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Anti-dam activists killed in Arunachal: Protest against arrest of Buddhist campaigner against hydro projects

By Our Representative
At least two anti-dam activists were killed in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh on May 2, allegedly because of “machinations” by pro hydro-lobby and mismanagement by the police. They were protesting against the arrest of Lama Lobsang Gyatso, who has been organizing villagers against “destructive” hydropower projects in Tawang.
Well-known environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), quoting sources in Arunachal Pradesh, has said “there are unconfirmed reports that four people, including a Buddhist Lama, have been killed.”
Lama Lobsang Gyatso is secretary of the Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), an organisation of the Monpa community in the Mon-Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh, spear-headed by Buddhist Lamas. “The group has been advocating socio-culturally and ecologically sensitive development in the Mon-Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh”, says Thakkar in a social media post.
“This has included protesting against ecologically destructive hydropower projects, demanding accountability in execution government schemes and development projects, as well as exposing corruption”, he adds.
The incident happened against the backdrop of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on April 7, 2016 suspending environmental clearance of the 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu project in response to an appeal filed by the Save Mon Region Federation.
The NGT had asked for a fresh impact assessment studies, public hearing for local people and appraisal by the expert appraisal committee on river valley and hydroelectric projects and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
“A major issue was the impact on the wintering habitat of the black-necked crane, a vulnerable bird, considered sacred by the Buddhist Monpa community, considered an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama, who was from Tawang and wrote about the bird in his poetry”, says Thakkar.
On April 26, Lama Lobsang Gyatso was first arrested for allegedly leading a group of people from Gongkhar village, where the 6 MW Mukto Shakangchu project is coming up. The SMRF is opposed to reconstruction of spillway of the small project, as it says that work quality has been compromised.
He was arrested based on FIR filed by the Personel security officer of local MLA Pema Khandu for disruption of peace but was soon left on bail. On April 28, Lobsang Gyatso was arrested for his "critical" comments against Guru Rinpoche, the Abbot of Tawang Monastery.
“There was apparently an audio clip circulated on social media in which Lobsang Gyatso had asked the Abbot to stay away from the hydropower politics of Tawang since he was an outsider and would not be able to relate to the issues”, says Thakkar, adding, “According to Lobsang Gyatso he received a death threat from one of the local leaders.” .
“Since the second arrest of Lobsang Gyatso, lay people and lamas have been pouring out asking for his release. The opponents have also held meetings and rallies”, Thakkar says, adding, “Since this morning (Monday, May 2) lay people and lamas had poured out in large numbers to support Lobsang Gyatso and press for his release.”
“He was taken for his bail hearing and returned without getting it. He was brought back and secretly taken in from the back door of the police station bypassing the protestors in the front. When people moved toward the police station to protest they were fired upon”, Thakkar says.
“Apparently no tear gas or rubber bullets were used. One of the deceased has got a bullet in his forehead”, Thakkar says, adding, After the firing leading to death of at least two and many injured, Lobsang Gyatso was given bail.”

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