Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rare animal dies, toxic finger at hydel plant

Gangtok, Aug. 11: Two months after a Himalayan serow, a threatened species of mountain goat, was found dead at the Teesta Stage III project site in North Sikkim, Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) has questioned the alleged inaction of the government in bringing the construction company to book.

The chief coordinator of ACT, Tseten Lepcha, said except for an FIR, no proper action had been taken.

“The forest department has been dragging its feet ostensibly to secure local witnesses, which is not possible as the project site is overrun with labourers and company employees, none of whom are residents of Sikkim,” Lepcha said.

The FIR lodged by the forest department after the serow’s death mentioned that the animal was found with a broken horn and there was blood all around it. Lepcha said the post mortem findings of the veterinary doctor at Chumgthang were also “shocking”.

“The veterinarian found a blood clot in the brain and concluded that the animal had eaten cardboard and plastic sheets lying around in the construction site and had died because of the resultant respiratory problems,” the chief coordinator of ACT said.

The principal chief conservator of forests and forest secretary, S.T. Lachungpa, said an inquiry initiated by the chief wildlife warden, N.T. Bhutia, was underway.

“The chief wildlife warden has convened a meeting on the issue tomorrow. In any case, the death of the animal was accidental as it ranges freely in the mountains,” Lachungpa said.

Bhutia added that all forest employees from the region as well as senior officials would attend tomorrow’s meeting.

ACT, however, has also challenged the environment impact assessment (EIA) and the environment management plan (EMP) of Teesta Stage III, which had declared that there were no wild animals in the project zone.

“This is a figment of their imagination as the site falls within the buffer zone of the Kanchenjunga biosphere reserve. Despite this, the chief wildlife warden issued a no-objection certificate to the company carrying out the work on the 1,200mw hydel plant,” Lepcha said.

“It is very surprising that no forest department official was present during the public hearing of the EIA and the EMP. They were only interested in securing the money that the company had to pay for afforestation and plantation in some other area. Now we have a Schedule I animal, protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, dead in the project side and no one is held accountable,” Lepcha said.

ACT, an NGO that is spearheading a movement against the construction of mega-hydroelectric plants in North Sikkim, has also accused the state government of giving “unconstitutional protection” to the company involved in the projects.

“How can they pollute the environment by allowing all kinds of toxic material to lie around the site that is causing the death of wildlife?” Lepcha asked