The Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) was back in the news last week due to acts of vandalism at a power dam under construction in the Dzongu region of Sikkim. ACT, the group that is leading the opposition by the Lepchas to hydropower dams in their mountains, demanded the unconditional release of 43 of its activists who had been swept up in a police dragnet after vandalism was reported at the dam construction site.
The group repeated its demands that all dam projects be cancelled in the Dzongu, the region of Northwest Sikkim near Mt. Kanchenjunga that is sacred to the Lepchas. They argue that building dams will harm the fragile ecology of the mountainous region and will violate their religious beliefs.
ACT coordinator Tseten Lepcha justified the agitation by the activists at the dam construction site. They were demonstrating to mark the 600th day of a relay hunger strike that ACT has been maintaining to protest the dam-building.
Police allege that the ACT protestors had damaged equipment belonging to an engineering firm at the dam site. Shekhar Gupta, general manager of Himgari Hydro Energy Pvt. Ltd, a firm which has a contract to build the dam, lodged the complaint against Dawa Tshering Lepcha and the rest of the activists. He charged that they had damaged machinery, explosives, and other property in the watchman’s hut.
The actual equipment damaged belonged to M/s Futura and Euphoria Engineering. The complaint alleges that two magazines containing explosives had been thrown in the Tholung Chu river. Other damage might have been done, but the details were not clear. The police in Mangan pursued the case against the ACT members and launched an investigation. They assert that a protest march organized by ACT had gotten out of control. B.K. Bassnet, Superintendent of Police for the North District of Sikkim, told the press that security at the dam site was being monitored daily.
ACT responded that the police had falsely accused their members and swept them up from their homes in Lingdong, Passingdan, and other Dzongu villages. Three of the arrested people are monks, one representative said, while seven are women. ACT alleges that the accused Lepchas have been tortured while in police custody.