Why Arunachal’s Etalin hydel project can be a worry ? | UPSC

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Arunachal’s Etalin hydel project UPSC

Arunachal’s Etalin hydel project | UPSC

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“Why Arunachal’s Etalin hydel project can be a worry



Floods, earthquakes, landslides: Why Arunachal’s Etalin hydel project can be a worry


Formation of glacial lakes driven by climate change and sesimic risks pose threat to nature and life; project’s environmental clearance needs review, say experts

SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 1:3:Dams :Earthquakes : Seismic activity : Arunachal’s Etalin hydel project


Why Arunachal’s Etalin hydel project can be a worry . Discuss -(GS 3)


We have integrated all the consequences of this issue divided in four parts :

  • Seismic hazards
  • Glacial hazards 
  • Flooding events
  • Landslides

Let us dive in !


The contentious 3,097-megawatt Etalin Hydroelectric Project (EHEP) — proposed to be developed as a joint venture between Jindal Power Ltd and the Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Ltd — in the state’s Dibang Valley has again sparked concerns over damage to ecology and threat of natural disasters.

  • AMBITIOUS PROJECT :It is a combination of two run-of-the-river schemes with limited storage requiring concrete gravity dams on rivers Tangon and Dri 

CONTROVERSIES : It has run into several controversies on concerns of ecological damage, forest invasion and tribal displacement.


“The region is a high-mountain watershed prone to natural hazards because of its unique and complex geological, ecosystem, weather and climatic conditions,” 


  • Seismic hazards
  • Glacial hazards such as glacial lake outburst floods
  • Flooding due to extreme precipitation events
  • Landslides

“They project  keep coming across ‘geological surprises’ [once the construction starts] in project after project in the Himalayas, the costs keep increasing and construction keeps getting delayed,”.


  • NEAREST GLACIER : The rivers on which the two mega dams have been proposed are located 80 kilometres from the closest glacier.
  • GLACIAL LAKES :The Dibang watershed has approximately 350 glacial lakes with a cumulative area of 50 square kilometres.


  • LOST MASSES : These glaciers have lost mass and retreated due to climate change.
  • LESS VOLUME : They are set to lose up to 40 per cent of their current volume by 2030 and 60 per cent by 2050.
  • SUPRAGLACIAL LAKES : One of the consequences of glacial thinning is the emergence of lakes on the surface of glaciers (supraglacial lakes).

  GLACIAL LAKE OUTBURST FLOODS : Supraglacial lakes “grow rapidly in size and catastrophically drain as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs)

  • GLOFs entail heavy costs to human life and livelihood. Ex:  Kedarnath floods and landslides that claimed 5,500 lives.

  “If this temporary dam gives way, it can be catastrophic. It will carry not only water but also debris and sediment that will cause devastation downstream,” .


Regular glacial melt — climate change will further aggravate these risks.

  • Supraglacial lakes have already formed and ice chunks broken off glaciers.
  • Climate change-driven glacial melts have severe impact on electricity generation capacity of dams .
  • Predictable summer glacial melt of Dibang river will be likely replaced by far less predictable rainfall events and snow-melt runoffs.


  • This puts the feasibility of hydroelectric projects such as Dibang Multipurpose Project (DMP) in severe jeopardy, for the electricity generation of these projects depends on predictable and stable stream flow.

  “The reduction in glacier discharge will decrease the electricity production capacity of the forthcoming dams in the coming decades,” .


  • TECTONIC BELT : “This is a tectonically active, geologically unstable part of the Himalayas.
  • AGGRAVATE THE INSTABILITIES: In fact, the entire Himalayas are unstable because they are still rising from the Indian plate by pushing against the Eurasian plate.
  • TOTAL EARTHQUAKES : Since the 1900s,  34 earthquakes have occurred in Dibang Valley district.

  SEISMIC ZONE : Arunachal Pradesh falls in the category ‘Zone V’ (maximum risk) in the mapping of seismic zones in India.EX: 2015 Gorkha earthquake.


  • HAZARDOUS ACTIVITIES : The rate of increase in landslide activity is expected to be greatest over areas covered by current glaciers .
  • HEAVY RAINFALLS : “Incidences of heavy rainfall will increase with climate change exaggerate landslides .

      IASbhai Windup:


  • NAMING DILEMMA : Projects of more than 25 MW, should be classified as a renewable source of energy.

In March 2019, the Union government moved to recognise large hydroelectric projects as a renewable source of energy.

  • RISKS : The multiple risks and uncertainties mentioned above, however, make this move questionable.
  • ACCOUNTABILITY : The ‘renewable’ status is given to grant certain incentives to generators of renewable sources of energy.

Once these lands are used for construction of dams, they’re not usable again.


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