The Lepcha anti-dam group Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) tried last week to focus voters in Sikkim on the proposed hydropower dams that would destroy the sanctity of the Dzongu reserve. Indian national and state elections will be held in the state of Sikkim today, April 30. Campaigning in the state has aroused politicians to state their positions on a range of issues, and the construction of a series of power dams in northern Sikkim has received considerable attention.
ACT, which maintains an apolitical stance, urged voters to consider whether the candidates they support are in favor of preserving the fragile ecology of the land and the spiritual values of the Lepcha people, which are threatened by the proposed construction of 27 power projects.
The Congress Party is the only major contender for seats in the state legislature that has come out in opposition to the dams. The party says it will scrap all the dam proposals if it is elected. The ruling party, the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), and its current leader, Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, argues in favor of the projects. The government plans to spend over Rs 30,000 crore (US $6 billion), which it says will end unemployment in the state. Another party, the Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee (SPCC), stated that the election of the Congress party will be a misfortune for the developers.
ACT General Secretary Dawa Lepcha indicated that his group will be watching the process closely, and it is urging its members to oppose the dams. “It has been made very clear to our supporters to vote for only those political parties extending support to its demand for the roll back of the hydel projects in Sikkim,” he told the press.
The SDF leadership responded by reaffirming the importance of the dams to the entire state of Sikkim. SDF leader Norzang Lepcha told reporters, “The proposed hydel projects are a guarantee to the livelihood of the Sikkimese people and a source of revenue to the state exchequer for a long long time to come.” Mr. Lepcha stated that the party had no intention of changing its mind about the dams, whether or not the issue might have consequences at the polls.