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India eyes $5.6bn Burma hydropower deal

India’s state-owned National Hydro Power Company Limited (NHPC) will increase its investment in Burma to the tune of an extra $US5.6 billion as Burma aggressively expands its energy sector.

The head of the NHPC, S K Garg, told the Wall Street Journal the company was “inching towards Myanmar [Burma]. We have already sent our team to Myanmar for further survey and investigation for two projects.”

Little is known of the location of the projects, but the Wall Street Journal suggests that they could be two new 510-megawatt and 520-megawatt dams.

The NHPC already has a major presence in the country, primarily at the Tamanthi dam on the Chindwin river in Burma’s northern Sagaing division. The project has a capability of providing 1200 megawatts of electricity, 80 percent of which it is believed will go straight to India.

As of 2007, according to research by the Burma Rivers Network (BRN), over 380 families had been displaced by the Tamanthi dam and none had reportedly received compensation. It is estimated that the dam will eventually displace some 30,000 people in 35 different Kuki ethnic villages.

Sai Sai from BRN said that these people have absolutely no input or “right to participate” in the decision-making process for the dam, a fact that is clearly against the first recommendation of the World Commission on Dams: “Development needs and objectives should be clearly formulated through an open and participatory process, before various project options are identified,” it says.

Added to this, the Chindwin river is the only known habitat of the Burmese Roofed Turtle, a species that will be lost forever by the construction of the dam.

The Wall Street Journal further notes that within India “progress on hydroelectric power capacity addition has been slow due to environmental concerns and issues related to resettlement of people displaced because of the construction of dams”.

This would suggest a strong incentive for India investing in Burma’s hydropower sector, given BRN’s concerns about a lack of accountability in the process.

The Tamanthi dam is being constructed by the NHPC in collaboration with Swiss company Colenco Power Engineering Ltd. According to Garg, quoted in the Indian press, the NHPC is also involved in the 642-megawatt Shwezaye dam.

BRN believes that construction of the Tamanthi dam had been suspended after it began in 2007, suggesting that renewed investment of the sort mentioned by Garg may be needed to finish it, although at present details are not available.

It is believed however that consultants had been engaged by NHPC, but their findings had not yet been put to the government in Naypyidaw.

China is without doubt the leading investor in Burma’s hydropower sector, with numerous projects on rivers across the country, many of which have attracted international controversy and condemnation.

The drying of the Mekong river is partly blamed on Chinese dam construction, whilst Kachin organisations and individuals have strongly petitioned against forthcoming dam projects on the Irrawaddy river, including the Myitsone dam.


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