Last week, Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), the citizen pressure group trying to save the sacred Dzongu region of Sikkim from hydropower projects, entered its third year of hunger strikes. The government of Sikkim, a small state in the Himalayas on India’s northern border with Tibet, is planning numerous large dams to develop power which it will sell to the rest of the country.
The Dzongu, located next to Mount Kanchenjunga on the border with Nepal, the world’s third highest peak, is sacred to the Lepcha people. The nature worship that many people in the region still accept focuses on the natural life of the country and the sacredness of the mountains themselves. The young activists involved with ACT believe the industrialization of their mountains would be sacrilegious, as well as highly destructive to nature in the region.
ACT had been concentrating its efforts among the people of the Dzongu itself until June two years ago when they decided to initiate an indefinite, relay-style, hunger strike in the state capital, Gangtok. Last June they achieved a partial victory when the state government decided to cancel four of the dams planned for the upper Teesta River basin. The state insists on continuing to plan for the 300 megawatt Panan project, which ACT still opposes vehemently.
“We [will] continue keeping up moral pressure on the state government till it categorically declares annulment of the proposed mega project,” said Dawa Lepcha, general secretary of ACT, on the second anniversary of their hunger strike. He added that his organization is now considering taking legal actions to try and stop the dam-building. “Our principal aim is to protect our land and ecology,” he said.