Dzongu, 02 Jul:

Positions for and against the Teesta Stage-IV hydel project continue to harden. Today, affected people, mostly from the right bank (falling in Dzongu) gathered at Hee-Gyathang to reiterate their opposition to the project and decide on the future course of action. They are aligned with the Save Dzongu Committee. It may be recalled that a week ago, the pro-dam group had formalized under an organization by the name “Dzongu Development Committee” and lashed out against the project’s opponents.

Today’s meeting, attended by around 450 affected people resolved to approach the State Government with a demand that the 6KM stretch of the Teesta between the Stage-III powerhouse at Singhik and Stage-V dam at Dikchu, the last patch of free-flowing Teesta, be retained in its natural condition.

They plan to approach the Chief Minister with this request during his upcoming visit to North Sikkim and are confident that the demand will be granted since Dzongu has already sacrificed a lot for nation-building through hydel projects.

Teesta Stage-IV has been a pending-project since the Memorandum of Understanding was signed between National Hydroelectric Power Project (NHPC) and Sikkim government in 2006. At first, the project stayed long in incubation, and when it appeared to be getting ready for construction, opposition to it gathered momentum and now includes the Dzongu MLA and other elected representatives in the ranks of those who want the project scrapped.

“The residents of Dzongu know me very well. I have always been there for the development of Dzongu and its people,” said Sikkim Legislative Assembly Deputy Speaker and Area MLA, Sonam Gyatso Lepchs while winding up a coordination meeting at Hee-Gyathang in Dzongu North Sikkim today.

“Now I am taking your (anti-dam group) support for the welfare of the people and Dzongu,” he said. The questionable viability of Teesta Stage-IV hydel project has been a persistent worry for him ever since he learned of the details after a visit to Delhi, he shared.

The coordination meeting also lashed out against the stand taken by the Dzongu Development committee and warned against any more efforts by NHPC to lure people over to its side.

The Dzongu MLA also reminded the meeting today that the public hearing for Teesta Stage IV held in 2012 was unanimously boycotted by the people of Dzongu and pointed out how only 12 persons from the right bank attended that public hearing.

The meeting was also attended by North Zilla Adhakshya, Anguli Lepcha, Chairperson SNT, Pintso Namgyal Lepcha, Joint Director HRDD North, Sonam Lepcha, panchayat members, employees, NGO representatives, members of Sikkim Lepcha Youth Association and the general public.

Delivering the welcome speech, the panchayat president Hee-Gyathang GPU, Samroo Ugen Lepcha underlined the agenda of the meeting.

Gyatso Lepcha, general secretary-ACT, reiterated that ACT’s position was clear and simple – “No More Dams in Dzongu”. He applauded to Dzongu MLA for his position against Stage-IV and added that the Rahi Chu project also be postponed for the time being.

Tenzing Lepcha shared that ACT was alone till recently in its fight against hydel projects, and welcomed the support it was now receiving.

Ugen Palzor Lepcha, an NGO representative underlined that the Save Dzongu Committee was an apolitical unit fighting to save Dzongu.

Dawa Lepcha, the former general secretary of ACT, stated that this meeting should be considered the final meeting when it comes to registering the opinion of the people of Dzongu when it comes to hydel project.

Joint Director HRDD North, Sonam Lepcha explained that the Rahi Chu hydel project in Upper Dzongu was not a mega-project and would not entail the formation of a reservoir. It is being developed by Sikkim Engineering Pvt. Ltd which has five board members from Saffo-Salem Pakel villages.

Ugen Lepcha, president, Save Dzongu Committee, which was formed on 16 June 2017, explained the ideology of the organization and its future commitments.

The meeting was also addressed by ACT president, Athup Lepcha, who spoke about the land survey and alleged that it had not been done properly earlier.

Chairpeson, SNT, Pintso Namgyal Lepcha, urged that even though positions for and against the project have hardened, one should not forget that the people on the other side are also “our own people” and “we should bring them into confidence with discussions so that there is no ill-will among our people”.

The North Zilla Adhakshya also admitted today that their position in support of the project was a mistake and that there was initially much confusion among the people regarding the project. Now, most are convinced that the project was not advisable, she said, while calling for a united opposition to Stage-IV.