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Sikkim floods: Teesta was dammed beyond limit 'ignoring' Himalayas' fragile ecosystem

By Our Representative 

Participating in a webinar on ‘Dams, Development and the Teesta Floods’, organised by the advocacy group Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA) in Delhi, experts and activists have asserted that the recent Sikkim floods were actually a “disaster foretold.”
“The Affected Community of Teesta (ACT) had stated as early as 2005 that Glacial Lake Outburst Flood was a possibility and the year after the project got its clearance in 2006. Many of the environmental risks associated with the dam were already mentioned and pointed out in public hearings,” said Neeraj Vagholikar, a researcher, at the meeting organized in the aftermath of the devastating floods that washed away the biggest (1200 MW) dam on Teesta in Sikkim on October. 
Deaths are still being counted and scores of people are missing.
There have been decades of wounds being inflicted on the Teesta valley in the name of ‘development’, speakers at the meeting said. The river has been dammed up beyond all limits ignoring the repeated warnings about the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas, the seismically sensitive region and of course glacial lakes that have been expanding rapidly owing to global warning and are ever so susceptible to outbursts as it happened in Sikkim.
Even otherwise the tunnelling, construction and disruption of the river flow have meant untold miseries on the local adivasi population, it was added.
Rinan Shah of the Reading Himalayas said, “Hotspots of biodiversity are often also the hotspots of marginalisation. Stopping the access of the locals to their resources ultimately pushes them to poverty as they reside at the margins of politics.”
She added, “When you build a dam it just cannot be observed as A region and B region, instead the upstream and downstream has to be focussed as the impact is far reaching.” The locals, in this case largely the Lepchas, bear the cost of the development, but as Rinan Shah said, “the resource generated is never for the locals.”
Be it the sinking Joshimath at the start of the year or the Sikkim disaster now, these are all tragedies that had been predicted decades in advance. Manshi Asher of Himdhara said, “Himalayas are known as multi-hazard zones and are inter-linked hazards -- floods, landslides, seismic activity, etc. There will be triggers and cycles of disasters exacerbated because of the climatic and biophysical factors. Evidences regarding the damage that can be caused by these projects have been presented and sidelined over and over again.”
Question does arise then as to why was such heavy investment allowed in fragile landscapes jeopardizing ecology and people. Moderating the webinar, Amitanshu Verma of CFA said, "In the wake of such infrastructural disasters we miss the role of financial institutions. Both public sector and private sector banks have provided loans to the Teesta 3 dam. Banks cannot simply keep providing loans from people's savings to such projects with impunity. Indian financial institutions need to put in place environmental and social safeguards mechanisms in their lending frameworks."
What was initially estimated to cost Rs 5705 crore in 2006, after the earthquake damages and other delays, the cost of Teesta 3 was revised up to a whopping Rs 13,965 crore rupees in 2016, experts noted. 
What is worse is that public banks (of the likes of Punjab National Bank, Canara Bank, Punjab and Sind Bank, Bank of Baroda, Dena Bank, United Bank of India and the Oriental Bank of Commerce) and development finance institutions (like the India Infrastructure Finance Co. Ltd. and India Renewable Energy Development Agency and the Rural Electrification Corporation) are among those who invested in the Teesta 3 Dam that was washed away, they said.
Ironically, even the Life Insurance Corporation of India had investments in this dam that has caused death and destruction. “Who is gaining from these projects?”, asked Manshi Asher. “Profits are privatised and cost is being transferred to the people living in that region because they are still recovering their houses and land”.



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