Independent committee studies hydro projects in Sikkim

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Gangtok, May 20 (UNI) An independent committee on mega hydro projects of Sikkim has expressed concern over the indefinite fast by three activists of the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), which evoked no response from the government even after the completion of 73 days today.

''It is distressing to note that there has been no dialogue despite the fact that 73 days have passed,'' said Himashu Thakkar of New Delhi-based South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

Along with Thakkar, the independent committee comprises Souparno Lahiri of the National Forum of Forests People and Forest Workers (Delhi), Ravindra Nath of the Rural Volunteers Centre (Assam), Partho J Das of the North Eastern Centre for Environmental Research and Development (Guwahati), Vimal Bhai of Matu Jan Sangathan (Delhi) and Arnab Bhattacharya of Nespon (Siliguri).

The six-member team today reached Gangtok after touring North Sikkim, where they visited all the mega projects coming up in the district, some of which fall in the Lepcha reserve of Dzongu.

''This stand-off (by the government) has to end,'' said Lahiri.

''We have spoken to the affected people, elected representatives, project officials, contractors and NGOs, seen the official documents, data and clearance letters and we broadly see that the Sikkim government, partly under pressure from the Centre, has in haste committed itself to developing large number of projects (42 in number), without consultation with the citizens and without considering the implications on the local people, environment, culture and even return on investments for the state and people.

''It has also not seriously assessed the options available for electricity generation or options for development in general which was evident in all the projects,'' Thakkar said.

The committee has recommended that the government should suspend the 280 MW Panan project proposed for Dzongu or issue a moratorium on this project for five years and in the meantime take up mini-hydel projects and see how the 1200 MW Teesta Stage III project performs.

The committee also claimed that survey on Panan project had begun, while the Central Electricity Authority was yet to give concurrence to the project under Section 8 of the Central Electricity Act of 2003 which was mandatory.

Hence they claimed that the ongoing works was illegal.

On Teesta Urja Limited, the developers of Teesta Stage III project, the committee claimed it had no previous track record and asked the government to ensure that they enter into an MOU with the affected communities to ensure that all possible impacts are avoided or minimised.

On Teesta Stage V, the committee has recommended that the government ask NHPC to institute a credible independent review of the outstanding social and environmental issues in a time bound manner.

The committee claimed that they found scores of houses having developed cracks, water sources having dried up, adit sites left ugly without restoration and tunnels leaking during the visit. They also claimed that huge amount of silt had accumulated behind the dam and the generation of power was halted for the last five days.

The committee suggested that the government should penalise the NHPC for not taking care of these problems before commissioning the project. They also said there was massive corruption in payment of compensation unearthed by the affected people through the Right to Information Act. They have recommended a credible independent investigation into this aspect urgently.

While the committee claimed that these were only some of the initial recommendations, they will submit a detailed report to the authorities concerned soon. They will also submit it to the Planning Commission, the Union Power Ministry and other concerned ministries in the Centre.

The committee was studying the projects in Sikkim on their personal initiatives since the protests had gained momentum over the last one year.

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