Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dams in Sikkim: - Blessing or curse

from sikkimexpress
ST Gyaltsen, Gangtok
With reference to your article dated March 3, 10 titled “Precarious Gangtok if earthquake hits” regarding the assessment of NMID is timely. The people in the State are living in a fool’s paradise. It is a disaster waiting to happen.
The disastrous situation is compounded by the fact that all the 30 or more odd dams already constructed, under construction or on the anvil for tendering or negotiations with construction companies are concentrated in an area of 70 kms by 40 kms which is high density of dams per square kilometer.
Also, it is true that dams are required for power generation and would contribute to revenue generation to this revenue starved state. And on the positive side dams are relatively less polluting than thermal and coal power plants. However dams are environmentally damaging and also leave carbon footprints.
On the other hand such huge number of dams in such small geographical area in a geologically fragile area of young mountains like the Himalayas could pose a serious risk. Also, it is an established fact that Sikkim falls in high seismic zone 4 and dams are known to increase the seismicity of the areas in which they are located.
The presence of dams are known to cause local climatic changes, ecological damage, harm the river based biosphere and its diversity. The local population could be affected adversely in terms of demography and if it is a primitive tribe than negative acculturation could occur.

The Chief Minister of the State is forward-looking and development oriented and does talk of sustainable development. However, the State policy for power development to go for maximum power generation of 5000 Megawatts in a short period of time could spell disaster in the long term for state and does not appear to be balanced. Maybe he is ill advised in the matter. Even Ministry of Environment based on study of Teesta River by an independent study group has kept in abeyance six dam proposals. Further, the long term values of dams are doubtful as Himalayan Glaciers are receding at an alarming pace.
Also, recently in the papers there was a news item of loss of more than Rs. 80 crores due to non-construction of one dam and the State Government standing as guarantor. Such allegations are serious matter and have to be clarified.
Most saddening is the efforts made by Lepchas of Dzongu and elsewhere to preserve the sanctity of the Holy place of Dzongu where Panam and Teesta Projects are coming up. They have been labeled as anti-development and anti-progressive. It is a fact that Dzongu is a Buddhist sacred place as well. Just because you act out of your deep faith and reverence you should not be condemned. Even the Chogyals, the past rulers of the erstwhile Kingdom of Sikkim had made a law to ensure the sanctity of the place. For the Lepchas and all Himalayan Buddhists this making of dams in the holy land of Dzongu is a sacrilege and pains their hearts. It is similar to Ram setu or Ayodhya or Mecca or Jerusalem. All arguments of development and economics are subsidiary to human faith and values.
There are enough number of dams in East and South Sikkim for economic and revenue purposes. It would keep with the green image of Chief Minister to leave North and West Districts for pristine aesthetics for preservation of environment for the future generations of Sikkim and the entire country. Here in these two Districts the focus could be on ecotourism, educational institutions, hospital tourism, knowledge based and software enterprises. The climate and environment are eminently suitable for such enterprises. Our youths and younger generation could be easily absorbed into such knowledge based enterprises without harming the environment.

Therefore in the public interest the State Government should have a moratorium on new dams and take out a white paper on the dams under construction and also those dams which are under proposal or consideration. The white paper should clearly highlight the cost benefit analysis, agreements drawn so far, potential environmental costs and means of damage mitigation due to dams. Failure to do so would reflect badly on the attitude and integrity of the State Government.