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Monks cite holy river as hurdle
- Scrap hydel project plea to cM

Gangtok, Sept. 21: Monks along with the Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee have petitioned the Pawan Chamling government to scrap the proposed Lethang hydel power project on the Rathong Chu, a river considered sacred by the Sikkimese.

The petitioners said in 1997, the Chamling-led Sikkim Democratic Front government had scrapped a 30 MW project in the same area, the Yuksom Valley, for similar sentiments. At that time, Chamling during an announcement on August 19, 1997, had said the project had been cancelled to “honour the sentiments, religion and culture of the Sikkimese people,” even though Rs 20 crore had been spent on it.

The Siblac and the monks of the Pemayangtse monastery in West Sikkim registered their opposition during a public hearing conducted by the state pollution control board on Thursday. The monks in their memorandum to the board said the river on which the 96MW hydel project was being developed was the most sacred in Sikkim. “Any power project over the sacred Rathong Chu river was considered a closed chapter after the Rathong Chu hydel power project was scrapped by the chief minister in 1997. Now again, for some reason, the state government has signed an agreement with a private developer to construct a 96MW project over the same river. They have deliberately kept the name of the project ‘Lethang’ to mislead the people,” said Siblac convener Tseten Tashi Bhutia. His allegation was that usually a project was named after a river, but not in this case. Few people are aware that the Lethang project is the one on the Rathong Chu, a tributary of the Rangeet.

Bhutia claimed that under the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, which was extended to Sikkim in 1998, Rathong Chu at 5,700ft is a sacred river.

In his petition to Chamling, the Siblac convener also highlighted the recommendations of the one-man committee of P.S. Ramakrishnan of Jawaharlal Nehru University. The panel report to the state government in 1995 had recommended the scrapping of the project in Rathong Chu, saying the stretch from Mount Kanchenjungha to the Yuksam lowlands is the most appropriate to be declared a national heritage site. “The point is that no expenditure has been incurred so far for the Lethang project and it can be closed,” said Bhutia.

Officials of the pollution control board said the Siblac and the monks’ submissions at the hearing would be put on record. “The project developer and the district collector concerned will have to reply to these contentions,” a board official said.

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