Below is an extract of the budget speech presentation in the Sikkim Assembly for the fiscal year 2008-09 of the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Mr Pawan Chamling.
Anti Dam protesters and sympathizers in Sikkim and the world over hold him responsible for the making and sanctioning of 27 and more massive hydel projects in Sikkim that will have far reaching negative environmental costs and claims of damage that would far outweigh profit and social gains.
The extract below is a rather articulate speech on his understanding of the current global environment crisis and on reading the aforesaid column, one would wonder whether the spirit of the speech is carried out in letter and spirit or rather remains his biggest contradiction is for everybody to see and the future generations to ponder.................................
River Course Development Project
We must be fully aware of the fact that our river system and the rich hydel resources that we are blessed with today are susceptible to depletion with the alarming reports of receding glaciers in the Himalayas. Our planet earth’s warming trend with unchecked human-contributed green-house gases has caused the average global temperature to rise at an alarming rate. The predictions by eminent experts on the imminent pit-falls of these disastrous developments indicate that the entire Himalayan region is susceptible to catastrophic consequences. If the global warming continues at the present rate, the Himalayan glacier is likely to deteriorate at an alarming rate from 500,000 sq. kms at present to 100,000 sq. kms by the year 2030. It is reported that glaciers in the Himalayas are receding at an average rate of 15 metres annually and the entire Himalayan region has warmed up by about 1 Celsius since the 1970’s.
We have today two serious problems.
Firstly, because of the global warming glaciers are melting fast and in an unprecedented rate. This has two fold impacts. The thinning and retreat of the glaciers is resulting in the formation of new glaciers. The snow melting leads to influx of huge quantities of water into Glacier Lake. When the water level in these lakes rises, it breaches the dam which is formed of ice, boulders and sand. Often catastrophic, the surge of water and debris caused by the sudden outburst of glacier lakes in high mountains can change the course of rivers. This leads to sudden rise in river flow and causes untold misery to all life forms in the Himalayan region.
The other impact of unnatural glacial melt is the drastic reduction in the natural flow pattern of rivers. This also means change of the entire hydrological system leading to possible dryness in our river chain during lean seasons of say January to April.
Secondly, these rivers carry in them culture, livelihood, food, tourism, transport, boulders and sands, environment, bio-spheres, forests and creative activities. They are much more than water that is quietly flowing. Our folk songs, our literature, our music and our social mobilisations are also based on these rivers.
For instance, under the 1951 scheme of “floatation”, timbers used to be floated through the rivers both in log and sawn forms. This scheme was found to be very handy as the transport cost involved was minimum. However, there were massive losses of forest resources mainly because of the flood in the riverine belt and ill-timing of the launching of timber. I was reading the historical documents and found that during 1959-60, out of the total of 1,10,000 cubic feet of timber floated in two consignments, 86,000 cubic feet were lost in floods and only 24,000 cubic feet of timber could be salvaged. As a result, the saw mill set up by the Forest Department which supplied packaging materials to Fruit Preservation factory and Distillery at Rangpo had to be closed down. This shows for years together these rivers also served as a means of transport.
If these rivers become dry, if these rivers are damaged we will lose everything that we can imagine - from culture to livelihood and from environment to development projects.
I have been saying that this is a local problem but requires global solution. Therefore, our Government has taken two significant steps on this critical issue. Firstly I have personally made several pleas to the Union Government on the need to understand the impact of global warming on our mountain system and work on minimising the adverse impact. As a result, the Government of India has now announced a special centre for the Glaciology management in Sikkim. I am sure this will be functional within next few months.
Secondly, we ourselves have set up a high level commission comprising of very widely known glacial experts, mountain development experts and geo-scientists. The Commission has already started its task. Possibly this is the first Commission of its nature in the entire country. I can proudly say that we are one of the first few movers on tackling the global warming impact from the global perspectives.
However, I would also like to induct a social-economic strategy to deal with the problems faced by the people who have remained on and alongside the river courses in the State. I, therefore, announce a provision of Rs 50 lakhs as the River Course Development Project (RCDP) Fund. This RCDP will be unique fund once again in the whole of India.
This fund will be utilized in four specific areas namely, i) preparing the river course and other inhabitants of Sikkim to prepare for facing the global warming impact. This means they will be prepared for various social-economic and environmental adaptation techniques, ii) the river courses projects will be planned primarily to streamline the wildness of rivers through various modern techniques, iii) developing various new livelihood projects based on rivers including river rafting, water ski and river course tourism, iv) study the entire hydrological flows on a time series and historical basis and make future projections on flow pattern. This Fund will be managed and operated by the Department of Forest and Environment.
(Hydel Projects sanctioned in Sikkim)
Below is an article published in the December 1997 issue of Himal , a magazine featuring South Asian political perspectives and published from Kathmandu
A strong monastery-backed lobby in Sikkim, identified with the Bhutia and Lepcha 'original population', has for a few years fought the Gangtok government's plans to dam the Rathong Chu, which flows through Sikkim from its source at the base of the Khangchendzonga massif. The catchment area is held in great reverence by the indigenous Sikkimese, who were greatly perturbed that the spiritual nature of the site would be disturbed by a dam-building exercise with its environmental, economic and demographic fallouts.
While a case was pending at the Supreme Court in Delhi, repeated representations were made to the government of Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, who has made it a point to show his sensitivity to the ethnic sentiments. The Gangtok officials tried the usual prevarication, but the opponents proved too tenacious and the 30 megawatt project had to die. And so, at a large gathering of lamas and lay people from all over Sikkim at the Paljor Stadium in Gangtok on 20 August, the Chief Minister announced: "To honour and uphold the sentiments, religion and culture of the Sikkimese people and to save the environment, the Rathong Chu Hydel Project is being scrapped."
Added Chamling, taking on a heroic posture, "We are willing to sacrifice for Sikkim and Sikkimese. Let our chair go. We will not continue staying in our chair doing bad things for the people."
But still, what is the mechanism to stop a project? Apparently, all it takes is a notification by a state's Chief Secretary (in this case, K. Sreedhar Rao), "by order and in the name of the Governor", with copies to various departments, stating that, "The State Government is hereby pleased to order the closure of the Rathong Chu Hydel Project, with effect from 20th August, 1997".
That's all there is to it.