Development And Environment

Locals in Sikkim are fighting to save their community and the environment from hydropower projects

Indigneous Lepchas hope they can block yet another large dam at a UNESCO world heritage site.

While the government of Sikkim is determined to convert its rivers into so-called “white gold” by exploiting its vast hydropower resources, indigenous Lepchas of the state in India’s Northeastern Himalayas hope their opposition will halt construction of the proposed 520 MW Teesta Stage IV hydropower project.

If successful, this will be the fifth project the community has successfully stopped in Sikkim – part of a growing wave of anti-dam movements across Northeastern India where hydropower developers are struggling with angry protesters and falling profits.

India’s National Hydro Power Corporation got clearance to build the dam on the Teesta River near Chandey village in Dzongu in 2012. Since then, Lepchas have challenged its construction in various forums including the National Green Tribunal. So far they have succeeded in putting it on hold, though the Sikkim government continues to try to win over other local people.

Lepchas, who are recognised as a “particularly vulnerable tribal group” and protected within the Dzongu community reserve, are at the forefront of anti-dam protests in Sikkim because they worship mountains and rivers.

Future powerhouse

Considered the “future powerhouse” of the country, Northeastern states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh have witnessed a lot of hydropower activities in recent years.

While Arunachal Pradesh has signed over 150 memorandums of understanding over the past decade, the Sikkim government has signed letters of intent or MoUs with the government-owned and private power production companies for the construction of 27 small and large power projects, with a total capacity of 5,494 MW on the River Teesta and its tributaries. Four of these projects have been scrapped following sustained protests from the Lepcha community.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to visit Sikkim on January 17 to launch the largest of these power projects in North Sikkim near Dzongu – the 1,200 MW Teesta Stage III – but he could not make it. This project will be the country’s second-largest dam and a government official in Sikkim said that the formal inauguration of the project will now take place in February or March.

One of the dams on River Teesta. Image Credits: Athar Parvaiz
One of the dams on River Teesta. Image Credits: Athar Parvaiz

Don’t desecrate our homeland

Buoyed by their previous success of sustained protests and hunger strikes, the Lepchas have resolved to fight against the implementation of Teesta Stage IV, one of a series of projects planned in the state’s main river and its tributaries.

UNESCO protection

UNESCO’s recognition of Khangchendzonga National Park as a world heritage site in July has bolstered the case of the protesters.

“Located at the heart of the Himalayan range in northern India, the Khangchendzonga National Park includes a unique diversity of plains, valleys, lakes, glaciers and spectacular snow-capped mountains covered with ancient forests, including the world’s third highest peak, Mount Khangchendzonga,” states the UNESCO website.

“Mythological stories are associated with this mountain and with a great number of natural elements (for example caves, rivers, lakes, etc.) that are the object of worship by the indigenous people of Sikkim,” it continues.

The Lepchas argue that this recognition shows the Environmental Impact Assessment report as well as Expert Appraisal Committee report, which cleared the Teesta Stage IV project, have ignored the sacred nature of the Kanchendzonga and its importance in the culture and value system of indigenous groups in Sikkim.

“We are now waiting for the government to announce the scrapping of Teesta Stage IV against the backdrop of UNESCO’s observations and on the basis of rejection of the project by the Lepcha community of Dzongu and the elected gram Panchayats of Dzongu in all their meetings with the government so far,” Gyatso Lepcha, general secretary of Affected Citizens of Teesta , told thethirdpole.net.

“If we feel that the government is dilly-dallying, we will submit a written representation to UNESCO to convey how its listed sites are being treated in India,” Gyatso said.

The people of North Sikkim have already suffered a lot of environmental damage from two other mega projects on the Teesta (Stage III and Stage V) which produce over 1,700 MW of energy, even through Sikkim only needs around 112 MW, said Gyatso. Under the project agreement for Stage IV, Sikkim will get 12% of the electricity for free and the remaining power will be exported to the rest of India.

Lepchas also see the construction of power projects, which bring a lot of new workers flooding into the remote area, as a demographic threat. “We Lepchas are like tigers; an endangered species in India,” Gyatso said. There are only about 4,000 remaining Lepchas living in Dzongu.

The needs of local people in North Sikkim are being ignored as the projects steam ahead, according to Gyatso. “For example no one cares whether we have desirable road connectivity and health facilities. Just look at the pathetic condition of our roads,” he said. “They are only interested in constructing the power projects at the cost of the destruction of our environment and disrespect to our religious beliefs.”

Government’s justification

Sikkim government officials say the new power projects will bring development to the remote and scarcely populated state and prosperity to the people.

Namgyal Tshering Bhutia, secretary of Sikkim’s Energy and Power Department, claimed that the government has the support of some gram sabhas (elected village committees). “Some sections of people are in support of the power project and we are hopeful that all will agree in the end,” Bhutia said.

Lepchas say that their religious beliefs are at the core of their opposition to the power projects in Dzongu. “Dzongu is the place where our race (Lepcha) was created and Khangchendzonga is our mother mountain where our souls ultimately get salvation,” said Sonam Lepcha, a farmer in Dzongu. “Our religious belief is that our souls, following our death, are taken to Khangchendzonga along the Rongyo (River Teesta). And they are telling us that they are constructing the project on this river.”

The environment is also under threat, said Sonam: “What is going to happen to fish and other small creatures when they divert the river?”

This article first appeared on The Third Pole.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Han Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.