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Call to scrap projects on holy river

Gangtok, Nov. 16: The National Commission for Minorities today urged the Sikkim government to review the two hydel projects on the Rathong Chu as the river was considered holy by the Buddhists.

The appeal came from commission member Spalzes Angmo, who looks after the interests of the Buddhists in the country on behalf of the panel.

Angmo told journalists after her meeting with Sikkim chief secretary Karma Gyatso here that the Rathong Chu in West district was sacred not only to the Buddhists in Sikkim but also to those in the entire Himalayan region, including her native region, Leh-Ladakh.

“During our discussions with the chief secretary, we said the state should stop, think and review whether such projects were necessary. The power generation might bring in revenue but the local people consider the projects to be a threat to their lives (in the wake of the September 18 earthquake). We were told that a high-level committee headed by the chief secretary had been formed to review the two projects,” said Angmo, who was accompanied by commission joint secretary, Esther Kar.

The dams have been proposed at Ting Ting (99MW) and Tashiding (97MW). Although one more dam had been conceived on the river at Lethang to generate 96MW, the proposal was shot down by the National Board for Wildlife under the Union ministry for environment and forests.

However, the board gave green light to the other two projects. The Rathong Chu, a tributary of the Rangeet, originates from the Yuksom-Tashiding area.

Angmo had arrived in Sikkim on Monday and headed to West Sikkim to assess the damage to the monasteries in the earthquake.

“With the ancient monasteries at Pemayangtse, Tashiding and Dupdi, the district is a destination for tourists as well as Buddhist pilgrims. The religious concerns of the people should be taken into consideration and the Centre, too, should be aware of their sentiments. Sikkim falls in a highly seismic zone and the state government should consider this aspect in the wake of the earthquake,” said Angmo.

She said the Centre had constituted a committee to review all upcoming power projects in the country.

Asked what her course of action would be if the projects on the Rathong Chu were cleared by the Centre, Angmo said: “All that I can say is that I have read reports that Sikkim falls in a highly seismic zone, which should be a deterrent to any heavy construction. If you still go ahead, it will reflect your attitude towards the welfare of your people.”

The minority panel member said as she represented Buddhists in the commission, she had requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the earthquake to grant a special package to Sikkim to repair monasteries, some of which were of great value to Buddhists all over the world.

She will assess the condition of the monasteries in North Sikkim tomorrow.

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