Young Lepcha activists fighting the destruction of their lands in the Dzongu region of Sikkim have won a major victory. The Indian press reported last week that the state government of Sikkim has agreed to cancel plans for four modest-sized dams in the Dzongu, a region in the north of the Indian state that is sacred to the Lepcha people. Two activists who have been enduring a hunger strike in a hospital in Gangtok have called off their action as a result.
A letter from P. Wangchen, chief engineer and secretary of the state power agency addressed to the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), the group spearheading the protest measures, requested the group to call off the hunger strike. He said he was canceling the planning process for four of the proposed dams in the Dzongu. His letter indicated that plans for the 90 mw Ringpi dam, the 33 mw Rukel dam, the 120 mw Lingza dam, and the 141 mw Rangyong dam have all been abandoned.
“Ringpi and Rukel are located inside Khangchendzonga National Park” his letter states. “The government took a conscious decision not to allot these projects to any developer to conserve the environment and ecology of the area.”
The vice-president of ACT, Tseten Lepcha, responded by expressing his appreciation to the Chief Minister of the state, Pawan Chamling, for personally intervening in the situation. He also thanked the two other Lepcha organizations, the Concerned Lepchas of Sikkim and the Sangha of Dzongu, plus other groups and political parties that have provided assistance in their challenge to the state.
However, the activists have decided to continue a relay hunger strike and other satyagraha actions as a way of protesting another, much larger, dam that is still in the planning stages. The protesters believe it poses a severe danger to the Dzongu area. They argue that the 300 mw Panan project, planned for a Teesta River tributary, threatens the bio-diversity of the Dzongu region, the sentiments of the local people, and the feelings of divinity that the Lepchas ascribe to the mountains.