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India dam protest update: Siang public hearing canceled


This spot on the Siang River in Arunachal Pradesh may soon be submerged under a massive reservoir, unless anti-dam protesters succeed in blocking plans for the Lower Siang Hydroelectric Project. On Monday, police were forced to fire their weapons to disperse protesters trying to block access roads to prevent a mandatory public hearing on the project from taking place. Three additional companies of paramilitary troops (or about 360 police personnel) were deployed to ensure that the meeting can be held despite opposition efforts.

Update: The mandatory public hearing for a controversial dam project on the Siang River in Arunachal Pradesh was canceled Tuesday after anti-dam activists beat up a junior engineer employed by the project developers.

According to Vijay Taram, a lawyer and spokesman for the Forum of Siang Dialogue, the protest movement will now move on to two other planned public hearings for dams on the Siang.

As reported earlier:

Police fired in the air to disperse activists who sought to block access to a mandatory public hearing for the Lower Siang Hydroelectric Project near Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh, on Monday. Anti-dam protesters said they fear an escalation of violence as the state seeks to push forward with the dam despite local opposition.

"Police fired 16 times in the air to clear the activists, who had felled trees to block the road," Vijay Taram, a lawyer and spokesman for the Forum of Siang Dialogue, told GlobalPost by telephone. "We have again sent reinforcements. Some ten vehicles [full of protesters] are going now. I think there will be more conflicts coming up. Even casualties I fear."

As will be detailed in a four-part GlobalPost series later this month, India plans to generate some 40,000 MW of electricity from more than 150 dams in Arunachal Pradesh, where the mighty Siang and many other rivers flow out of the Himalayas to feed one of the most important waterways in India, the majestic Brahmaputra. But environmentalists, adventurers and local tribal organizations say the breakneck race to exploit the state's hydroelectric potential threatens the area's rich biodiversity and the fragile cultures of the state's more than 20 indigenous tribes. (Check out GlobalPost's latest in-depth series, on Latin America's effort to legalize drugs, here.)

A dam on the Dibang River, for instance, may bring an influx of some 5,000 laborers from outside the state to the traditional land of the Idu Mishmi tribe, which numbers only around 10,000 people. Tribal leaders fear that the combination of the submergence of their lands and the changes introduced by the new labor force will destroy their culture -- as happened to the Native Americans and indigenous Australians.

According to an Arunachal Times report late Monday, security personnel resorting to firing over the heads of protesters, after the demonstrators blocked the road near the town of Bodak and pelted them with stones from a nearby hill.

Police and paramilitary troops also used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators in various locations along the Pasighat-Mariyang road as they cleared the road, which anti-dam activists had blocked with boulders and trees, the Arunachal Times said.

As GlobalPost reported over the weekend, various tribal organizations have gathered in Pasighat to oppose the public hearing for the Lower Siang Hydroelectric Project, a mandatory precondition for environmental clearance. According to a press statement from the tribal groups, at least three additional companies of paramilitary forces, or around 360 added police personnel, have been deployed by the government to ensure the public hearing goes forward. Officials refused to divulge the details of force deployment, however, the Arunachal Times said.