From: Bappa Majumdar
Published October 7, 2007 07:56 PM

Ancient India tribe marches against power project

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - Thousands of Indian tribespeople protested on Saturday against the construction of hydro power projects on what they say is sacred land in the remote northwest, officials said.

The ancient Buddhist Lepchas, who say they are already marginalized by the growing population of ethnic Hindu Nepalis in the region, strongly oppose the project in Dzongu mountain, which they regard as the abode of their guardian god of the mountains.

"Dzongu is a reserved territory of the Lepchas and we will protect the land of our forefathers with the last drop of blood," said Tseten Lepcha of the Affected Citizens of Teesta.

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There are plans to construct at least six hydro power projects along the Teesta river in the tiny Himalayan state of Sikkim to generate more than 3,000 MW of power.

The protest was seen spreading on Saturday after thousands of Lepchas were seen holding placards and shouting "Stop the project" and "Protect Dzongu," on the streets of Kalimpong, a tourist town in neighboring West Bengal state, witnesses said.

The ancient Lepchas traditionally revere the Teesta river, and fear its disappearance into a series of proposal tunnels will be accompanied by their own marginalization.

It will also cause widespread destruction of vegetation and kill thousands of rare fish, they say.

Several rounds of talks with the government have failed to resolve the dispute.

"The parleys have all failed and they want nothing less than scrapping of the Teesta project, which is impossible," B.B. Gooroong, chief adviser to the government, said on Saturday.

The 100,000 Lepchas living in the two states are now coming together on the issue.

"Dzongu is all that is left to us, how can we let them destroy it," added Dawa Lepcha.

 

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