Sikkim could be in for a Goa-like scam of environmental violations with several hydroelectric projects coming up on the Teesta river basin without mandatory wildlife clearance, flouting Supreme Court orders, a team of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) has warned in a report to the Union Environment and Forests Ministry.
The board has drawn a parallel with the scam in Goa, where rampant illegal iron mining took place without clearances. After the Justice M.B. Shah Commission unearthed systematic violation of regulations in Goa, the Centre ordered complete suspension of mining, based on its recommendations. A PIL petition on the matter is now being heard in the Supreme Court.
The NBWL is the apex body on wildlife policy issues under the Wildlife Protection Act, headed by the Prime Minister. The court has mandated that all projects coming within 10 km of national parks and sanctuaries seek prior clearance from the board’s standing committee. After proponents of the NHPC’s 520-MW Teesta 4 applied for clearance, the board sent a team which found that the project would submerge forests in the eco-sensitive area of the Khangchendzonga National Park, besides causing other ecological damage. Worse still, the team found, private developers had already begun construction on several projects in the river basin, in the vicinity of protected wildlife areas, without mandatory clearances. Those coming up illegally are the Teesta III, Dik Chu, Panan, Tashiding and Ting-Ting hydroelectric projects, according to the team. The team members tried to elicit comprehensive information from State officials but were stonewalled and left to ascertain the facts for themselves.
They noted that so many dams with tunnels had been planned and some were already under construction on the Teesta that the river could practically run dry through a large part of its course in the State. A “tragic consequence” of such large-scale diversion would be that between Teesta III and Teesta VI project sites most of the water would flow through the tunnels rather than in the actual course of the river.
The NBWL team has recommended a comprehensive review of all existing and proposed projects in the basin. It has demanded a thorough investigation into the projects coming up illegally in Sikkim. Basing its views on the Shah Commission report on Goa, it recommended immediate suspension of activity in the basin until the government thoroughly investigated the illegalities and looked into clearances for each project.