Saturday, October 01, 2011

Interview with Sikkim's Anti-Hydro Dam Activist Dawa Lepcha

‘Devastation happened only in areas close to dam projects’
Dawa Lepcha, a 38-year-old anti-dam activist, points out that the secrecy surrounding government decisions leads to anti-people policies
Dawa Lepcha

When did you start your protests?
We came to know about these projects around 2003- 04. We have been running this campaign since. We have approached the government, submitting memorandum, press releases. But to no avail.
Post-quake, do you think things will change?
It will be easier to convince people that there is something behind our protest. People are discussing it.
A number of projects were sanctioned in quick time. Was there no opposition?
It was all being done secretly. They came up with the list only when we asked for it. By then, they had already signed MOUs for 19 or 20 projects out of 30.
What impact did you fear?
There would be demographic changes, social and cultural issues. Also, if a project lies within 10 km of a national park, the law says you need permission. They haven’t even applied for it. The seismic issue was never considered very seriously — environment impact assessments just make a mention of it. Of course, we can’t say the earthquake was caused by these projects, but they have definitely worsened the situation. Dynamite has been used carelessly for years. It’s common sense: devastation has happened only in construction areas.
Do you oppose all projects?
When we realised there are many more projects coming up, we tried to widen the protest. Most project-affected people were very concerned, but unfortunately the government has a tight control here.
It is said almost 80 percent of the people work for the government. Does it make entry of private companies easy?
On the finance side, in all the Independent Project Co-operatives, the government has 25 percent equity. If the State is a minority stakeholder, how will it have a say?

Excerpts From The Interview:
Sai Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka

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