‘Teesta-IV HEP will be an extinction-level disaster for Dzongu and Lepcha community’  Dzongu’s opposition against Teesta-IV HEP must not be underestimated by Govt: Former MLA warns

Saturday, Oct 24, 2020 10:45 [IST]

Last Update: Saturday, Oct 24, 2020 05:09 [IST]

‘Teesta-IV HEP will be an extinction-level disaster for Dzongu and Lepcha community’ Dzongu’s opposition against Teesta-IV HEP must not be underestimated by Govt: Former MLA warns

Staff Reporter
Sonam Gyatso Lepcha, who represented Dzongu as its MLA for two decades till 2019, on Friday recorded his strong opposition to the NHPC Teesta-IV 520 Mw hydel power project proposed in the Lepcha reserve of Dzongu.
Addressing a press meet here, the former Dzongu MLA gave a portent statement that the very existence of the Lepcha community of Dzongu is under threat because of the mega hydel power project. He urged the SKM government to respect the majority decision of Dzongu residents who do not want another mega hydel power project in their protected area.
The NHPC project falls between Teesta-III 1200 Mw project upstream at Chungthang and NHPC Teesta-IV 510 Mw project downstream at Dikchu falling in top and bottom ends of Dzongu. This particular stretch of around 10 km in Dzongu, where Teesta-IV project is proposed, is the last free flowing portion of Teesta river.
Though the MoU between the NHPC and the then SDF government for the project was signed in 2006, the Teesta-IV project could not start off due to strong opposition from the local Lepcha community at various stages of the project clearance formalities over the years. Resistance was renewed by the Affected Citizens of Teesta earlier this year in July when the State government notified an expert group to evaluate the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) report for the controversial project.
“Before the 2019 elections, the present government had assured the people of Dzongu that the Teesta Stage-IV would be scrapped but now has formed an expert group to study the SIA report. This means that more or less, this government has decided to go ahead with the project,” said Sonam Gyatso.
The former four-term Dzongu MLA pointed out that the SIA report study committee has no representations from the actual project-affected area. “Ninety per cent of the project falls in four GPUs of lower and upper Dzongu but there is no one from these GPUs in the committee. The project is in Dzongu but the committee members are from places far away from the project. The majority are not in favour of the project but their decision is not being respected. This shows that the present government is underestimating the people of Dzongu and wants to bulldoze upon their sentiments,” he said.
Sonam Gyatso stressed that Dzongu and its residents are not against the interests of the State and nation. People of Dzongu have already contributed to the nation and State by allowing the Teesta-III and Teesta-V power projects even though Dzongu is a protected area since the rule of Chogyal, he said.
But, the Teesta-IV project in Dzongu cannot be considered for many reasons, primarily for survival of the Lepcha community there, asserted Sonam Gyatso.
“We will not be bullied further. Tunnels had been dug at both ends of Dzongu. Only the middle part is free from any tunnels and less than 5% of cultivable land for Dzongu remains. If this remaining prime land is taken away, what would happen to our future generations and to our existence?,” he questioned.
According to the former MLA, a double lining tunnel is designed for the proposed project running underneath two major villages in Lower Dzongu.
“This could be a geographical disaster for Dzongu in future as per my experience as a MLA of 20 years of the constituency. The rock quality of Dzongu is of the lowest level and as such the entire geographical terrain is fragile. The tunnel will pass below the two villages and since there is no stability, these two villages will cease to exist in future. The tunnel is not safe in such fragile terrain,” said Sonam Gyatso.
Sonam Gyatso contended that it is being wrongly projected that landowners are in favour of the Teesta-IV project. “Only few have given consent but majority of the landowners are in Dzongu and they have not given their consent. Also, is the consent of the landowners the only clearance requirement for the project? What about the decision of the public hearings and gram sabhas of the four GPUs which have rejected the project?” he questioned.
Sonam Gyatso also refuted allegations that he had agreed to the project while as the Dzongu MLA and Power minister in past years. He asserted that he never maintained a double standard approach on the Dzongu project. I have never said the Teesta-IV project should happen in Dzongu, he said. When the Teesta-IV project MoU was signed in 2006, I had met and told the then Chief Minister Pawan Chamling that there should be no more projects in Dzongu to save the last free land of the Lepcha people there, he said. I had told him that I cannot support the project and then I asked the Dzongu panchayats to oppose the projects, he said to media.
“I appeal the State government not to play with the emotions of Dzongu people. We cannot be supressed further. If the government does not listen, we will approach the Bhutia, Nepali and old business communities of Sikkim and appeal them to save their Lepcha brothers and Dzongu from going extinct,” said Sonam Gyatso.
Regarding Teesta-III project, the former MLA expressed that he had accepted it because it was a BOOT (build, own, operate and transfer) agreement wherein the project would be handed over to the State government after 36 years by the developer. After the agreement period, the project developer will leave Sikkim and the project will belong to the people of Sikkim, he said adding that zero settlement of outsiders took place during the project.
However, Teesta-IV project is being executed by the NHPC which will take lifelong ownership of the land and project, building their own colony and bring people from outside which will encourage influx as seen in the Teesta-V project, said Sonam Gyatso.
The former MLA appealed the Sikkim government not to be pressurized by the Centre in allowing the Teesta-IV project to go ahead. “Centre may pressurize our government by not giving funds but our elected Sikkim government must remember that the Indian government had merged Sikkim with a Constitutional promise to take care of Sikkim and its people. Hence, our elected government must not come under pressure,” he said.

LAST FREE RUN: The Teesta river stretch flowing past Hee-Gyathang and Lingdong villages in Dzongu. This is the last free flowing stretch of Teesta river between Teesta-V project downstream and Teesta-III project upstream.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi