Business Bhutan: Considered one of the biggest hydropower projects in the country, the 2,560 megawatt Sankosh hydropower project, is all set to get a green signal from the Indian government, but the commencement of the joint venture project will mean serious implications on the environment.
According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report for Sankosh Hydroelectric project conducted by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), Dehradun, the construction of the hydropower will have impacts on the flora and fauna of the project area.
The EIA report says the project will have various terrestrial biodiversity impacts which include effects on land and vegetation, loss of land to the reservoir and increased human access to area, and habitation. The most obvious impact of reservoirs on terrestrial ecosystems is the submergence of forest.
Other impacts include the generation of minor micro climatic changes and effects on endangered species.
An official from the Department of Hydropower, Ministry of Economic Affairs, said that the EIA has not been completed and more study is going on.
“Based on the final report we will come up with various management plans,” said the official. The official said that a team has been sent to the project site for further surveys and will take about a month or two to come up with the final report.
According to the EIA, the construction of the main and lift dam would require a land area of 7,619ha. This will result in loss of existing vegetation, occupancy area of the wild fauna and habitat fragmentation.
“The project activity will result in fragmentation in the project area due to construction of dam and other related activities and thus substantial forest land will be lost,” states the EIA report.
This fragmentation of the old forest is likely to affect the ability of species to migrate in response to micro climate change occurring in the area.
“Species with poor mobility or sensitive to dispersal barriers will do less than those with a weedy nature,” states the EIA report. The EIA mentions that preventing fragmentation is essential to maintain the resilience of old forest and forest flora and fauna to micro climate change, it therefore recommends a gene pool of the floral diversity to be conserved through compensatory afforestion.
Other prevention measures include Catchment Area Treatment activity, green belt and landscape restoration activity which will intern restore fauna.
With the project area home to a wide variety of wild animals the construction activities such as noise, movement, building of roads, extraction of stone and soil, construction of buildings and so on is expected to have a negative impact.
The EIA report states that the large hydropower project will have major threats to loss of habitats resulting in decreased prey base for wild animals like tiger, elephant and other primates.
Recently, an Indian media reported that the biodiversity of Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) in West Bengal, an important reserved habitat for the highly endangered cats will be affected. The BTR is a 760sqkm reserve forest situated beside an Indo-Bhutan trans-border.
It reported that possible impact of Sankosh Project on BTR’s biodiversity had never been taken into serious consideration.
“Survival of Tigers, at the top of food chain, depends on naturally maintained eco-system and biodiversity of roaming area. Any major alteration of natural flow of Sankosh may severely impact that in its catchments areas within BTR,” reported the media.
The official from the Department of Hydropower said there will be no major alteration of natural flow of Sankosh.
“There will be a diversion while constructing the dam but when it’s finished it will be restored back,” said the official.
He also added that there will not be any impacts to the biodiversity downstream.
However, the project also has in place various measures to limit the impacts. For example a total of around Nu 500mn is proposed for environmental management plan for the conservation of the area. Out of which Nu 50mn is proposed for biodiversity conservation management plan which includes wildlife conservation.
By: Dawa T Wangchuk
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