Last week, the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Kumar Chamling, defended his decision to proceed with the construction of power dams in the northern part of his state, despite the opposition of many Lepcha people. The activist organization spearheading the agitation, Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), had agreed to stop protesting the dams with its relay hunger strikes only a few weeks before, at the instigation of the state government. But government representatives greeted ACT at the opening meeting by justifying the power projects.
Chamling said that the dams were essential for the broader needs of the people. His government wants to proceed with building the dams in order to ensure proper economic development and to generate revenues for Sikkim. He maintained that his government is taking into consideration concerns about the natural ecology of the affected region of northern Sikkim, the Dzongu, a sacred area for the Lepcha.
He argued that the Lepchas had elected a member of his party, the Sikkim Democratic Front, as their representative to the state legislature. But, he said, he has a lot of respect for the views of opponents, so he has invited ACT to work with members of his government to see if their differences can be ironed out. For its part, ACT is saying it is keeping its options open if the negotiations fail.
The Chief Minister said he had never intended to cause problems for the Lepcha, though the meeting last week was the first time he had met with ACT since their hunger strikes began more than two years ago. He asked the organization to forget what has happened and start negotiations afresh. “Whatever the State government can do to pacify your concerns, we will do,” he told the ACT representatives.
He asked ACT to place all of its concerns and grievances before the Chief Secretary so the negotiating committee can consider all options. He emphasized that the government is actively working to develop North Sikkim. Athup Lepcha, the president of ACT, said he hopes the state government will be willing to address the issues that the organization, and the Lepcha people in the Dzongu, are concerned about.