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Two killed in Arunachal firing as protestors attempt to free activist-monk from police custody

Activist-monk was spearheading movement against hydro power projects in the region.

Two people died in Tawang on Monday when the Arunachal Pradesh police fired at protesters demanding the release of Lama Lobsang Gyatso, the general secretary of the organisation that is spearheading the anti-hydro power movement in region.

The police action also left at least seven people injured. The army has been called in to control further escalation of violence.

Lobsang Gyatso had been arrested twice last week. On April 26, he was detained for disturbing the peace during protests in Gongkhar village where the 6 MW Mukto Shakangchu project is coming up. The villagers had opposed the reconstruction of the spillway of the small project as they say that work-quality has been compromised. He was later released bail.

But the activist-monk was rearrested on April 28 for allegedly making comments about Guru Rinpoche, the Abbot of Tawang monastery, that hurt the sentiments of the people and defamed the religious official.

Protestors enter station

The director general of police in charge, N Payeng, said that the police opened fire on Monday after 1,500 protestors, many of them Buddhist monks and nuns, entered the police station in a bid to free Lobsang Gyatso. The police initially fired tear gas at the protestors in a bid to dissuade them from entering the facility, but opened fire when the officials were attacked, Payeng said.

However, eye witnesses say that the police opened indiscriminate firing, without any warnings as some of the protestors entered the police station to free the detained lama.

The violence comes against the backdrop of a National Green Tribunal ruling last month against the Noida-based Bhilwara group’s 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu project in response to an appeal filed by the Save Mon Region Federation, of which Lobsang Gyatso is the general secretary. The ruling shook up the political establishment that has enthusiastically backed such projects.

Vocal crusader

“The government has used force on protestors, who were demanding the release of a known and vocal crusader against construction of hydro power projects in ecologically sensitive Tawang,” said Vijay Taram, the spokesperson of the Forum for Siang Dialogue, another organisation opposed to hydro power projects.

On April 7, the National Green Tribunal had suspended the environmental clearance of the Nyamjang Chhu project, asking for a fresh impact assessment studies, a public hearing and appraisal by the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

Tawang, which borders China, is the winter home to the black-necked crane, which is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species. The Green Tribunal noted that the Union Environment Ministry had failed to considered the impact of the hydro project on the crane’s habitat.

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