French leader in Save-Dzongu cry

Gangtok, Aug. 2: A member of the French parliament has come out in support of the protests in Sikkim against hydroelectric power projects in the Lepcha reserve of Dzongu in the North district.

The member, Jean Lassalle, is also the president of the World Mountain People Association, an international network of mountain-dwellers active in more than 70 countries.

Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), an NGO, is spearheading the protests here, which includes an indefinite hunger-strike by ACT general secretary Dawa T. Lepcha and member Tenzing Gyatso.

Lassalle, who himself undertook a 39-day hunger strike last year to protect jobs in his constituency in France, has expressed his “deepest sympathies” for the ACT members.

“Like you, I am an inhabitant of mountains and had…to go on an indefinite hunger strike to defend the future of the inhabitants of (my) constituency,” reads the letter. “Mountains are under constant threat from those who want to take advantage of their resources without any respect for their past, their present and their future.”

In another letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent yesterday, Lassalle has pointed out the contradiction involved in declaring a place a national park (Khangchendzonga National Park in Dzongu) and allowing its biodiversity to be destroyed by dams (the Panan hydroelectric project is coming up there).

In the letter, Lassalle also quoted the report of the third meeting of the steering committee on the Carrying Capacity Study for the Teesta basin held in April 2005, which had described North Sikkim as “geologically, seismically and biologically extremely sensitive and fragile”.

The mountain people association is garnering support for the protest movement through its website

A senior official in the Sikkim government refused to comment on Lassalle’s letter.

Sikkim State Congress president Nar Bahadur Bhandari today broke his silence on the ACT protest.

“The (Sikkim) government has insulted the Lepcha community and the demand of ACT is sincere, genuine and positive,” he said.

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