Local newspapers have been abuzz with the dangers dams pose, and are finding ready readership. Most don’t want the power projects. This has also reenergized groups like the ‘Affected Citizens of Sikkim’ (ACT), ‘Concerned Lepchas of Sikkim’ (CLOS) and the ‘Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee’ (SIBLAC) that are strongly opposed to dams. “This may sound bad, but the earthquake has come as a blessing in disguise for us. It has restored the antidam movement to Sikkim’s collective consciousness. Our movement against dams in the Teesta river basin had somehow tapered off, but now it’s gaining force again,” SIBLAC secretary Tsetsen Bhutia said.
The Lepchas had initiated the first movement against dams in 2007 and even staged a 934-day relay hunger strike by ACT in Gangtok. The Lepchas, the original inhabitants of Sikkim, hold the Dzonghu zone in North Sikkim, where many of the dams will come up, as sacred land. “These dams are sacrilegious and will also despoil the fragile ecology of the region,” ACT leader T Lepcha said. The three organizations are now closing ranks to launch a concerted movement against dams.
“Our movement is not likely to result in halting the construction of dams. But at least it’ll lead to a re-think on the necessity of big dams and, at a macro level, on the development model that we have adopted. If people start raising questions on whether we ought to ape the consumerist societies of the West or develop according to our own ethos, keeping in mind our ecology and environment, that in itself would be a successful outcome of our movement,” said Lepcha.
The problem, however, is that the simple folk of this state are too laidback. “Sikkim was ruled by the Chogyal till 1975 and the feudal hangover continues. People are too docile to question the authority of the state,” Anjan Upadhyaya, editor of ‘Humro Prajashakti’, said. Upadhyaya has, for years now, been involved in the battle against dams and has paid a heavy price for his opposition – he was beaten up and his office vandalized; he still has dozenodd cases filed against him by the state government. Sikkim’s problem, say civil society leaders, is the absence of a strong opposition. Its 32-member Legislative Assembly does not have a single Opposition MLA.
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