Saturday, June 04, 2016

BJP won Assam polls on anti-dam plank, new government promises to "honour" commitment to people

Site of Subansiri hydro project in Arunachal Pradesh
By Our Representative
Have India's well-known anti-dam activists led by Medha Patkar and her Narmada Bachao Andolan has found an unusual ally in the new BJP rulers in Assam? A multi-country site, claiming to focus mainly on Asia's water crisis and its relationship with climate change, has revealed that the Assam government has vowed to oppose big dams.
While it is not known how would Prime Minister Narendra Modi entertain such a view, as he is known to be a great supporter of big dams like the controversial one being built on Narmada, the site reports that “in a region dotted with large dam projects and public protests against them, the state’s water resources minister says big dams ruin environment.”
The site says, “Environmental issues seem to have played an important role in the recently concluded assembly elections in the Indian state of Assam. The alliance led by the BJP focussed a major part of its campaign on these issues, and these have worked in its favour, possibly signalling the first time in India when an election hinged on the environment. ”
It quotes the newly appointed Water Resources minister, Keshab Mahanta as telling thethirdpole.net that the new government is “opposed to big dams as those will damage the environment.” Mahanta adds, “We will push for micro and mini hydro power projects, to make the state self-sufficient in power.”
Author of the article Amarjyoti Borah on the site says, “The BJP’s election manifesto promised that it would focus on smaller dams that have minimum adverse impacts on the environment. On the large dams in and around the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh, it had promised that the suggestions of the expert committees will be taken into consideration – many of which have recommended caution against the construction of mega-projects.”
Borah quotes Sarbananda Sonowal, Assam’s chief minister, as repeatedly saying during the election campaign that, if voted to power, he would “take steps to curb the problem of flooding in all the urban and rural areas in the state, and we will also take steps to dredge the Brahmaputra river so that the depth of the river increases and flooding decreases.”
Borah believes, “The party’s promise on dams may have helped the BJP led alliance win a record 33 seats out of the 38 in the upper Assam districts of Sonitpur, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Jorhat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia. All these districts are likely to bear the brunt of big dams being built or proposed in the region, and besides this are heavily flood affected districts.”
Borah also says, “The BJP had recognised the importance of environmental issues in the run-up to the 2014 general elections when it promised a relook into the big dam projects in the North East. At an election rally at Pasighat, in Arunachal Pradesh on February 22, 2014, Narendra Modi said that honouring the sentiments of the region’s people against large dams, he would prefer smaller hydro power projects in the region. ”
The article quotes a research on relationship between environment and the Assam polls, by the Guwahati-based Centre for Environment Social and Policy Research's (CESPR's), which found that. unlike earlier elections when most people were focussed on issues of security and roti, kapda aur makan (bread, clothes and housing), “now voters also wanted politicians to speak about environmental issues as well.”

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