The project was cleared on the basis of certain conditions that NHPC is committed to comply. However, continued violations of the conditions by NHPC despite repeated summons/notices/reports forced the DFO (East) to file a petition in the court of the District Judge (East & North) Sikkim (Civil Suit No. 28 of 2002) against the company and its contractors in late 2002. A compensation of 14 crores has been sought by the Department. In November 2002 the court issued an ad-interim injunction restraining the company from violating the law. Till today the DFEW has filed four contempt petitions since NHPC has failed to comply with the orders. The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) verified the violations and in September 2003 gave a show-cause notice to NHPC for violations of environment and forest laws, thus supporting the State Government's action.
The whole of the Sikkim Himalaya has a fragile geology. The Project area is subjected to massive excavation (road building, shaft construction), vibrations (dynamite blasts, heavy vehicular movement) and other forms of stress on geology which has major impact on the stability of the area.
Sikkim is a small, mountainous state with 80% of the land under the Forest Department. Approximately 11% of the total geographical area is under agriculture. Up to 65% of the population are engaged in agriculture of which almost 8% are agricultural labourers. This indicates the importance of agriculture in the economy of the state and the share of the population depending on the limited agricultural lands.
One of most unfortunate outcome of these projects is the plight of the natives who do not know how to utilize the money given as compensation and within a short period of time all the cash gets blown off on unproductive ventures like buying second hand vehicles, feasting (alcoholism), etc. Ultimately they lose the land and also the money. Further, it increases the instances of alcoholism amongst the tribals resulting in health problems and death causing untold hardship to the families of these ingenuous natives.
According to the report of Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS), New Delhi, the agency undertaking a study on this issue advised caution. The study forecasts that the project will bring along a large number of outsiders which will have an irreversible impact on the Lepcha and Bhutia communities residing in the area. The report raises fears that besides the direct impact of loss of their lands, the influx of large numbers of laborers may affect the culture and way of life of the community, cause "a sense of deprivation and loss of ethnic identity", result in "dilution of their social customs and practices" and affect the availability of labour for work on their remaining fields. The presence of a large number of immigrants in an area which was earlier sparsely populated may also result in health problems and outbreak of diseases including those that may not have occurred in the past within the community.
One of the conditions of the environmental clearance is that "All the labourers to be engaged for construction works should be thoroughly examined by health personnel and adequately treated before issuing them work permit." Since, there has been utter disregard to the health care aspect of the people of the affected area. Various studies by NGOs and Aids Control Society of Sikkim raise suspicion that there has been a high increase in veneral diseases (STD) in the region after the project started in the year 2003. This is an alarming situation that could lead to a spread of dreaded diseases like HIV and Hepatitis, for which there is no cure nor and for the people.
Following the meeting of the expert committee on river valley projects of the MoEF on 11.1.1999, the ethnographic study was awarded to the Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS). The biodiversity study was entrusted to Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun. However, the issue regarding environmental clearance was discussed between Secretary (Ministry of Power) and Additional Secretary (MoEF) wherein it was felt that the environmental clearance of the project need not be held up till completion of the ethnographic and biodiversity studies. The project was granted environmental clearance before these studies were completed. In effect, biodiversity and ethnographic concerns were not considered in the process of clearance of the project.
The expert committee also stated that the project should be cleared only after a carrying capacity study of river Teesta is done. However this was not agreed to by the project proponents. As a result Teesta V was delinked from the carrying capacity study and considered for clearance. One of the conditions of clearance was that no new projects would be allowed on river Teesta in Sikkim until such a study is done. Regardless of this condition, the State Government issued letters of intent to various developers to start projects prior to completion of the carrying capacity study.
The period during which the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was to be signed between the state and NHPC saw a lot of action by a citizens group called the Joint Action Committee (JAC, now Affected Citizens of Teesta) formed in April 1999, comprising mostly citizens of East & North Sikkim. Their main concerns with regard to the Teesta projects (Teesta V as well as the other upstream projects proposed to be taken up in the future) were about demographic changes that the projects would lead to due to infusion of labourers from outside Sikkim, whether the projects would generate long term employment opportunities and the environmental impacts of the project.
The JAC worked out a detailed list of points that should go into the MoU, however, most of them were not included. The opportunity to plan a large project with care and execute it by ensuring that the benefits of the project be maximized in favour of local people was, thus, grossly underutilized.
The JAC felt that the state should have sought more than the mandatory 12% of generated power that is given free of cost. The labour permit system could have been made more systematic. A full department should have been created to oversee the implementation of all aspects of the projects. At present, there are several aspects of the projects that need to be monitored. A few monitoring committees have been set up but it is unclear as to what aspects each of the committees is supposed to monitor. They all function independently of each other. There is ambiguity regarding who the members of some of the committees are and how often they need to meet to fulfil their task. Most importantly, citizens have very little information about these committees and their mandate.
Although all the necessary studies need to be done prior to the clearance of a project, it has become common practice for the Ministry of Environment and Forests to grant clearance to a project without detailed studies. These studies are sought to be done post-clearance and they are laid down as conditions of clearance. Many of these studies done even after project clearance could help the state and project proponents to plan and implement mitigation measures and thus minimize the negative impacts of the project. However it is critical that these conditions are monitored carefully. There are also several other conditions such as: implementation of the Environment Management Plan, training and employment of locals in the project, monitoring of health of labourers and so on. It is in the interest of the state government to monitor the project and ensure that these conditions are complied with. Lack of monitoring can result in several impacts for local people, the environment and may also result in economic burden for the state.
A full assessment of the impacts of the project needs to be conducted by an independent team of experts from various fields. Several complaints have been registered in the office of the DC (E). They need to be redressed as soon as possible so that local people do not have to go through any more hardships on account of the project. The system and extent of compensations and other mitigation measures need to be arrived at through extensive discussions with the people in and around the project area. All the violations of forest and environmental clearance conditions and MoU conditions need to be documented thoroughly and redressed and the state needs to ensure that these violations are not repeated in future by NHPC and the other contractors implementing the projects. The lessons from the experience of Teesta V will be valuable while planning for future projects.
In order to ensure that the socio-economic conditions of the poorest, the most backward members of our society get uplifted to meet the bare minimum requirement to sustain decent livelihood with dignity, honour and equality, and ensure that simple, humble, God-fearing and backward citizens of the Teesta Basin who are likely to be affected are protected from exploitation, human right violation and subjugation of their dignity, pride and honour to exist in their natural habitat and ensure that in the name of economic development, the fragile bio-diversity is not devastated, certain checks and balances have to be in place.
| SATYAGRAHA |
Warriors for a Cause
"I will die but won't allow the mega power projects in Dzongu" - Dawa Lepcha.
Two Lepcha youths from Dzongu rocked the state of Sikkim and the world with their selfless stand against the hydro projects. Dawa T. Lepcha and Tenzing Lepcha went on hunger strike in the spirit of Gandhian Satyagraha from June 22, 2007 to September 27, 2009.
Chronicles of the campaign - and more - at
| TEESTA |
Will the Teesta river survive? In order to construct one kilometer of tunnel, approximately 150 tons of dynamite are required. Imagine how much blasting will be done for 30 power projects! Seventy percent of the river to flow underground!
| DZONGU |
Dzongu in North Sikkim is the holy place for Lepchas spread all over the world. Process has begun for seven mega power projects spanning the length and breadth of this protected area.
| ENVIRONMENT |
Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)
Blatant violations of procedural and environmental norms. Get the distressing facts at our EIA-page.
| TEESTA STAGE V |
Much went wrong during design, assessment and construction of Teesta Stage V HEP. For a truly sustainable and adapted development, a different approach is required.
| VIOLATIONS |
Environment Protection Act (EPA) as well as Forest Conservation Act (FCA) were repeatedly violated by the companies involved. A non-exhaustive listing for Teesta Stage V only (NHPC).
| DOCUMENTS |
• Statements, appeals and proceedings by ACT
• Scientific papers substantiating ACT's concerns
• Press reports covering disproportionate projects in Sikkim and ACT's struggle for protection
| MEDIA |
• Collection of Documentaries
Lepchas - A vanishing Tribe