Hydro Project, Environment Issues and It’s Political Implication in Sikkim

Sikkim, a tiny Himalayan country became the 22nd state of Indian union on 16 May 1975 with special provisions of Article 371 F of the Constitution of India.  Sikkim lies in a very strategic area at the northeast region of the country that shares international political borders with Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet/China. When India got independence from the colonial British, Sikkim became a responsibility of India and India decided to continue with the Protectorate status of Sikkim. In 1947, the only political party in Sikkim, the Sikkim State Congress demanded the accession of Sikkim with the Union of India like other princely states in India, the then Indian Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru disagreed with this proposal and decided to keep Sikkim as semi- autonomy areas on the strategic border. The then Ruling House in Sikkim, the Namgyal Dynasty also opposed the merger with India and proposed to remain as a protectorate; similar to the status of Bhutan, yet another Himalayan kingdom. 

Hydro Project, Environment Issues and It’s Political Implication in Sikkim

India signed a treaty with Sikkim in December 1950 and Sikkim became a Protectorate under the Union of India. The Government of India controlled the external defence, diplomacy, and communication of Sikkim. According the provision of the Treaty “to associate people with the matters of the State”, a state council was set up in 1953 with a nominated Executive Council from among the elected and nominated members of the State Council. This set had continued till the 1973 elections.

India had taken over the administration of Sikkim in April 1973, when the administrative machinery in Sikkim failed after the public protest in March-April. Later on Sikkim was made an associate state of Union of India in 1974. Finally, on 16th May 1975, Sikkim became a full-fledged unit of India. Thus the 333 years long Namgyal dynasty was ended.

Sikkim is abundant with natural resources. Sikkim, existing in the biodiversity hotspot of the Kanchenjunga section, the altogether hill/mountainous territory of the state is crisscrossed by various waterways and streams. People in Sikkim, irrespective of their religious belief, treated Kanchenjunga as the protecting deity of Sikkim. The young Himalayas are hazard-prone too. As one of the world's most topographically and seismically active mountain ranges transfect by a huge number of steep, fast flowing, sediment loaded waterways, earthquakes, landslide, and floods are deadly phenomena.

Further, the climate change too contributed adverse environmental impact in the region. And it was also predicted about an increase in the number of landslides, an impact of hydro geological risks, a consequence of the uncalled-for human interactions with the nature of the Himalayan region. For instance, along with large number of landslides, cloudbursts and related floods are not unusual in this area. Extensive anthropogenic exercises including urbanization, deforestation, and infrastructure development and other so called development activities have intensified the potential danger in coming decades.

Regardless of these obvious environmental risk and warnings, major hydropower projects were proposed in this region and some of them are going to operational soon. They indeed brushed away the risks and safety checks as people are yet to understand the implications of such projects on the lives and livelihood of the people of Sikkim. The hydropower projects neglect all the genuine concerns and they hold their forte with singular economic consideration. Sikkim is an industrial (especially heavy industry) unviable state due to various factors.  The Sikkimese government, projects these hydropower projects as a viable proposal as hydro resources are abundant and it could be major source of revenue urgently needed, infrastructure, employment, and regional development.  Obviously, for the short-term gains, long term environmental implications are pushed under the carpet.  for being one of India's most environmentally aware states, would show up unavoidable to approach hydropower projects in an increasingly full way because of states being non-industry, hydropower project was introduced as a major source of revenue,

Sikkim has a territory of 2,740 square miles, with a small population of 6, 07,688(Census of 2011) comparable in size to a district and sub-division of an Indian State. However, it is unimaginable that Sikkim has the highest density power project in the world as on 30th June 2009. There is 30 hydro projects in all over Sikkim implemented by the Union Government. In other words, such a small state with environmental vulnerability, topographically situated in the young Himalayan region, has the highest density project per square mile on the world. Unfortunately, none of the parties – the Government of India or the State government of Sikkim, is bothered with this extensive numbers of projects and the future implication of these projects on the environment in the Himalayan region.

The main rivers in Sikkim are Teesta and Rangit. There are a large number of mountain streams also there. These rivers are regarded as holy by the Buddhist religion in the state. The forests surrounded by the rivers and streams protect the soil and slope from reduction collapse. Apart from affecting the bio-diversity of the region, constructions activities of such huge projects affect the natural forests on the river banks also adversely.

The man, however, intervened for his own purpose, destroyed the self-protective covering placed of nature, and has along these endangered the existence of the whole country environment. Sikkim was never planned commonly to be developed. It is sure that the biggest number of hydro project and dams per square mile on the world coming up in the tiny state and was will undoubtedly cause certain ecological reduction and environment corruption and destruction on a notable scale.

Anti-dam Movement in Sikkim-

India is known as one of the largest democratic systems in the world and the constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Protests or movement are not unknown to India; in fact non-violent protect is an accepted norm to register the dissent. People protest for various reasons; of course some of them are to protect the environment and ecosystem. Prominent among them are: the protest against Narmada dam which was going on for years. The tribal community in the valley has been part of this peaceful protest for many years now. Chipko movement was yet protest to protect the environment. These protests had the qualities of sacrifices, selflessness, altruism, solidarity, and heroism as they were not protesting for some individual gain but for the common good.

As far as Sikkim is concerned, the hydropower project protest movement in the state started in 1992. However, the major concern in the first ever such protest in Sikkim was not environment but religious; protect the sanctity of the river. The Teesta and Rangit are the two main sacred rivers of states, where hydropower potential is considerable both public and private sectors have been engaged to harness the hydropower in Sikkim. Between 1990 and 2000 the state government and various companies began constructing large power projects in Sikkim so-called development had had a huge impact on the environment and violation of human rights.

Water resources are commons; Teesta and Rangit are no exceptions.  Without considering this factor, hydropower projects go ahead with their profit-making agenda; in the process they ignore many issues associated with these kinds of mega projects: environmental, socio-economic and cultural issues, proper rehabilitation and resettlement of physically displaced villagers, adequate reparation for the persons affected were some of the key issues which was addressed marginally. The immediate impact of the construction of dams in Sikkim, are environmental hazards such as encroachment of forest lands, land acquisition issues, landlessness, and unemployment.

30 small and large power projects are proposed on the river Teesta and its tributaries. The two indigenous communities in north Sikkim united in their anti-dam movement. Teesta Stage III 1200 MW is inside the Dzongu reserve with Teesta IV and Panan hydroelectric and Rathong Chu River in west Sikkim Yuksam as National Heritage Site decided as a biodiversity hotspot by the World Wildlife fund (India) and also Buddhist religion scared place.


Electricity, as a flexible source of energy is a significant structure for the local economy; the energy can be transferred to significant distances and in remote areas. Sikkim is a storage house of the hydro potential. At present, the installed capacity in India is 1,30,000 MW while the Northeast district comprising eight states has a hydropower capability of around 60,000 MW, of which just around 2 percent has been tapped up until this point.

The state of Sikkim alone has the potential to generate 8,000 MW of hydropower. And this could be an attractive income for a country like Sikkim. Not surprisingly, government of this industrially lagged state welcomed the public and private sectors; whoever had taken interest in the hydropower projects to invest in this sector in Sikkim. In other words, the government of Sikkim made clear their policy on the power sector will one that would encourage investment in tapping the resource available abundant in the state. The argument was that the investment in the hydropower sector would help the economic development of the state.

The state government has agreed to make arrangements with Independent Power Producers (IPPs) for the generation of 3363MW of hydropower.  Consequently, 30 new hydel power projects were proposed to tap 4,742 of the 8000 MW potentials of Sikkim. The construction 510 MW Teesta Stage V is one of them. Sikkim will not only be self- sufficient in the generation of electricity but will also be able to supply power to neighbouring states.

No doubt that the hydroelectric project plays a significant role in the overall economic development of a nation. Power is needed not only for house hold uses but also for the industrial purposes in big way. However, the advancement of a country must not be at the expense of the damage of ecology and the environment. This will have long term repercussions; especially when such projects are proposed in ecological fragile regions like Eastern Himalayas where Sikkim is situated. It is disheartening that at present, Sikkim has the highest density power projects in the world. (As on 30th June 2009). There are 30 hydro projects were proposed in the area and some of the projects are completed and some are on the way while some of them were called off due to the protests from people in Sikkim. This will be a major challenge before the Sikkimese people whose State has a geographical area of  2,740 square miles (out of these 82 per cent is forest area) and considerably low population of  6, 07,688(Census of 2011).

The main Rivers in Sikkim are Teesta and Rangit. All the rests are mountain streams. A stream is a small waterway- mountain streams- wadded over a shallow stream. Some of these streams are Lethang, Lodong, Rathong etc. Rivers are worshipped all over the world. River Jordan is viewed as sacred by Christians. Pilgrims bathe in the free-flowing waters of the Ganga. Similarly, the main rivers in Sikkim, Teesta and Rangit which, are regarded as holy by the Buddhists religion in the states.

A careful analysis of the state and its physical conditions could provide information on how the natural resources are exploited and the forests cover has thinned down over a period of time in the name of development. Soil erosion and landslides are very common and hence protection of the soil of the valleys and slopes from collapse is very important. Instead of the protection, men meddle with the nature with profit motive and that eventually destroyed the natural protective cover. This can be dangerous for the environment as well as to the State in the long run. Sikkim was never had a planned exclusive environment programme involving the people, especially the indigenous communities. It is indeed worrisome the fact that the biggest number of hydro projects and dams per square mile on the world is coming up in this tiny state. Needless to say it will, undoubtedly, cause certain ecological repercussions and destruction at a notable scale.

The supporters of hydropower strongly argue their case that it is climate-friendly and that it has the potential for changing global warming problems since it keeps away from fossil-fuel burning. In any case, this is not a valid argument. Research conducted on greenhouse gas emission from dams and hydropower reservoirs, particularly those situated in the tropical forest regions, can make a significant contribution to a global warming; in worse cases, as much as or even more than the fossil fuel- burning power plants production for a similar amount of electricity. Hence huge hydropower isn't clean, sustainable, and cheap, as they claim. Hydro power projects, in general, is not viewed as much as unclean energy source the pollution , as other sectors of smoking, belching etc., from coal-consuming plants. Yet it does not qualify as clean energy. Big Hydro projects can seriously contaminate river water by releasing greenhouse gases and also the ozone harming substances because of the rotting of submerged vegetation and soils. The destruction and extinction of riverine ecosystem is also a form of pollution; dams are also powerful operator in the spread of disease, particularly in tropical and subtropical areas. The main health risk from a dam project being with the appearance into a remote areas of numerous construction labourers, a large portion of them are also poor, unskilled workers from the plains, they were known commonly carry a wide range of infectious diseases, for example, tuberculosis, measles, flu, leishmaniosis, and syphilis, etc. Additionally, a labourer on dam destinations likewise faces the danger of death and injury because of the dangerous working conditions in most dam projects cites.

Building a totally safe dam is simply not possible in India the financial factors and local pressure to take shortcuts or ignored poor quality work. Dam has the potential for mass killing next just to a nuclear plant. The world's most unusually terrible dam disaster which happened in Henan territory in the Centre of China in August 1975 when as many as 2, 30,000 individuals may have died in the disaster.

The issue all the dams are challenging is a store of Sedimentation. All the rivers contain sediment: a river as a result can be seen as a collection of streaming sediments as much as one of flowing water. At the point when the river is stilled behind a dam, the sediment it contains sink to the base of the supply. The level of a river's all out deposit load catch by a dam. As the sediment collective in the fount so the dam step by step loses its capacity to store water for which it was built. Sedimentation is still seemingly the most genuine particular problem looked by the dam industry.

The tunnelling works have equally troubled the territories of wild animals which are frequently seen in human settlement including. The urban areas where they are killed as opposed to making them lay down with sedative medications and catching them alive as indicated by the Wildlife Act, 1972. The tunnelling works have also led to wide leakage of underground water which had, so far continued the forest spread and crops, for example, cardamom, there is also a chance of water source or underground water either totally disappearing or leaking to a much lower level interpreting villages at higher problems, were tribal mostly live uninhabitable.  The plant and crops in the region of the channels will likewise vanish in the course of time inferable from consequents loss of underground moisture and it will have far-reaching influences incorporating every contiguous land, at last, affecting Sikkim.

Teesta stage- V longest Tunnel in India. According to an Official statement dated 4 July 2009 from Faridabad by NHPC limited, the 510 MW Teesta Stage - V project is the first one to be authorized. "Significant part of the project is 88.60-meter high and 176.50 meters long Concrete Gravity Dam, 17.2 km long 9.5-meter width Head Race Tunnel, 92.5-meter high, and 30-meter diameter semi-underground Surge Shaft and an underground Power House of the size 117mx22mx47.5m with three Francis Turbines each of 170 MW capacity.

Teesta Stage V: Nation Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) Warning on 21 December 2007 asked the resident from Dikchu, the site of a 95 meter-high dam for the Teesta hydro project, stage V, 510 MW, to keep off the region from the most recent seven days of December 2007 when water would be filled off in the reservoir. An open notice in Nepali gave by NHPC read: people are encouraged to remove their belonging including cattle that may get submerged by the dam's water. They are furthermore advised not to go close to the dam or its banks. The notices included "alarms at the project and dam areas have been set up to warm the resident before releasing water. But, people may land in a difficult situation if the alarm doesn't work or on the off chance that they ignore the warning. , the NHPC won't be responsible".

The Indian Express New Delhi, 17 September 2009 "More than 50,000 people in the small states are living under the steady fear of losing their home because of landslides and earthquakes. A report from Gangtok, said the vast majority of these people having a place with around 10,000 families are situated in the East Sikkim area with almost no delay for disaster relief team to reach them. Situated in the Eastern Himalayas, Sikkim experience many landslides, particularly during the rainy season, leading deaths, interruption of communication, and harm to properties.

Sikkim hydropower project in UNO (United Nations Organization) the interest for rejecting a hydropower project in North Sikkim reaches the United Nations Organization.  On 1 October 2010, the World Mountain People Association wrote to the government of India and Sikkim to stop the construction of Teesta hydel project 510MW and 300MW Panam hydel project in Dzongu since this is the main alternative to save the demographically endanger LepchaTibes with most unique and destine culture, tradition, and language for extinction and to protected Dzongu, the environmentally fragile reserve, which is the support of Lepcha civilization. Occasion the voice of the United Nations Organization was ignored by the government of India and the Indian state of Sikkim. The government of India was the only government on the world that didn't permit the World Commission on Dams to go into the country and refused permission to hold a public hearing.

Yuksam as National Heritage Site. Yuksam is the central point of Sikkim's cultural legacy. It was here that Sikkim present-day history as the Buddhist Kingdom began or originated with the crowing of the first ruler of Sikkim. ChogyalPhuntsogNamgyal in 1642. Yuksam which runs on the edges of the Kanchenjunga National Park has likewise been decided as a biodiversity hotspot by the World Wildlife fund (India) demanding "urgent protection of its biological resource and several endanger animal categories unique to Sikkim". Practically all unique hilltops of west Sikkim have a monastery and these include Tashiding, Sangachoeling, khechopelri, and Pemayangste monasteries in the west district and other sacred spots and countless "hidden treasure" are hidden everywhere throughout the west Sikkim. The sacred water from the RathongChu River is utilized during the annual Bhumchu ceremony at the Tashiding monastery when Buddhist pilgrims visit the sacred place.

The Sikkim Building Construction Regulations, 1991. Which is in from 19 March 1991, gives that "the complete height of any structure will not be in excess of 50 feet or 5 stories the reason for the limitation depends on seismic consideration. But, the Sikkim Government has not guarded the height of dams for hydroelectric undertakings, in any case, the height of the Teesta Stage V dam is eighty meters or 262.50 feet or more than the 26 stories and there are other higher dams. International Commission On Large Dams (ICOLD) - a Paris base dam industry characterizes the large dams. Dams of 10-15 meters might be characterized as large dams. On the off chance that they meet the accompanying necessities: crest length 500 meters or more; reservoir capacity at least 1 million cubics; maximum flood discharges at least 2,000 cubic meters per second; especially difficult foundation problems' or unusual design.

N K P Salve, India's Power Minister, told International Water Power & Dam Construction in late 1993: "We are not going in for large dams anymore. We want to run of the river projects and to have smaller dams, if they are necessary at all, which will not cause any impediments whatsoever to the environmental needs.

Centre Government's Hydro Power Policy -

According to the draft hydropower policy, November 2005 developers for hydropower projects up to 100 MW are allowed to be selected through negotiation ( by signing of Memorandum of  Understanding (MoU) and hence called the MoU route). While those above 100 MW are to be selected through the INTERNATIONAL COMPETITIVE BIDDING (ICB) ROUTE. The salient feature of these policy guidelines is:

  1. Project up to 100 MW can be permitted by the state government through the Memorandum of Understanding rout with a condition that the project developer would award the EPC contract through the International Competitive Bidding route only. The state government would likewise set up its own rule to guarantee that the portion of the undertakings through the MoU course is done in a transparent manner.


  1. All projects over 100 MW will be distributed through the International Competitive Bidding process. Before starting the project for allocating the site, the state government would complete activities like site identification, least land securing, and states level environment clearances, collection of requisite and sufficient hydrological, geographical, meteorological and seismological information vital for the preparation of the detailed project report on the basis of which bidding can make a reasonable proposal.
  2. The bidding process will be a two-stage process featuring a separate Request for Qualification (RFQ) and a Request for Proposal (RFP). The state government should publish the RFQ notice, in any event, two national papers, the government website and trade magazines, and furthermore accord it wide publicity. The bidding shall necessarily be by way of International Competitive Bidding.

A decision must be taken to call off the proposed construction of unusually large number of hydro dams in Sikkim, an ecologically vulnerable region. If it is necessary, few ecologically viable projects can be entertained by keeping the height of the dams low on the Teesta at the farthest separation possible from each other. A dam is a necessary evil. A dam shall be constructed as a last resort if no other alternate source of energy is available.

But in Sikkim, there is a prelibation of dams because construction dams benefits powerful political and economic interests. The research shows that the proposed Dams in the State are not to take care of the energy needs of the people of Sikkim but to cater the needs of other regions. However, considering the fragility of Eastern Himalaya where the Sikkim is situated, the construction of large number of Dams will have devastating results. Already it started showing the strains

Hence, the Planning process in Sikkim should consider this fact and a Development Plan must be drawn without much space for Hydro power project. The environmental heritage of Sikkim, ecological issues including the impact of Hydro Power projects should be part of the curriculum in both primary and secondary grades throughout Sikkim. The reorganization and expansion the ideas of eco-friendly, sustainable development, geological and forest, mineral, timber and other resource must set up. In order to understand the value of the environment we live knowledge banks should be set up in every village and town. Government must concentrate on people oriented knowledge dissemination on Flora, fauna, Mountains, biodiversity in general.

By Mukun Singh Limboo