Sikkim's citizens say NO! to dams

90% of people living around dams in Sikkim testify to environmental damage, increased hazards and decreased resources. Can their situation be changed?
Dams intensify the impact of earthquakes Dams intensify the impact of earthquakes

Hydropower is considered as 'green' power and the Sikkim Government's policy has been to synchronize development imperatives with conscious efforts on environment sustainability. This paper presents the results of a survey carried out among communities living along a 54-km long project affected stretch of the Teesta river. It highlights the conflicts, community-culture-development nexus and the growing issues raised by hydropower projects in the Rangpo-Dikchu stretch in Sikkim as related by citizens of that state.

Sikkim has allotted around 25 hydropower projects for construction with a calculated installed capacity of 5284 MW mainly capitalizing the water of rivers Teesta and Rangit and their tributaries. As many as six power projects have been envisioned in the Teesta supported by multiple high level dams built within a 175 km distance with an estimated generation capacity of 3635 MW (Lepcha 2013), while Teesta Low Dam (III and IV) in Darjeeling District of West Bengal before the Coronation Bridge are near completion.

The majority of the upstream and downstream stakeholders are against the dam-based projects; 95% expressed that no dams should have been built. 70% said that no project that causes even a negligible negative impact is acceptable. Almost all the respondents from institutions, and upstream and downstream communities expressed that their participation in the decision making process of NHPC Stage V was completely nil during the project construction phase as well as after commissioning in 2008. Other questions about the various changes caused by dam construction received a nearly unanimous response concurring that these were negatively influencing the environment and human life.

Bar chart illustrating perceived impact of dams on the environment and people of Sikkim

The article presents the water governance issues impacted by hydropower development and the rights that people perceive themselves as entitled to.  These are:

  • River water flow
  • Participatory planning
  • Employment in power projects
  • Insurance of life, property and agriculture
  • Developemnt and equity
  • Transparency
  • Geo-hydrological assessment
  • Provision of prior informed consent
  • Regular environmental impact assessment
  • People centric policy
  • Documentation and information flow

The Sikkim Himalayas are facing change. Their water is being regarded as a commodity by the State even as the local communities are facing water scarcity. The complexity of the Himalayan mountains and weather systems are being intensified by the uncertainties of climate change. In this context, it is necessary to pursue a clearly thought out and negotiated plan for the region.  

This post presents a submission received from the authors for  the Sustainable Mountain Development Summit-III held at Kohima, Nagaland, from September 25-27, 2013.

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