Friday, August 03, 2007

North-east hunger strikers warned

North-east hunger strikers warned
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Sikkim hunger strike
The tribes people are protesting against the construction of a dam
The government in India's Himalayan state of Sikkim has threatened to move against tribes people who have been on a hunger strike for 40 days.

The tribes people have been protesting against the proposed construction of a dam for a hydro-electric project.

It is proposed to be located at Dzongu, which is designated as special reserve for indigenous Lepcha tribes people in the state, close to the Chinese border.

The dam will be one of the many to be constructed on the Teesta river.

Large dams have recently become a subject of controversy in India.

A Sikkimese organisation, Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), has been sponsoring the hunger strike to oppose the proposed construction of 280mw Panan hydro-electric project at Dzongu in northern Sikkim.

"Either they should withdraw the fast or we will be compelled to move against them," Sikkim Chief Secretary N Chingapa told local journalists.


The Lepchas and the Bhutias are the indigenous tribes of the erstwhile princely state of Sikkim that was merged into India under controversial circumstances in 1975.

But ethnic Nepalis now constitute the majority in the state.

Doctors say the condition of two of those on fast, Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Lepcha, has worsened and they have been admitted to a hospital.

Teesta river
The dam is proposed on the Teesta river

The ACT has written to Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling asking for an independent quasi-judicial committee to review all hydro-electric projects including those proposed in the Lepcha reserve of Dzongu.

It has also demanded that all activities related to the Panan project in Dzongu, including land acquisition, be kept in abeyance.

But the Sikkim government says it will go ahead with the implementation of the mega hydroelectric power projects in North Sikkim, including those proposed in the Lepcha reserve.

"We will not compromise with the development process in North Sikkim. Once the projects are operational, they will meet the power needs of the state and generate a revenue of two billion rupees per annum," Mr Chamling told journalists.

He also claimed that the majority of people from the Dzongu area is in favour of the power projects.

"The good of the community would not be held hostage by a few disgruntled persons," the chief minister said, alleging that opposition parties were using the innocent Lepchas to further their vested interests.

Mr Chamling asked the ACT members to withdraw their hunger strike and accept the government's offer for a dialogue on the issue.

But the ACT has filed an application before the supreme court appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC), asking for an immediate stay on the environmental clearance granted to the Panan project.

The CEC has asked for the Sikkim government's comments on allegations made by the ACT that the project will destroy the ecology of the Khangchendzonga National Park.