Hill protests focus on land

http://www.telegraphindia.com

Gangtok, June 20: The Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) today began a relay hunger strike demanding that all hydel power projects in Dzongu be scrapped and the government review other projects coming up in North Sikkim and elsewhere in the state.

The general secretary of ACT, Dawa T. Lepcha, along with Tshering Ongdup and Tenzing Gyatso, started the hunger strike at B.L. House on Sonam Gyatso Marg here this morning. Villagers affected by the projects and monks are likely to join them over the next few days.

“We did not have any alternative,” said Dawa Lepcha, when asked about their agitation.

Dzongu is a protected area for the Lepchas, the indigenous inhabitants of Sikkim, and is protected under Article 371 (f) of the Constitution.

As many as seven hydroelectricity projects are coming up in the Lepcha reserve, including the 495 mw Teesta Stage IV, part of the 1,200 mw Teesta Stage III and the 300 mw Panan hydel project.

ACT fears that these projects will displace the original inhabitants of the area. Dawa Lepcha also blamed the government of flouting environment and green laws since all the projects are located in the Khangchendzonga bio-sphere reserve and the Khangchendzonga National Park.

Last year, the Sikkim government accorded the Lepchas the status of the most primitive tribe.

“On one hand the Lepchas have been declared as primitive tribe and on the other the government is assisting capitalist companies to bulldoze, plunder and devastate the land that had been protected for over a hundred years. It is a plan to uproot the last bastion of the Lepchas and make them aliens in their own land,” an ACT member said.

The organisation has demanded that the protected identity of Dzongu be restored and the environment and ecology of the biosphere reserve and national park be conserved.

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