By Palden Lepcha and Junu Pundi Lepcha
On 23rd September 2021, NHPC Limited’s Teesta Stage V was awarded IHA Blue Planet Prize by International Hydropower Association(IHA).
The award recognises hydropower projects which have demonstrated their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance by undergoing a detailed assessment by independent assessors.
In an official release, they have said that ‘during its assessment, NHPC Limited’s 510 MW Teesta-V project, located on the Teesta River in Sikkim, Northern India, met or exceeded international good practice across all 20 performance criteria using the Hydropower Sustainability Tools.
Eddie Rich, Chief Executive of IHA said,“We are delighted to award the 2021 IHA Blue Planet Prize to NHPC Limited’s Teesta-V station. The project has demonstrated a real commitment to transparency and good practice, and can hopefully act as a model in the region. No project is perfect and the path to sustainability can sometimes be bumpy, so we welcome NHPC Limited’s passion for sustainable development and encourage them to pursue this ambition beyond the recognition of the IHA Blue Planet Prize.”
Dr Joerg Hartmann, lead assessor of the project said, “This assessment helped NHPC identify strengths as well as weaknesses in the Teesta-V project. These lessons can now be applied across the company’s entire project portfolio, because NHPC chose to be transparent with the results, across the entire Indian hydropower sector. In fact, some of the best practices identified in the assessment – such as conducting a follow-up Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) ten years after project commissioning, to verify initial predictions of impacts and the effectiveness of mitigation measures – should be considered by project owners everywhere.”
This recognition has brought much attention all around the world about Teesta stage V and has helped NHPC gain popularity, no doubt.
But then what does it mean for us Sikkimese and Indian people?
The most controversial corporate which we have always seen caught in the middle of the dirty work one or the other way has been awarded a license to ‘plunder the environment’ and proceed with its ‘dirty scheme’ more vigorously.
This recognition of Teesta Stage V has compelled us to raise some serious questions and has put us into dilemma whether the recognition of IHA Blue Planet Prize is genuine or not?
Isn’t the IHA involved in playing hypocrisy game with NHPC?
If it was the truth, the way IHA officials asserted then why are their statements contradicting in the ground level?
• The assessment should state that people here still live in fear and that it is a criteria, met
The ground reality that don’t get into media is that over the years, people here have seen and witnessed how many problems and headaches NHPC TEESTA STAGE V has brought to us, worst felt in the monsoon season. People of Dikchu, Lower Tintek, Makha, Singtam, Melli, Rangpo and especially Aapdara (other downstream places) have been living in fear in their own motherland because of NHPC TEESTA STAGE V. Residents of Aapdara Village in East Sikkim which is located right above the dam of 510 MW Teesta Stage V HE Project want to be relocated to a safer place because the houses have developed several cracks and the area has been sinking eversince, posing a threat to their lives. (Summit Times, 22nd February 2021)“We can feel the tremors all the time. Doors and windows start shaking due to the vibration caused by the de-silting chamber under our village,” says one of the local residents, Saroj Rai. Aap Dara, the village in East district located right above the 510 MW Teesta Stage-V dam, has grown even more unstable following a massive landslide on the alignment below it earlier this year. The villagers pointed out to cracks and sinks which have snaked up on all the houses in the village rendering them too unsafe to continue living in. This, however, has not happened yet, and now the entire cluster of 27 houses is showing signs of advanced distress. In fact, five families have already moved out to safer places even as their damage remains unrecognized.
• Lack of transparency and false promises as to why people should not come into promises of corporates as noted by the Teesta stage V landowners:
Fear, concern, uncertainty of living space isn’t the only thing here that everyone should know about. NHPC LIMITED is a ‘U-TURN’ company. While they say and declare soothing comments and commitments, they deliver the opposite almost like how ‘political parties’ work after getting elected power.Once they acquire land for the project, their promises of compensation and relocation goes off in the air, it has so far.The villagers say that only surveys and joint inspections are conducted by authorities time and again but their situation remains the same. It has been three years since the people of this village requested authorities to resolve their problem.“We never thought that this situation would arise as we thoughyt we had given our land for the development of the nation,” said one of the affected villagers. (Summit Times 22nd February 2021)”
Residents of Aapdara have been grappling with sinks and slides ever since the project was commissioned back in 2006. Over a decade since, their worries have only increased and now the 27 affected families that call Aapdara their home, want no more assurances and token repairs – they want NHPC to acquire all their affected lands and property and compensate them properly so that they can relocate to safer sites. The residents have clearly had enough of seeing their lands sink away, houses tilt, courtyards crack and landslides tear off from the below the village, tugging at its very foundations. Through the years, the villagers here have suffered damage, received inspection teams. The cycle is proving too repetitive and the condition too traumatic for the people. While this demand has been raised more than often by the people, since 2015 that is. These matters had not been taken into consideration with any seriousness by the concerned authorities until recently. The trouble at Aapdara has now clearly grown too dire to be sidestepped any longer and measures were taken to evaluate the scale of damage with the intention to compensate the affected families, paving the way for their relocation. The Buildings & Housing Department has already certified the valuation of these 27 houses for the compensation but recently that NHPC dodged paying up on the claim that the damage was a surface issue and not related to the dam or tunnelling.
On 17 June this year, the road that lead to the damsite got blocked due to a landslide and the people took this as an opportunity to make a stand and did not allow NHPC to initiate repairs on the road unless compensation was paid. They also argued that if machines were deployed, the activity would cause further devastation. That being said, the people argue pointing that the disaster management authorities have not even assessed the situation properly. The affected people have requested the administration and Land Revenue Department to order an official stay on NHPc’s road repair works to avoid further damage to their homes.They add that the assessment report of the Mines & Geology Dept in 2015 was unfair and unacceptable to them because it was too vague and did not establish clear accounatbility.The people are demanding that adequate compensation be paid and a proper Rehabilitation & Resettlement package be provided to them along with a regular/permanent job.They add that the a fresh stability report of their village be prepared by an autonomous body, independently without consulting NHPC as it has been already delayed and pending for settlement since 2015.” (Summit times)
• WHO IS BENEFITTING FROM THE PROJECT? LOCAL PEOPLE?
While we keep fighting and blaming with our own people, taking out peaceful rallies advocaters of such these development should know who are they speaking for. NHPC Stage V Dikchu was financed in 2002 by Deutsche Bank AG, Singapore, on a united credit facility $ 150 million (Rs 750 crore) to it’s total estimate cost Rs 2,730 crore. The financing offer from Deutsche Bank is covered under Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (Nexi), which is a 100 per cent Japanese government institution formed for providing credit insurance cover…. so today money is going back to these institutions with interest rate. The affected landowners and public of Dikchu are crushed in these dirty hydro politics for survival. “One thing Sikkimese should understand by now is that Dams in Sikkim are not for us, it has been built for investors like World Bank, Asian Developmen Bank Deutsche Bank ICICI Bank and more.”. Renowned activist Gyatso Lepcha, General Secretary, ACT and
THE CASE OF CHANDRA MAYA LIMBOO:
Chandra Maya Limboo had never thought that she would have to bear the brunt of incessant downpour and will be shooed away by the nature from where they were living since many decades at Jang village in East Sikkim.
A woman shouldering responsibility, facing every challenges to have two square meals and look after her ailing husband who had been bed-ridden since a couple of years ago. Despite living here in a decrepit thatched house, for many decades, this sexagenarian couple couldn’t construct a pakka house since the place they resided in was of someone else, and was now acquired by the NHPC for Teesta Stage V . All Chandra Maya could see was crack, sink and her house gradually tilting.
Fortunately, Chandra Maya managed to shift her ailing husband to a safer location provided by police personnel from Dikchu Police out post. Now she’s waiting what her destiny will lead her and her husband in days ahead while continuing to live life, hand to mouth. The irony was, none of the local representatives and officials arrived to extend support seeing that they are not the voters of that particular area. Not even the people seeking photos for relief distribution, realising that helping out this family maybe purposeless.” (27th june 2020, DD)
• The Last note:
“People in Dikchu and Makha have this fear/psychosis whenever there is heavy rainfall, people get out of their shelters, the E-flows are not maintained properly between two distances of dams…. Yes, every civilisation needs development but it is not good if this development brings the civilisation down to extinction. In our small land with rivers, Gods have blessed us and saved us from many grave calamities so far but the same God may also curse us if we continue to exploit what we’re given, just like in the story of the goose that laid golden eggs.” – Tshering Wangchuk Lepcha, Present Additional Political Secretary to Chief Minister (East).