Gangtok, Jan. 31, 2011:
The permission for the controversial 96 MW Lethang mega hydel power project in West Sikkim is still pending but the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has provided the green signal for the continuation of survey and investigation on Lachung (84 MW), Bhimkyong (90 MW) along with Bop (97.5 MW) projects of North Sikkim.
The government of Sikkim has signed agreements with private developers and National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) to develop power projects for a total of 5,421.7 MW, with its hydro power potential evaluated to be about 8000 MW.
The three power projects had been put on hold along with three other projects Teesta Stage I with a capacity of 280 MW, Teesta Stage II, 330 MW and Lachen, 120 MW in areas above Chungthang in North Sikkim after the adverse reports submitted by Centre of Inter-Disciplinary Studies of Mountains and Hill Environment (CISMHE) in 2008.
CISMHE had mentioned in its report about the carrying capacity of Teesta basin in Sikkim. Considering the report MoEF had recommended that the six power projects planned above Chungthang area should not be considered due to the ecological sensitivity in North Sikkim. Chungthang is situated 85 kms away from Gangtok and it is the gateway to Lachen and Lachung in North Sikkim. But following the efforts of Sikkim government and power developers the MoEF accorded approval for continuation of survey and investigations for Teesta Stage I and Teesta Stage II.
Recently MoEF has granted permission to the State Government on continuation of investigations and survey for Lachung, Bhimkyong and Bop projects as well. All these projects are over Lachung River, a tributary of Teesta.
The approval was given after the Expert Appraisal Committees visited the site on September 2010. The visiting committee had said that investigation and survey of the three projects can be permitted.
Power officials of the state say that survey and investigation is must for preparation of DPRs (Detailed Project Reports) but first it needs the approval from the Central Electricity Authority and MoEF for environmental clearance.
MoEF has directed the power developers and State government to include additional points in the term of references for Lachung, Bhimkyong and Bop to address the concerns raised in the CISMHE report before giving the consent to the three power projects of north Sikkim. Baseline studies on delineation of biodiversity hotspots, impact of construction activities on the specific habitats of critically endangered species and their conservation, preparation of fish conservation plan with provision for fish ladder, preparation of inventory of glacial lakes in the catchment areas and landslide hazard prone areas are the additional points to be included in the terms of references as per the letter written to the state government states.
Meanwhile, the Lethang power project in South Sikkim over Rathong Chu is still on hold as the standing committee of National Board of Wildlife had rejected the proposal in October last year.
“The project is still on hold. The Sikkim government has written to the MoEF for reconsideration in the next meeting of the standing committee of National Board of Wildlife and give clearance for conducting survey for the project”, said State power secretary Pema Wangchen.
According to the claims of the State power and forest officials, no reasons were offered by the committee for refusing the Lethang power project propose over Rathong Chu, a river held sacred by the Sikkimese, prompting authorities to rework the proposal.
Sources informed that the standing committee of the board had rejected the proposal without considering the merits and demerits of the project. Instead of considering the wildlife and forestry angle and the full support given by the local people during the public hearing at Yuksom, the committee rejected the proposal on religious and cultural grounds, they said.
Some modifications have been made in the new report and it has been highlighted again in the report that local people are eager to have the project. The standing committee had reportedly taken cognizance of the concerns raised by the Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee, a non-political organization here and a section of monks, that the project will hurt the sentiments of the Buddhists in Sikkim as the Rathong Chu is considered a sacred river. It has been contending that the proposed Lethang project is not a new project but instead, it was similar to the 30 MW Rathong Chu power project in the same area which had been scrapped by Chief Minister Pawan Chamling in 1997 on religious considerations. Rothang Chu in Yuksom valley is the tributary of Rangeet river.
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(Courtesy: Sikkim Mail)