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Rafters stare at job loss
- Teesta rapids to drown in dams

Kalimpong, Nov. 21: More than 300 people eking out a living by operating rafts on the Teesta fear they will lose their income once dam projects on the river are completed next year.

The owners and workers of rafting units in Teesta Bazar and Melli said the river would become staid and rapids would disappear upon the completion of the dams.

“The NHPC is slated to commission one dam at Rambi in March. The thrill of rafting lies in riding the rapids. Once the rapids are gone, the water will be as staid as that of a lake. People will not be able to experience the thrill any more,” said Roshan Bhujel, the vice-president of the Teesta-Rangeet Raft Owners’ Association.

A 10km-long stretch of the Teesta between Labarbote near Melli and 29th Mile is used for the rafting. Apart from the dam at Rambi, another one will come up at Kalijhora, 12km downstream. Rambi is 3km downstream 29th Mile.

“Many more dams are being constructed upstream in Sikkim. The entire length of the Teesta will become unsuitable for rafting. We have been voicing our concerns regarding rafting ever since power projects were conceptualised. However, our concerns fell on deaf ears then and even now our pleas are not being heard,” lamented Bhujel.

Given the fact that the dams are now a fait accompli, Bhujel said the least the authorities could do was provide them with an alternative source of livelihood. “Although we have taken up the matter with the NHPC and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, no satisfactory response has come from either of them. We are open to the idea of any kind of compensation. That could be in the form of jobs to the educated amongst us or monetary compensation for the loss of business we are certain to suffer from,” he said.

Teesta Bazaar and Melli together have 45 to 50 rafts. According to Bhujel, the rafts provide direct employment to about150 people and over 200 villagers benefit indirectly. The rafting season lasts for about nine months from mid-September to May.

While NHPC officials could not be reached for their comment, Morcha secretary Roshan Giri said his party was aware of the issue and the future of the villagers would have to be taken care of.

“When we first took up the matter, the then NHPC official (at Rambi) had spoken about introducing boating in lieu of rafting. An alternative source of livelihood must be found for the people living off rafting,” he said.

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