Context: The Forest Advisory Committee has asked the Arunachal Pradesh government to file a fresh proposal for forest diversion and the construction of the Etalin hydroelectric project (EHEP) due to non-compliance to conditions stipulated by the FAC and the overwhelming pushback against the project in the region.
What is Forest Advisory Committee?
- Forest Advisory Committee (FAC is a statutory body of the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) formed under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.
- The functions of FAC are to consider the questions on the diversion of forest land for non-forest uses such as mining, industrial projects, townships and advises the government on the issue of granting forest clearances.
- For forest land beyond five hectares, approval for diverting land must be given by the Central government. This is via a specially constituted committee, called the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).
- Committee examines whether the user agency, or those who have requested forest land, have made a convincing case for the upheaval of that specific parcel of land, whether they have a plan in place to ensure that the ensuing damage — from felling of trees in that area, denuding the local landscape — will be minimal and the said piece of land doesn’t cause damage to wildlife habitat.
- Once the FAC is convinced and approves (or rejects a proposal), it is forwarded to the concerned State government where the land is located, who then has to ensure that provisions of the Forest Right Act, 2006, a separate Act that protects the rights of forest dwellers and tribals over their land, are complied with.
- The FAC approval also means that the future users of the land must provide compensatory land for afforestation as well as pay the net present value (ranging between ₹10-15 lakh per hectare.)
- The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has asked for revised proposal for diversion of 1165.66 ha (including 91.331 ha underground area) of forest land for the construction of the 3,097 mw Etalin Hydroelectric Project in Dibang Valley district by M/s Etalin Hydroelectric Power Company Limited, a joint venture of the Jindal Power Limited and the Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited.
- The FAC made the recommendations during a meeting it held on December 27, 2022, for which the top agenda was the deliberation and discussion of the diversion of 1165.66 hectares of forest land for construction of the 3,097 MW power plant in Dibang Valley District.
- Furthermore, the FAC rapped the government for poor compliance in earlier approved projects that have either stalled or not begun due to opposition from different groups.
- The committee directed the State government to review the status of all approved projects and submit a report to the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
- The FAC also suggested the formation of a high-level empowered committee to investigate various concerns raised by large representations against the project.
- FAC opined that the instant proposal cannot be considered in the present form and the revised proposal may be submitted for further consideration by the State Government
Why is the Etalin project controversial?
- The Etalin project, a joint venture of the Jindal Power Limited and the Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited, has attracted much controversy and opposition.
- In 2020, the National Board of Wildlife wrote that the “FAC appears to be ignoring established tenets of forest conservation and related legal issues while recommending this proposal”. The said that the ‘disastrous’ Etalin project needed to be junked.
- The conservationists had also picked holes in the FAC’s site inspection report “bereft of details of locations within the forests visited, number of grids across an altitudinal range inspected, the status of vegetation therein, direct and indirect signs of wild animals listed in the various schedules of the Wildlife Act and overall appreciation of the ecological value of the area.
- Underscoring the inadequacy of the Environment Impact Assessment report on Etalin, the conservationists said observations by wildlife officials were ignored. These include the threat to 25 globally endangered mammal and bird species in the area to be affected.
- The original project proposal approved by the FAC had mentioned that operations would involve the clearing of 2.7 lakh trees in “subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest and subtropical rainforests”.