nest to find a parking lot bursting with buses, hordes of noisy regional tourists clogging the trail, a gauntlet of vendors hawking fake made-in-Bhutan products and garbage-strewn roads.”

Other high-end tour operators share this sentiment, lamenting the emergence of mass tourism in Bhutan, which received 274,097 visitors in 2018, equal to a more than third of the population. More than 200,000 were regional tourists, mainly from India but including some from Bangladesh and the Maldives.

Up to 2012, only about 100,000 tourists a year visited Bhutan, with about half coming from the region. International arrivals have since grown by about 7% a year on average, but regional arrivals have risen by roughly 25% a year.

The soaring numbers have prompted angry exchanges between high-end travel operators from overseas and regional tourists on social media, while many Indians have taken umbrage at being characterized as uncouth, messy and noisy.

Tourists take a photo in front of Thimphu’s 54-meter-high Buddha Dordenma statue, one of the largest of its kind in the world.   © Reuters

“My partner in Europe has expressed [the desire to end] tours to Bhutan because the last time he came here, most tourist sites were crowded with regional tourists,” said L.B. Gurung of Blue Sheep Tours & Treks, based in Thimphu. “I don’t know how long Bhutan can continue as a high-end destination.”

In part, Bhutan is a victim of its own success in branding itself as a tourist destination, which has encouraged regional visitors to join the flow. The country shares a 700 km border with India, and its cooler climate offers an easy escape from summer heat and polluted cities.

To meet demand, there had been a surge in investments in the hotel industry, particularly in budget accommodation, doubling the number of available beds to 10,000 over the same period, according to the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan.

A cap hangs in a souvenir shop in Thimphu. Not everyone is happy with the growth in tourist numbers.   © AP

The government has sought to encourage high-end investment through tax incentives on imported hotel furnishings and fittings, and two years ago it introduced entry fees to popular monuments and heritage sites in an attempt to control visitor numbers. But a newly elected government plans to go further, introducing a cap on the number of regional tourists permitted each year.

“The issue has been discussed with the Indian leadership and they suggested capping,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Tandi Dorji, who is also chair of the Tourism Council of Bhutan. “It is not just people here but also visitors from India and Bangladesh who are complaining of the crowds and feel something should be done.”

Other planned measures include mandatory advance applications for e-permits for visitors arriving by road and an extension to all tourists of a sustainable development levy that currently applies only to international arrivals.

But the plan to cap numbers has worried some in the industry, who argue that regional tourism benefits the economy, and should be encouraged by better management and regulation.

Entry fees were introduced at the National Memorial Chorten and other heritage sites two years ago. (Photo by Phuntsho Wangdi)

“There is a misconception that Bhutan is facing mass tourism,” said Sonam Wangchuk, chairman of the hotel and restaurant association, who said tourism seems more invasive than it really is because the country has too few visitor sites, mostly located close together in the west of the country.

“We support [the idea] that a policy and rules and regulations should be in place, but discouraging regional tourists is a concern,” he said, adding that regional tourists make up for the annual low season for high-end visitors, when numbers fall.

“It should not be one segment of travelers or the other,” said Nyima of Namsey Adventures, who has been in the travel business for more than 20 years. “Regional visitors should be encouraged because it benefits the entire supply chain. and the government should instead focus on diversifying products and spreading out the numbers,” she said.

The government has set aside 1.5 billion ngultrum ($22 million) for a flagship program intended to diversify products and spread tourism beyond the western region. These include adventure sports, highland festivals, bird-watching, and heritage tours in the east and central regions.

Nyima said that regional tourists also bring in Indian currency, which is crucially important to Bhutan because it relies on India for 80% of imports. Retailers in the Paro Valley, home to a number of religious and historical sites, now offer change in Indian rupees, which was unthinkable a few years ago.

But high-end tour operators and international visitors welcomed the idea of capping numbers and charging expensive entry fees to attractions. “Whatever means are available to Bhutan to limit volume, by legislation, supply and demand pricing, it must be done, and quickly,” said Joseph Breen, 79, an American who has visited Bhutan 15 times over the past decade.

“During my four visits in the past two years I have been struck by the suddenly overwhelming impact of mass tourism as I travel the country, especially in the more heavily visited region from Paro [in the west of the country] to Bumthang [in the center].

“I was in Bhutan for more than two weeks just two months ago, when my current views were reinforced that Bhutan is now starting down the path to becoming just one more overcrowded tourist spot.”


Sikkim to explore ‘cable cars’ to beat traffic snarls in Gangtok

Dichen Ongmu : 

 In an effort to control the alarming traffic congestion faced by residents while commuting, the Sikkim government has decided to explore ‘cable cars’ as a means of public transport system in state capital Gangtok.

The length of the conceptual mass transit systtem rounds up to 12.42 km with 13 stations.

In a statement, the state information and public relations department said that Sikkim chief secretary SC Gupta on Wednesday chaired a meeting on ‘Techno-Economic Feasibility Study of Cable Car as Public Transport System for Gangtok’ held by the Urban Development & Housing Department in co-ordination with Urban Mass Transit Company Limited (UMTC) in New Delhi. The meeting was also attended by the head of various stakeholder departments of the state for their opinion over adopting cable cars as a solution.

The statement further stated that representative of UDHD while attending the meet at the national capital informed that it had engaged UMTC since September 2016 and thereafter, during a period of three months, the UMTC team will conduct a primary survey of data for the projection of traffic situation in the next 30 years in Gangtok. The chief secretary also stressed that the report being presented during the meet was only preliminary data and not the detailed project report (DPR).Sikkim Chief Secreatary, SC Gupta chairing the meeting with UPHD and UMTC officials in New Delhi.

Chief secretary Gupta in the meet also stated that adopting cable cars as mode of public transport in Gangtok is being explored as one of the appropriate solutions available for the capital to tackle the burgeoning traffic menace. He said that if adopted, cable cars can become a viable long term solution to solve the grievances being faced by the state in terms of road traffic. He also put forward the resolution of the state government to effectively decongestant the roads of the state capital and mentioned that all possible options are being explored with utmost priority.

Adding to it, Gupta also expressed that Gangtok is a hill station and all the challenges in terms of geography and limited space are being considered while devising customized solutions to solve the traffic problem for the capital.

In the meeting, the state chief secretary also made various inquiries regarding safety, travel time and environmental factors related to cable cars and expressed satisfaction at the study that was done by the concerned department and UMTC.

Meanwhile, UMTC manager Harshita Sharma focussed on ‘moving people and not vehicles’ as per National Urban Transport Policy, 2016 and taking into consideration the population of Gangtok including tourist inflow and the unique geography of the town.

She further added that the key mobility concerns of the town were challenging terrain conditions, limited land availability for road network development, increasing private vehicle share, extensive dependence on taxi services, poor infrastructure and lack of parking spaces.

The presentation also touched upon coverage, multi-modal integration, accessibility and safety of cable car transport system.


Defence Minister opens bridge on the river Sishiri in Arunachal

THE new bridge over Sisseri River, which will be inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday during his two-day trip to Arunachal Pradesh, will reduce travel time between Dibang and Siang valleys in the state, sources said here on Thursday.

According to a senior official of the Indian Army, the 200-metre bridge, which will connect Pasi Ghat with Roing, will reduce travel time between the two places by at least five hours.

The bridge built by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) falls along the road that is being constructed by the Union government under the Trans-Arunachal Highway project.

“The road will be extremely beneficial for local transportation. Earlier, the locals had to trudge several miles to reach Pasi Ghat from Roing or vice versa. With the new bridge, travel time between the two places will be cut by more than five hours,” said the official.

The bridge, engineered by the BRO, is a double-carriageway structure with four spans of 50-metre each.

“The bridge is an important link in the Trans-Arunachal Highway that is being built from Tawang at the extreme end of Arunachal Pradesh to Kanubari. The Sisseri Bridge will help travelling to the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge through which commuters can reach Tinsukia district in Assam,” said the official.

The Dhola-Sadiya Bridge, named after popular Assamese singer and filmmaker Bhupen Hazarika, is the first road connection between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2017.

The Trans-Arunachal Highway being constructed by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways spans a total length of over 1,500 km. The project, though launched by the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, has been pursued aggressively by the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) since 2015.

The highway project is expected to boost tourism in Arunachal Pradesh besides giving impetus to the under-developed industrial sector in the northeastern state.

Rajnath Singh reached Arunachal Pradesh on Thursday where he was received by the state’s Chief Minister Pema Khandu.

A Defence Ministry official said that Rajnath Singh visited the Tawang War Memorial and Tawang Monastery on the first day of his two-day trip. He also attended the Maitree Diwas celebrations, a multi-cultural social event, held in the Gyalwa Tsangyang Gyatso high altitude stadium in Tawang as the chief guest of the event.

On Friday, Rajnath will visit India’s forward post at Bum La near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, apart from inaugurating the bridge.

In October, Rajnath had inaugurated another bridge of the BRO that has been built across the Shyok River in Ladakh. The Shyokm River bridge, named after a valiant soldier of Ladakh, Colonel Chewang Rinchen, has been built to allow ease of troop movement to the Daulat Beg Oldi sector, located near the LAC along China’s Xinjiang province, where a 21-day military standoff had taken place between India and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.


FAC recommends subcommittee on Etalin HEP, says 2017 recommendation not complied with

by  Tongam Rina 

The forest advisory committee (FAC) of the union ministry of environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) has recommended setting up a subcommittee of the FAC regarding diversion of forest land for the 3097 mw Etalin hydroelectric project (HEP) in Dibang Valley district by the Jindals’ Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited (EHEPCL), as the FAC recommendation of February 2017 has not been complied with.
The FAC noted that the representatives from the EHEPCL and the Arunachal government were not present at the meeting it held in October this year, so their viewpoints for consultation and clarification of doubts could not be obtained.
The FAC has recommended that a subcommittee visit the site and check if the total land requirement could be further reduced.
The subcommittee, which will include representatives from the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), will also look into the “concerns related to tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in biodiversity assessments study by WII.”
Prior to the latest meeting, the proposal regarding the diversion of 1165.66 ha (including 91.331 ha underground area) of forest land for construction of the Etalin HEP was placed before the FAC in January 2015, and again in February 2017.
The ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) had recommended environment clearance for the project in January 2017.
In its February 2017 meeting, the FAC “had recommended conducting multiple seasonal replicate studies on biodiversity assessment by an internationally credible institute as environmental impact assessment (EIA) is completely inadequate in this regard.”

Omission of facts on flora and fauna
Following the February 2017 meeting of the FAC, the ministry had written to Arunachal’s principal forest secretary in March 2017, pointing out discrepancies observed, including omission of facts regarding the presence of flora and fauna.
The site inspection carried out by the state government’s forest officials did not mention about the biodiversity of the area in its report, the FAC had noted.
It said the proposed project falls under the richest bio-geographical province of the Himalayan zone, under one of the mega biodiversity hotspots of the world, besides being an important habitat of tiger and many other endangered species.
About six globally threatened mammal species are found in this region, of which three are endangered and three are under the ‘vulnerable’ category. About 680 bird species have been recorded from this region, which is about 56 percent of the total bird species of India. Among them, 19 are globally threatened, and 10 are near-threatened. It has four critically endangered, two endangered, and 13 vulnerable species.
The entire region falls under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Management Categories III and IV as an endemic bird area, a global biodiversity hotspot, and a key biodiversity area, indicating its importance on a global scale. The chief conservator of forests, however, mentioned a few mammal and plant species. “In fact, this area has more biodiversity than any other part of the country,” the FAC noted.

Conflict of interest

Even as the FAC asked for a fresh study, in September 2017 the MoEFCC, questionably and in clear conflict of interest, wrote to the WII, stating that the “ministry has decided that WII to conduct the study on mutually agreed terms and conditions with the user agency & WII and the report may be submitted to the state government/user agency for further consideration.”
Ideally, the ministry should have asked the report to be submitted to the FAC and not to the Jindals or the state government.
Following the letter from the ministry, the WII floated an advertisement seeking applications for subject matter specialists for preparation of a wildlife conservation plan for the impact zone of the Etalin HEP on a contractual basis, for a flexible period of 90/180/270 days.
Instead of carrying out multiple seasonal replicate studies on biodiversity assessment as recommended by the FAC, the WII changed the scope of the project from an EIA report to: ‘Preparation for wildlife conservation plan for impact zone of Etalin HEP, Dibang Valley district’.
The change in the topic of study clearly reflects that the WII is in collaboration with the Jindals.
The state government, according to the MoEFCC, had requested the WII “to conduct multiple seasonal replicate study for the preparation of wildlife and biodiversity plans and the WII submitted a proposal to conduct the study and requested the government of Arunachal to give administrative and financial approval, along with the provisions of funds.”

2,80,677 trees proposed to be felled

The project is located in the Anini social forest division, in Dibang Valley district, and an estimated 2,80,677 trees are proposed to be felled for the project.
The compensatory afforestation has been proposed over 1074.329 ha over an equivalent area, with a total financial outlay of Rs 19,64,56,700, in the degraded community forest land. However, the district administration said that suitable degraded non-forest land is not available in Dibang Valley to carry out compensatory afforestation activities.
In its October 2019 meeting, the FAC said the subcommittee may also look into the concerns highlighted by the environment ministry’s regional office in Shillong (Meghalaya) in its site inspection report (SIR), especially related to the tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in the biodiversity assessments study conducted by the WII.
The SIR noted that there would be five sites of stone/shoal quarries over an area of 27.856 ha. It suggested that option may be explored to reduce the area if the quarries are located inside the submergence areas.
It also suggested that the dumping areas which are proposed at 13 sites, amounting to 100.774 ha, may be reconsidered to save destruction of forests.
A huge area under construction has been proposed, which includes labour camps, a contractors’ colony and the owner’s site office, apart from other sites for the main office, the residential colony and the contractor’s colony, measuring about 64.99 hectares. This obviously has come under the scanner of the regional office as well as the FAC.
The SIR specifically noted that the enumeration has not reflected the ground reality because (a) huge trees have not been reflected in the enumeration list, (b) the size of the sampling plots were actually less than recorded and have been measured along the slope, and (c) the sampling intensity is too less for getting proper assessment of the composition and structure of the forests.
It suggested that enumeration needs to be redone on a sampling of minimum 10 percent sampling intensity after ensuring that the representative areas are taken in the sampling, and that all tree-size areas are recorded.
The report further noted that neither has the certificate of the chief secretary regarding unavailability of non-forest land been submitted, nor have the details of the land identified for compensatory afforestation and land suitability certificate been submitted.
The catchment area treatment plan and compliance with the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, have not been submitted.
The Etalin HEP is proposed to be developed as a combination of two run-of-the-river schemes, and the project envisages construction of concrete gravity dams on the Tangon and the Dri rivers, and diverting the water through two separate waterway systems to utilize the available head in a common underground powerhouse located just upstream of the confluence of the Dri and the Tangaon rivers.
The project is being executed through the EHEPCL, a joint venture company of the Jindal Power Limited, and the Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited, at an estimated cost of approximately Rs 25,296.95 crore. (Arunachal Times)



Railways Connectivity For Tawang In Arunachal Pradesh Soon

We are very soon going to connect Tawang with railways, General Manager Northeast Frontier Railway Construction said.

India’s bid to take trains to Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang district at a height of 10,000 ft is inching closer to reality with the laying of foundation stone of North east frontier railways camp office and rest house on Friday.

“We are very soon going to connect Tawang with railways,” General Manager Northeast Frontier Railway Construction, Nilesh Kishore Prasad, said.

He said the railway line from Bhalukpong to Tawang will be 198 km, out of which 177 km will be under tunnels with very little disturbance to the ecology.

Mr Kumar said the proposed railway tunnel crossing Dzela pass will be 27 km and is one of the longest tunnels in the country.

Bhalukpong is the entry point on the road to Tawang at 10,000 feet about 290 km away.

Tawang is also connected by a helicopter service, but unpredictable weather often leads to cancellation of flights.

“It was a distant dream for us to have Tawang connected with railways, but now the dreams are going to be achieved in reality,” Extra Assistant Commissioner Tawang, Choiki Dondup said.