Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Sikkim. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Sikkim. Sort by date Show all posts

Monday, January 19, 2009

Exclusive Report: Haven On Earth - Sikkim

By M H Ahssan

Sikkim is sheer magic. This is not just the most beautiful place in the world but cleanest and safest too. If once the charms of the state were limited to mists, mountains and colourful butterflies, they are now complimented by tangible development and progress. With its unique culture and natural landscape. Sikkim is a picture of perfection and pristine purity.

Nestled in the Himalayas and endowed with exceptional natural resources, Sikkim is a hotspot of biodiversity and development. Though small in size, yet Sikkim has been identified world over as an important repository of germplasms of unknown dimensions. Perhaps, there is no part of the world, which offers a spectaular scene with every turn of the road as Sikkim. Though land-locked, Sikkim is one of the most beautiful and strategically important state of the Indian Union.

Bounded by foreign nations on three sides, it shares its boundary with sister state West Bengal. Surrounded on three sides by precipitous mountain walls, Sikkim appears as a small rectangular Gem. Sikkim is like a stupendous stairway leading from the western border of the Tibetan plateau down to the plains of West Bengal, with a fall of about 5.215 metres in 240kms. Sikkim, in the west is bound by the north-south spur of the Great Himalayan Range which includes the world's third highest peak, Khangchendzonga and down to its south is Singalila ridge. In the north it is bound by Dongkia range and also partly includes the Tibetan Plateau. In the east it is bound by the Chola range. The average steepness is about 45 degree. Sikkim is the main catchment area for the beautiful river Teesta, which has its main source from Chho Lhamo lake in the north and is further strengthened by many streams and rivers of which Tholung. Lachung. Great Rangeet and Rangpo are important drainers. It also has about 180 perennial lakes, among which Khachoedpalri, Gurudongmar, Chho Lhamo and Men Moi Tso are some of the most scenic.

Dominating both legend and landscape of Sikkim is the mighty Khangchendzonga. Known to the outside world as Kanchenjunga, it is the third highest peak in the world. But to the Sikkemese it is much more than a mountain: Khangchendzonga is the Guardian deity, a country God whose benign watchfulness ensures peace and prosperity for the land. The five peaks of Khangchendzonga are the five Treasures of the Eternal Snow, a belief beautifully interpreted by the great Lama Lhatsun Chenpo: "The peak most conspicuously gilded by the rising sun is the treasury of gold, the peak that remains in cold grey shade is the storehouse for silver and other peaks are vaults for gems, grains and the holy books."

Each of the five peaks is believed to be crowned by an animalthe highest by a tiger and others by a lion, elephant, horse and the mythical bird Garuda. Along with the Guardian deity, the Nepal Peak, Tent Peak, Pyramid, Jonsang, Lhonak, Pahunri etc. and glaciers like Zemu, Changsang, Teesta, Changme are also important. The most important passes are jelep-la, Nathu-la, Cho-la and Thanka-la in the east; Donkiua, Kongralamu and Naku in the north and Kanglanangma and Chia Bhanjyang in the west.

- Area: 7096 sq km
- Capital Town: Gangtok
- Number of Districts: 4
- District Headquarters: North-Mangan, South-Namchi, East-Gangtok, West-Gyalshing.
- Population : 5, 40, 857 (Census-2001)
- Language Spoken: Nepali, English, Hindi, Bhutia (Sikkimese), Bhutia (Tibetan), Lepcha, Limboo.
- Literacy Rates: 69.68% (Census-2001)
- Best Season to Visit: March to June and September to December
- Maximum Summer Temperature: 300c
- Minimum Winter Temperature: 00c

Nearest Railway Station: The closest Railhead is at New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, 148 km and Siliguri which are connected to Calcutta, New Delhi Guwahati and other major Indian cities.

Nearest Airport: The closest Indian Airport is at a distance of 124kms from Gangtok at Bagdogra in Siliguri in West Bengal, where scheduled flights operates from kolkata (Calcutta), Delhi and Guwahati and connecting flights onwards. Travel time from the irport to Gangtok is 4 hours. From Kathmandu you can fly to Bhadrapur in the east Nepal (1 hour), then drive to Kakarbhitta (Nepal-India border, 35 kms), to Siliguri (37 kms) and to Gangtok (110kms. 4 hrs). Or fly to Biratnagar also in the east.

Helicopter Service: The Bagdogra airport is connected to Gangtok by a helicopter service which takes approx. 30 minutes to reach Gangtok. Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation (+91-3592-222634) operates this service daily at 11:00 AM from Gangtok to Bagdogra and at 2:00 PM from Bagdogra to Gangtok at a price of Rs. 2000/- per person. It is a five seater chopper and mountain flights and other such tours to North Sikkim are conducted.

Road: Gangtok is well connected by a road to Siliguri, 114 kms. 4 hours, which functions as the major transit point for the North and Eastern sections of the Indian Sub continent. Gangtok is further well connected by road with Darjeeling (4Hrs), Kalimpong and with Bhutan, Phuntsholing (6Hrs).

- State Animal: Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)
- State Bird: Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus)
- State Flower: Noble Orchid (Dendrobium nobile)
- State Tree: Rhododendron (Rhododendron niveum)
- Cash Crop: Cardamom (Amomum Sublatum), tea, ginger, potatoes, oranges, medicinal plants, flowers and flower bulbs.

In the year 1592, when men in power were still God fearing and honored their word, a sacred covenant between the Lepchas - the indigenous people of Sikkim, and the Tibetan Bhutias was solemnized. This historical event took place near Gangtok, the present capital of Sikkim.

A bull was sacrificed to the Gods and an oath was sworn over its blood that the Lepchas and Bhutias would never fight and live as blood brothers in peace and harmony. Who ever broke the sacred oath would be cursed along with his descendents. From then on, on the 15th of every ninth month of the Tibetan calendar, the people of this region would make an offering of food and drink to their God to celebrate this sacred covenant. However the Tibetan rulers of the Sikkim could not keep their word for long and broke the sacred oath, inviting the wrath of the curse on themselves. The Namgyal dynasty that ruled over Sikkim from 1642-1975, came to an end on 16th May 1975 and Sikkim became the 22nd State of India. However during my recent trip to the eastern Himalays I realized that while the rulers of this region broke the sacred oath of peace the people of this region continue to follow the sacred covenant.

Kalimpong was my first experience of the eastern Himalayas. We arrived by road from Bagdogra at night, occasionally stopping on the way for tea at some roadside dhaba. It was a different world – the silence, the hills and the trees breathing refreshingly moist cold air, the narrow winding roads fading into a foggy corners, the simple rural folk, the place seemed so romantically remote and away from the everyday absurdities of city life.

The next day, a local Bhutia driver took us around Kalimpong, telling us a little bit about all the major land marks. He was a gentle and friendly man and would greet every third person on the road as we drove around the town. When I commented on his popularity among the locals, his response was simple – “since we do not know how long we are going to live, we might as well live with friendship and love while we are still alive !”

Kalimpong, as well as the rest of the region of eastern Himalayas, is home to people of different tribes and faiths. There are Nepali Hindus, Lepchas and Bhutias who are mostly Buddhist and a small Christian and a Tibetan Muslim population. The Lepchas, meaning ‘ravine folk’ are believed to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim. They are the people who lived with and worshiped nature – they venerated the spirits of rivers and mountains before adopting Buddhism or Christianity. Their closeness to nature is reflected in their language, which though not well developed, is rich in vocabulary related to the plants and animals of this region. The Bhutias are of Tibetan origin who migrated from Tibetan to Sikkim, Himalayan West Bengal and Bhutan after the 15th century. They follow Nyingmapa and Kagyupa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Majority of Nepalis here are Hindus, except the Sherpas and Tamangs, who are Buddhist.

Few outsiders are aware of the fact Tibet had, and perhaps still has, pockets of Muslims entrenched within its borders. Tibetan Muslims trace their origin to immigrants from China, Kashmir, Ladakh and Nepal. Islamic influence in Tibet also came from Persia and Turkestan.
After 1959, during the Chinese aggression, quite a few Tibetan Muslims managed to escape out of Tibet into the border towns of Gangtok, Kalimpong and Darjeeling. A large number of them moved to Kashmir. However, according to one report, about 50 Tibetan Muslim families still reside in the Kalimpong-Darjeeling region. Tibetan Muslims in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Nepal have a joint Tibetan Muslim Welfare Association based in Kalimpong. I met some of them outside the Jame Masjid in Kalimpong. When I asked one of them if there was any friction among the different communities, he seemed to be taken by surprise, ‘What is there to fight about?’ he wondered. ‘We are simple folks, and our only concern is to earn a living and save for our children’s future’ he added. That moment all the petty politics of hate and communalization over the Jamia Nagar encounter and Malegaon blast come to my mind and I felt a bit ashamed of myself. The rest of India broke its sacred covenant of brotherhood long time ago and God knows how many of our future generations will face the wrath of the curse.

It was in Kalimpong where a Buddhist taxi driver and a pious namaazi taught me the refreshingly simple philosophy of peaceful co-existence. It was in Kalimpong, too, that I got my first glimpse of eastern Himalayas and Kanchendzonga, the highest mountain peak of India. The serene landscape of hills rolling into the far horizon with the mighty Kanchendzonga rising far above the clouds reminded me of what Pir Inanyat Khan, the great musician and sufi, once wrote - the spiritual centre of a region lies at its highest point.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Sikkim Turning Hotspot For Paragliding, Adventure Travel

By Kushal Mahapatro | INN Live

Sikkim is emerging as a hot spot for paragliding, as increasing numbers of adventure lovers from different parts of the world are visiting the state for a thrilling experience in the Himalayan foothills.

In recent months, increasing numbers of foreign visitors are flocking to the state to enjoy the thrill of a "flying" holiday.

According to Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, around 100 local youths are associated with paragliding in the state that generates economic activities of over Rs.1 crore. Chamling said the state government targets to increase the number of local people actively involved in paragliding to 500.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Exclusive: 'Sikkim Hydel Projects' In Violation Of SC Order

By Jayaram Pichko / INN Live

Sikkim is constructing five hydroelectricity projects – Teesta III, Dik Chu, Panan, Tashiding and Ting-Ting – in violation of the Supreme Court’s order. These projects are coming up within the 10-km eco-sensitive zones around Khangchendzonga National Park and Fambonglho wildlife sanctuary without the mandatory approval of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). What is worse, the state and private user agencies – Teesta Urja, Sneha Kinetic, Himgiri Hydro and DANS Group – did not even approach the NBWL for clearance.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Congress-BJP government?

By M H Ahssan

A small news item that appeared in the papers last week may have slipped by most readers. It reported how the Congress, the BJP and the CPM had all joined hands in Sikkim to form the United Democratic Front, an electoral arrangement that will fight the Sikkim Democratic Front led by chief minister Pawan Chamling in the elections later this year. Sikkim politics barely makes news nationally and certainly not in Mumbai. But this was an intriguing bit of news -- the three political parties who are at loggerheads in a tie-up!

By a coincidence perhaps the former BJP ideologue Govindacharya held a press conference in Ahmedabad where he suggested that the two big national parties come together in a joint front. His logic? This would avoid instability, which was sure to follow if a motley Third Front was formed in the absence of any big party getting enough seats. The two big parties together had 282 seats in parliament; this time round, Govindacharya predicted, they would get 252, which was still short of a full majority but would be the single largest combination.

It is a tempting thought, on the face of it. Neither of the two big parties looks set to reach even the 150 mark, leave along a full majority. None of the other parties, barring the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Left are likely to get more than 60 seats. The regional groups are too localised to make an impact on the national scene. The only possible option, going by past history, is for a collection of several small parties, with nothing in common between them who select a compromise candidate as the prime minister.

Again going by experience, this will be a shaky arrangement that will fall sooner than later: VP Singh, Chandrasekhar, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral, the examples are too many.

At a time when India faces so many challenges on the economic and security front, can we afford this kind of instability? Why not pool your best political talent and form a National Government which will work towards addressing these problems? Further, goes the argument, both the big parties have much in common. They both are for economic reforms, for the Indo-US Strategic partnership and for a tough approach towards terror. Indeed, as Govindacharya said, the BJP is "a saffron Congress".

Govindacharya is not the only one to have proposed this idea. The academic Meghnad Desai had suggested this a few years ago and the business community has always been an enthusiastic votary.

Two broad questions arise from this proposal: firstly, is such a coming together possible? Second, and far more important, is it a good idea?

Stranger things have happened in Indian politics so no one can ever rule out such an alliance. But it is safe to assume that it is not going to happen too soon. The so-called commonalities apart, both are extremely different kind of organisations. The BJP is ideology driven and its members have a clear idea of what it fundamentally stands for; the Congress is a broad church, absorbing every kind of ideology within its folds. It has always had leftists, rightists, border-line Hindutva types and socialists among its members, often at the same time. Yet they are all Congressmen and women. The BJP adheres to a well-structure outlook, dinned into each and every member by the RSS and too much deviation is simply not possible. The twain, therefore cannot meet because these two worldviews cannot be easily reconciled.

Then there is of course the question of who leads whom. This will be no ordinary coalition -- who will dominate the arrangement? Given the levels of polarisation in Indian politics, can the leaders of two parties reconcile themselves to working together? What price stability, then?

Democracies by their very nature look chaotic and coalitions more so. Everyone pulls in different directions, pushing their own agendas, whether it is a multi-party arrangement or a two-party one.

India looks even messier than other countries. We look at our plethora of regional parties and cringe and the absence of a national agenda. We think our democracy has got out of hand -- if only we could be like Singapore.

India is too big and diverse for that. Even these two parties will represent just 50 percent of the country, if that. A national government of two parties will shut out the aspirations of a large section of the population which will never get proper representation, simply because the two giants would dominate. Mayawati is within an election of becoming the prime minister; she or any other Dalit would never get a chance. Rag-tag coalitions may look like a farce; a government by the two national parties would be dangerous.

We don't know the result these elections will throw up, but whatever it is, that is the collective voice of the people. That has to be accepted. In the final analysis, it is they and not a small section of the population which thinks it has all the answers, who will count.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Is Northeast India's Next Disaster Point After Utt'khand?

By Vijay Wahiktu / Dispur

Arunachal Pradesh is planning on at least 150 MoUs for power generation in the fragile hills of the Eastern Himalayas in high seismic zones. Is the Northeast in the next disaster point after Uttarakhand? Environmentalist Neeraj Vagholikar said, "Arunachal is no different. It's a part of the Himalayas and it's prone to such natural hazards and while Arunachal goes to exploit its hydel power potential, there's a need to really ensure that you have followed all the steps."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sikkim Environment, bio-diversity in peril

By M H Ahssan

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has said that the environment and bio-diversity in Sikkim have been threatened by construction of hydel power projects and absence of government safeguards.

The state government has not taken sufficient precaution against degradation of environment and bio-diversity by drawing up a catchment area treatment plan and protection of riverine fishes, the CAG in its report for the financial year 2008-09 said.

The CAG criticised the forest, environment and wildlife management department in particular as well as the independent power producers (IPP) for failure to set down a plan to address potential degradation of the environment.

The department, the CAG says, has failed to prepare an annual plan for protection of wildlife, preservation of bio-diversity and development of infrastructure although it received Rs 26.37 crore from six IPPs towards cost for compensatory afforestation and catchment area treatment. etc.

The CAG also pointed out that the aquatic life in Sikkim faced a grave threat in the wake of change in the ecology of the river system due to creation of reservoirs, fluctuation in natural river discharge and diversion of river water through closed tunnels.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Indian Elections 2014: Lok Sabha Elections Schedule Out With 814 Million Voters And Wolrd Longest Elections

By Kajol Singh | INNLIVE

In 2014 general elections of India becomes world's longest election schedule in world's largest democratic country. The number of Indian voters has gone from 176 million in the first general election held in 1952 to some 814 million in 2014.

Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath who announced poll Lok Sabha schedule on Wednesday said the increase in the number of voters since the last Lok Sabha polls of 2009 was about 100 million.

The poll panel announced a nine-phase election schedule from April 7. The election election results will be announced on May 16. This is the longest ever poll schedule in India's electoral history.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


By Mohan Guruswamy (Guest Writer)

The nature of war is directly related to the technology of the times and the resources available. But how we can fight and how long we might fight increasingly depends on the willingness of the world as a whole to allow it. 

War between countries and particularly war between major powers will not be without consequences to the ever increasingly inter-dependent world and hence international pressure to terminate conflicts before they expand and/or spiral out of control is only to be expected, especially when the nations in conflict are armed with nuclear weapons.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

So far so good in Indian Elections 2009

By M H Ahssan

As India enters the crucial round three of its month-long, five-phase parliamentary elections on Thursday, the electoral fate of the ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the opposition and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani and 1,565 other candidates will be sealed by over 140 million voters.

While Gandhi looks comfortably positioned in her Rae Bareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh, a traditional Nehru-Gandhi dynasty stronghold for over five decades, the Hindu nationalist BJP premier hopeful Advani isn't badly off either in Gandhinagar (Gujarat) where he has trounced his opponents in each election since 1991.

Other prominent political leaders in the fray in this phase include erstwhile prime minister H D Deve Gowda, Sharad Yadav (Madhepura), Shahnawaz Hussein (Bhagalpur), Jyotiraditya Scindia (Guna) and Yashodhara Raje Scindia (Gwalior).

The third round of the polling will cover a swathe of 107 constituencies across 11 states and two union territories. Ballots will be cast for 26 seats in Gujarat, 16 in Madhya Pradesh, 15 in Uttar Pradesh, 14 in West Bengal, 11 each in Bihar and Karnataka, 10 in Maharashtra and one each in Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu. This important polling phase will also witness the election of a new 32-member legislature in India's northeastern border state of Sikkim.

In the wake of this phase, polling will be wrapped up for 372 of the total 543 Lok Sabha (Lower House) seats. Observers point out that by this stage in the 2004 general elections, the National Democratic Alliance combine had bagged 45 seats while the now ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had scooped 30 and the left parties 19.

However, despite the evidence of past arithmetic, poll analysts assert that voter turnout could still swing things either way.

It's quite another matter though that India's egregious heat (43 degrees Celsius plus) and an overall disenchantment with the political class have acted as a dampener for much of the electorate this year. As a result, voter turnout has been a modest 55% across the 12 states in the first two phases of the elections. However, there have been a few surprises, like Andhra Pradesh, which has recorded a turnout of over 68%. Analysts feel that Andhra Pradesh, with a population of more than 70 million, may well turn out to be a key determinant in deciding who India's next ruler could be.

Orissa comes in a notch lower with a 62% turnout. However, the biggest surprise was Amethi (Uttar Pradesh), Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi's constituency. Despite the Congress machinery being pressed into full service to garner support for him, including his sister Priyanka Vadra's vigorous canvassing, the area recorded a tepid 40% turnout.

Interestingly, according to poll pundits, the lowest turnout for any Lok Sabha election in India was in 1952 (45.7%), while the highest - 64.1% - was witnessed in 1985. The last elections in 2004 saw 58.1% of the electorate turn up to cast their ballots.

Another unusual trend witnessed in this election has been the relatively better (58%) voter turnout of middle and upper class voters in urban areas. This is in direct contrast to past electoral traditions in India where it is usually the economically weaker sections which come out in droves to vote while the rich register abysmal turnouts of 40% or less.

Over the past four general elections since 1977, the trend has been that the poor have invariably voted in greater numbers than the country's upper classes with rural areas recording greater turnout than the urban pockets. This trend, concede poll analysts, contrasts starkly with Western nations where political participation - especially one's franchise - is taken very seriously by the educated and the empowered sections of society.

High turnout or not, election 2009 has also been significant for another reason: an unprecedented level of security with the deployment of over 3 million personnel to keep a strict eye on electoral proceedings. As a result, elections have more or less been peaceful, with only a few sporadic cases of violence. The only major trouble spots have been the Naxalite-affected areas of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, which witnessed the killing of 19 people across 86 polling stations. Here, Maoists had called for a boycott of the elections and carried out a series of attacks in mid-May.

Be that as it may, all eyes are now focused on May 16, when the poll results will start trickling in after two more rounds of polling. As a single-party government in India looks unlikely in the current scenario - with both the BJP and the Congress likely to fall short of the requisite magic numbers to form a government at the center - at least half a dozen smaller political parties, representing India's multifarious regions, castes and sub-castes, are set to lobby hard for key government positions. There is even a chance that one of their leaders may become next prime minister. And as is entirely expected, vigorous horse-trading will then commence for candidates who carry maximum political weight.

But significantly, unlike past coalitions, this time political alliances will be cobbled together only after all results have been announced. This will further heighten the uncertainty about what kind of political permutation will rule in Delhi. New alliances will need to be forged, and what cannot be entirely ruled out is a third front - a conglomerate of non-BJP and non-Congress parties - forming the government, leaving the two major national parties wringing their hands.

But more than the power-broking, what will be of most concern to the Indian electorate ultimately is the type of coalition government that will emerge out of the current chaos and alphabetical soup of regional parties. The more delicately poised the coalition, analysts say, the more cumbersome it will be for it to make politically contentious choices.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

'Public Money, Private Agenda - Same Road, Same Ditch'

By M H Ahssan / INN Bureau

Projects that don’t exist, repeat expenditure on ones that do. MPLADS is a free fund for our MPs. Over the years, Indian MPs have become a pampered lot. Although the need for an enforceable code of conduct for MPs was felt six decades ago, Parliament never got down to drafting and enforcing such a code and to lay down an ethical framework for the conduct of parliamentarians. However, there was no such lethargy when it came to expanding the privileges of MPs.

Anxious to keep MPs happy, every government has done its bit to widen their perks and privileges. The launch of MPLADS and the increase in the annual allocation per MP from Rs 1 crore to Rs 5 crore is probably the most obvious example of how MPs are pampered.

Thursday, May 02, 2013


By Kajol Singh / Delhi

Used in the political sense, the term ‘Buddhist problem’ conjures up images of Sri Lanka. But India could well be sitting on an evolving problem on the other end of the map. A spurt in activities in Buddhist monasteries and caves strung along India’s border with Nepal and Bhutan has of late aroused suspicion and unease.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Lok Sabha General Election 2014 To Be Held In Mid April

By Kajol Singh | Delhi

The Lok Sabha polls will be held between mid-April and early May in five or six phases and will involve about 800 million voters, highly-placed sources in the Election Commission revealed. Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will also elect their state assemblies along with the Lok Sabha elections. 

"The announcement of the poll schedule will be done in the last days of February or at best the first two-three days of March," the sources told INN Live. During the 2009 polls, there were 714 million voters as against 671 million voters in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

Friday, March 07, 2014

General Elections 2014 - The 'New India' With 'Power One'

By M H Ahssan | INNLIVE

Almost exactly a decade ago, the day after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections were announced, INNLIVE launched its special ‘General Elections 2014’ coverage, bringing readers a 360 degrees ringside view of one of the great wonders of the modern world. 

In every election since, whether general or state, ‘General Elections 2014’ has sought to empower, entertain and enlighten you with ground-level reportage, numbers-driven analyses, and agenda-setting thought pieces. We will do all that and more in the weeks to come, capturing the sights, smells and sounds of the mother-of-all political carnivals on earth, even as we help you separate choice from noise. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Indian Defence Scenario: An Army In Search Of Artillery

By Rahul Bedi | Delhi

Despite the efficacy of artillery firepower unleashed by the Bofors howitzers during Kargil, the Army’s longstanding Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan stands stymied. God, Napoleon said, fights on the side with the best artillery. 

The legendary French general’s foot and horse artillery repeatedly demonstrated its lethal capacity against his European adversaries by degrading their formidable formations before his cavalry and infantry moved in to victoriously conclude the fighting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

River basin studies: A half-hearted attempt

By M H Ahssan

Impact assessment studies to understand the consequences of large dam projects have been de-linked from the actual implementation of the projects, thus diluting their value.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects of the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of India has recently approved the Terms of Reference for conducting basin level studies of the Bichom and Lohit river basins in Arunachal Pradesh. The EAC has been constituted under the EIA notification 2006 to examine projects that apply to the Ministry for environmental clearance.

According to the TOR, the basin studies envisage "providing optimum support for various natural processes and allowing sustainable activities undertaken by its inhabitants". The Bichom and Lohit basins are among the river basins in the Himalayas where massive plans for building large dams and developing hydropower are being rolled out. More than a hundred projects with installed capacities totalling to 54,000 MW are at various stages of planning and implementation just in the state of Arunachal itself.

Often, a large number of dams are planned on single rivers or in single basins. For example, in the Lohit basin, a cascade of six projects totalling to 7918 MW are being planned, all within a length of 86 kms.

Such cascade-type development or a number of dams in a single basin raise the critically important issue of cumulative impacts. Often, the impact of all projects taken together is much greater than the sum of impacts of individual projects. Unfortunately, cumulative impacts are hardly ever assessed, as individual projects are planned and evaluated separately. One of the strongest criticisms against the recent plans of dam building has been the complete lack of any assessment of the carrying capacity - what level of development, and in particular the number of dams a basin can sustain - and of the totality of impacts of the number of dams and projects in the basin.

Indeed, when the impact assessment of even individual projects is patchy at best and often farcical, it would be too much to expect a proper cumulative impact assessment.

Against this background, the decision to undertake basin level studies in the Lohit and Bichom are welcome steps in the right direction. The TORs of the basin studies indicate that wide-ranging and extensive examination has been called for, as is necessary for any such study. The TORs call for "inventorisation and analysis of the existing resource base and its production, consumption and conservation levels, determination of regional ecological fragility/sensitivity based on geo-physical, biological, socio-economic and cultural attributes, review of existing and planned developments as per various developmental plans, and evaluation of impacts on various facets of environment due to existing and planned development."

The studies are to then assess the stress/load due to various activities and suggest environmental action plans that can involve preclusion or modification any activity and measures. Unfortunately, the good part ends with this. The way the studies have been structured ends up defeating the very purpose of carrying them out.

First and foremost, the basin studies have been effectively de-linked from the implementation of the projects as there is no requirement that the projects be conditional to the findings of the basin studies. Neither is there any explicit stay on the consideration and implementation of any of the projects pending the studies.

Logically, the basin studies should suggest what level of development, including hydropower projects, the basin can sustain. The projects should be planned based on this. However, the current planning and decision making turns this on its head. The numbers, locations, capacities, types and other details of the projects have already been decided. Many of these projects have already been allotted to (mostly) private developers who already have or would soon be approaching the Ministry for environmental clearance. In Bichom basin, the 600 MW Bichom (or Kameng) project is already under construction.

It is clear that the Expert Appraisal Committee understood this issue. The Minutes of its meeting dated 15 and 16 December 2008 record that "The committee noted that the study will be completed in two years and M/s WAPCOS has been entrusted with the job. In case, any project on this basin is submitted during this study period for environmental clearance, how the outcome of the study will help to take a decision could not be clarified." The obvious solution is to put on hold the projects till the studies are done. However, what the Committee decided is that "the report may be submitted within six months by reducing the TOR and the study should focus only on hydroelectric projects."

Thus, studies that would need about two years are to be done in six months (later this was extended to nine) with reduced TORs. How the outcome of such truncated studies would help rational environmental decision making is a question. It is clear that the environmental objectives have been sidelined with an eye to build as many dams as possible.

The TOR for the studies does state that they can recommend the "preclusion of any activity", which presumably means that they can call for any or some of the hydropower plants not to be built. In reality, such an outcome is highly unlikely, as is seen from the reluctance to explicitly put on hold the projects in the basin pending the results of the study. While the Committee has from time to time discussed with concern the possible impacts of large number of projects in a single basin, it has fallen shy of taking the right, but hard decision when actually dealing with the problem.

For example, the Lohit basin study was originally envisaged and put forward as a condition while granting clearance for pre-construction activities to the Upper and Lower Demwe projects in March 2008. But the Minutes of the EAC meeting of July 2008, while discussing the basin study note that "Environmental Clearance to Demwe Upper and Demwe Lower HE Project should not be linked up with the completion of basin study." These two projects add up to 3430 MW, a full 43 per cent of the total 7918 MW planned in the basin.

Further, considering that the studies are to be paid for by the project developers - in proportion to the size of the projects they have been allotted - the conflict of interest is clear.

An earlier such basin study - to determined the carrying capacity of the Teesta basin in Sikkim, initiated in 2001 - at least had a condition that no project will be considered for environmental clearance till the carrying study is completed. That study took over five years. However, the MoEF violated its own condition and accorded clearance to several projects even before the study was completed. On the other hand, based on the recommendations of the study, the MoEF has asked the Sikkim Government to drop five hydropower projects above Chungthang, and restrict the height of those below it. This shows that findings of such studies are likely to require significant rethinking of dam building plans in the river basins.

Neeraj Vagholikar, who is with the environmental organisation Kalpavriksh and has studied dam projects in the North-East since 2001 says about the Bichom and Lohit studies: "The reluctance to put on hold individual project clearances till comprehensive river basin studies are completed puts a question mark on the utility of the entire exercise. Moreover, the river basin studies will now be much shorter exercises instead of the comprehensive ones envisaged earlier, which are necessary for proper environmental decision-making. It appears that the Bichom and Lohit studies are more likely to be used to create a justification for the large scale hydropower development already planned than protect the ecological integrity of these river basins. One of the two key outcomes proposed for the studies - to provide sustainable and optimal ways of hydropower development - is a clear indication that the environmental objectives are of secondary importance."

The silver lining to this is that the second key outcome specified by the TOR is to "assess requirement of environmental flow during lean season with actual flow, depth and velocity at different level". It is significant that the Committee has recognised the importance of environmental flows, the flows necessary to maintain the ecological existence of the river, an issue that is increasingly being acknowledged as critical to sound river basin planning. One has to wait and see if the studies would have the independence to recommend preclusion or modifications to some of the hydropower projects if this is found necessary to maintain environmental flows, and if so, whether such recommendations could be implemented.

While there are several other important issues with the basin studies not discussed here, there is one that is essential to point out. The TORs for the basin studies lay out in detail many parameters that need to be studied, field data that needs to be collected, but fail to require that the local communities be consulted and involved in the process. This is a major shortcoming, and an indicator that the studies are reinforcing the technocratic approach instead of a participatory one that is the essence of environmental decision-making.

The basin studies for Bichom and Lohit are examples of a good initiative gone awry. The Committee's recognition of the need for basin studies is a welcome step. It is clear that this is an acknowledgement of issues of cumulative impacts and carrying capacity that activists, researchers, academics, dam affected people and others have been consistently raising for the last many years. At the same time, it does not go to the logical conclusion and hence has become self-defeating.

What the Committee needs to do is to re-define the TORs for the studies allowing them the two years that the committee itself feels are necessary, and redesigning them to require meaningful participation of local communities and civil society. Meanwhile it should put the projects in the basin on hold, and make them conditional to the findings of the study. If this is done, it will be a significant step in the direction of environmentally sustainable and holistic approach to development.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Utt'khand Tragedy: Why Development Couldn’t Save Live?

By Jay Mazoomdaar (Guest Writer)

Nearly all the visitors who survived the catastrophe in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region have been rescued. All that is left now is a ravaged valley and its hapless residents who will have to cope with the consequence of this calamity for years to come.

While offering to rebuild Kedarnath and much of Garhwal’s infrastructure that has been washed away, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna flatly refused to acknowledge that the disaster as manmade. Since he is not alone in his obsession for growth and contempt for the environmental bogey, it may be useful to examine a few myths that were reinforced in the past two weeks.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

'World’s Most Vulnerable Coast Is Still The Least Prepared'

By M H Ahssan / INN Live

The 1999 super-cyclone killed more than 10,000 people in Odisha. So far, cyclone Phailin’s death toll is yet to reach double digits. While the wind speed turned out to be less severe than feared, the state evacuated nearly nine lakh people, in three days. Remarkable feat, yes, but this does not tell the entire story.

After it was caught hopelessly unprepared in 1999, the state set up the Odisha State Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA) in 2000.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Nepal Earthquake Disaster: Above 3500 Killed, Fresh Tremors Rattles India, Nepal, Relief Operations In Full Swing, Himalayan Avalanche Killed 300, Many Missing

SPECIAL REPORT: Fresh strong aftershock hit Nepal and parts of north India, a day after the Himalayan nation was hit by an earthquake of magnitude of 7.9. It triggered another avalanche in the HImalayas.

The United States Geological Survey said the tremor was 6.7 magnitude, less than the 7.9 quake that struck the region killing at least 3,500 people. Parts of north and east India too experienced the tremors. Experts have said that more aftershocks may follow for a few days. A total fo 35 aftershocks have hit the Himalayan region so far.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Indian dogs that are dying out because everyone wants a Labrado

It’s easy to identify what a German Shepherd, Labrador, and Saint Bernard have in common: they’re furry, adorable canine companions with massive fan bases all over the world. But what about the Chippiparai, Jonangi, and Kombai?

Even ardent animal lovers might stumble a bit here, but these too are dog breeds which have another thing in common—they’re all Indian. Skilled, sturdy, and well adapted to the country’s tropical climate, these dogs are great workers and excellent companions. Unfortunately, the other characteristic Indian breeds share is that they’re disappearing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Analysis: BJP, Congress Political 'Mirror Masks' Unveiled

By M H Ahssan | INN Live

Economic policies. Corruption. Civil liberties. Public Discourse. There is nothing to distinguish the two national parties. Growth junkies. US-friendly. Anti-labour and pro-business. Anti-poor but pro-subsidy. Is there a choice between the economic policies of the Congress and the BJP?

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s Rs 100-crore Bharat Nirman campaign ran into trouble this September. One of its print advertisements featured the same women models in an almost identical frame that was used in the Antyodaya Yojana campaign launched by the BJP-led NDA back in 2000. The two parties apparently hired the same agency. But then, fittingly, the NDA’s Antyodaya scheme was the precursor to the UPA’s Food Security Act too.