Its now 30 days that Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Lepcha have gone hungry to impress upon the government of the need to scrap the different hydel projects coming up in Dzongu and also to review the rest of them coming up all over Sikkim. Dawa and Tenzing are at STNM Hospital while the rest are continuing the relay hunger strike at BL House.
The National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) set up as an independent body in 1997 to address cases in which environmental clearances granted by the ministry of environment are challenged by civil society has rejected the appeal filed with it by the Affected Citizens of Teesta against the Environment Impact Assessment and the Public Hearing held for Teesta Stage III Project.
Copies of the order were released yesterday to the press by Mr K T Gyaltsen, Political Secretary to the Chief Minister of Sikkim. The said order had been passed on the 5th July, 2007.
ACT in their appeal had contended that the Public Hearing was not adequately publicized and that the Public Hearing Panel was not constituted according to EIA Notification and the Public hearing itself was ‘characterised by threatening speeches, accusations and denial of free and fearless democratic participation of the affected people’. Even DVD copies of Public Hearing proceedings had been supplied as documentary evidence.
For more info on the public hearings conducted and contentions raised in detail as mentioned earlier, click:
The Appellate Authority had concluded that ACT’s contention against the EIA and the Public Hearing ‘cannot be accepted’, and observed further that the ‘comprehensive EMP( Environment Monitoring Plan) and Rehabilitation measures proposed in the Management Plans and R & R Package strengthen the arguments of the Respondents’. The Appellate Authority accepted that the EIA Report ‘has made a detailed examination of the geological conditions of the project area and related aspects.’
The case was heard in 8 sittings, the last on 18th May, 2007.
However, many environmentalists in India and Sikkim doubt the credibility of the National Environment Appellate Authority as allegations made say that the Members of the Appellate Authority do not often have a legal background and its often exaggerated emphasis on procedures, deep distrust of the intentions of NGOs, civil society groups and individuals who seek to draw the attention of the judicial process when the executive machinery, that is the MoEF, fails to see the negative impact of a proposed project or its violation of environment clearance norms. Most of the cases have been dismissed on grounds of time delays without a single hearing given to substantive issues such as the potential destruction to the environment or the negative impact on local people.
ACT can now appeal to the Supreme Court against the orders of the NEEA.
For more info on credibility of National Environment Appellate Tribunal, click:
Meanwhile in another development that gave a little hope and support to ACT today, Twenty One Land Owners arrived from Dzongu to extend support and express solidarity with ACT and the Members on hunger strike. These Land owners are from Sakyong-Pentong, where the Panan hydel project in Dzongu is scheduled to come up.
Thereafter in a press release by Gyatso Lepcha, President of CLOS(Concerned Lepchas of Sikkim), Mr Lepcha stated that many of the mentioned land owners had given their consent unknowlingly. He further stated that most of the elderly landowners had been misled with false assurances by the Panchayat members and the power companies and made to sign on black papers on the pretext that they would be provided with housing grants, GCI sheets, and toilets etc!, roads leading to villages and homes and also promises of parchas (legal ownership document) of Forest land in exchange for the land they were to part with !
The other members there stated that the public hearing had not been conducted legally since many of the people had been forcefully stopped from attending it. They also stated that the hill where the power house is coming up is sacred, like the hot spring located at the site of the power project and that since 1990 there was been opposition to the power projects. Further, they appealed to bring attention to Notification-3069 of 1950 which establishes Dzongu as a protected area of the state and that whether such old laws of Sikkim which are protected by Article 371 F of the Constitution of India had been amended in view of the present need for the developmental projects of hydel dams there.
The indefinite hunger strike by Satyagrahis Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Lepcha and the rest on a relay hunger strike enters its 31st day tomorrow.
Young supporters joining the relay hunger strike today.