“It has been 10 years since our government initiated power projects in Sikkim. Earlier, too, such earthquakes happened in Sikkim but at that time there was not even electricity, forget power projects. There are whispers floating in Gangtok blaming hydel power projects for the earthquake, which was a natural calamity. This is one proof that such propaganda is false,” Chamling said while distributing ex gratia to the 400 earthquake victims of East Sikkim at Chintan Bhavan here.
Sikkim will have 31 hydel projects by 2015 and they are expected to generate Rs 1,500 crore annually.
“Second, Canada and Switzerland have the highest number of mega hydel power projects and tunnels, and revenue from hydro power make these countries rich and self-sufficient. If the power projects are reason for earthquakes then these two countries would have been devastated much earlier,” Chamling said.
As a third argument, the chief minister said the tunnels related to the projects were all 100 feet below the ground but Sunday’s quake originated 2,000km below the surface of the earth. “Hence, there is no connection between the tunnels and the quake,” he said. He also took recourse to history to allay fears triggered by rumours of another immediate quake hitting Sikkim. “Everyone knows that Sikkim experienced an earthquake after a long gap. We had earthquakes in history and according to the scientific data and our experience, another major quake in Sikkim is possible only after 15-20 years,” said Chamling.
A faculty member of the geology and geophysics department of IIT Kharagpur said Chamling was correct when he said hydel projects had not triggered the earthquake. “Hydel projects do not cause earthquakes and the chief minister is correct on that count. However, the earthquake of September 18 took place at a depth of 19.7km below the surface. He must have meant 20km. Earthquakes do not take place below depths of 700km,” he said.
Despite the scientific facts, the chief minister said, “irresponsible people” were circulating text messages about another immediate impending quake triggered by hydel power projects.
“Our people must be conscious and on guard against such rumours. I have not initiated power projects to trigger earthquakes but to provide a perennial source of revenue for Sikkim and its development and to remove poverty,” said Chamling.
The chief minister said most of the labourers and engineers working at the power project sites had fled. “This will lead to a delay of one year in the completion of projects and Sikkim will lose Rs 500 crore. No one has given a thought to this and anti-people elements are busy spreading rumours,” he said.
The chief minister has already distributed ex gratia in South, West and North districts. While the death compensation is Rs 5 lakh (the official toll is 77), Rs 50,000 was given for serious injuries and Rs 25,000 for minor ones.
“We are not discriminating between victims on the basis of whether he or she is a Sikkimese or not… We may be a small state with six lakh people but we have a large heart. Non-locals had died more than local people. They had died while working for Sikkim’s development,” said Chamling.
Later in the day, government spokesperson KS Topgay said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was supposed to visit Sikkim tomorrow, has cancelled his trip