October 1, 2013
Sikkim is constructing five hydroelectricity projects – Teesta III, Dik Chu, Panan, Tashiding and Ting-Ting – in violation of the Supreme Court’s order. These projects are coming up within the 10-km eco-sensitive zones around Khangchendzonga National Park and Fambonglho wildlife sanctuary without the mandatory approval of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). What is worse, the state and private user agencies – Teesta Urja, Sneha Kinetic, Himgiri Hydro and DANS Group – did not even approach the NBWL for clearance.
That is what an inspection team of the NBWL has informed the Environment Ministry (MoEF) last month in its report on the Teesta IV project, drawing a parallel between hydroelectric dams in the eco-sensitive zones of Sikkim and iron ore mines in the eco-sensitive zones of Goa. The NBWL team referred to the Justice Shah Commission Report that observed how “approvals have been granted in many cases… in the eco-sensitive zones without placing the project proposals before the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife”.
The NBWL team stumbled upon two construction sites – Dik Chu and Teesta III – while visiting the Teesta IV site that had come to the board for clearance. Deeply concerned, the team sought to know the distance from the projects to the national parks and sanctuaries, their current status and if and when they had obtained the required environment, forest and wildlife clearances. “Even after waiting for 10 weeks,” the NBWL report notes, “we did not receive either an acknowledgment or a response from the Government of Sikkim, to our query.”
But from the available environment clearance records and minutes from the Standing Committee of the NBWL, the team concluded that “with the notable exception of the Teesta IV project, none of the other (five) projects… appear to have sought/obtained this compulsory SC-NBWL clearance”. Adding that the team could not ascertain the status of many other proposed/ongoing hydel projects situated close to sanctuaries and national parks inSikkim, it sought a thorough investigation into the circumstances under which such widespread violation of the SC order has taken place, fix responsibility for the transgressions, and punish the guilty.
In its recommendation, the NBWL report urged the Standing Committee to consider Teesta IV as part of a larger set of hydroelectric projects in the basin with vast ecological, social and legal portents and asked the MoEF to immediately investigate how many hydel projects are coming up in violation of SC orders, suspend ongoing work on those projects immediately and to direct user agencies to formally seek clearance.