For local residents, most Himalayan peaks from Sikkim to Arunachal Pradesh are divine — their might flowing in the form of rivers capable of sustaining life and washing away their ills. One such river is Lohit in Arunachal Pradesh, where Parashuram, an incarnation of Vishnu, was believed to have cleansed himself after beheading his mother.
Today, however, the Himalayas seem to be fighting a losing battle against India's hunger for electricity. "They are raping nature in the name of development," Dawa Lepcha, general secretary of the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), told HT from Gangtok.
ACT, an organisation formed by members of the Lepcha community, seeks cancellation of hydroelectric projects that threaten to destroy the region. Most of these projects, which generate about 5,144 MW of electricity, are located on the Teesta river and in Dzongu, the northern part of the area. "In almost all cases, the sentiments of local residents as well as ecological factors were overlooked," said Vijay Taram, spokesperson of Forum for Siang Dialogue (FSD), from Pasighat.The Siang river, which is one of the three rivers that form the Brahmaputra in Assam, had reportedly dried up earlier this year reportedly due to dams built by China upstream. "The pro-dam lobby say that if we don’t do it, China will," Taram said.
Fearing the adverse impact of dams in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam has been protesting several projects — including the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri project. "We don’t need this. Western Assam has already been experiencing flash floods and droughts due to dams in Bhutan," said anti-dam activist Akhil Gogoi. Bhutan is now developing a 4,000 MW dam in a tie-up with a Russian firm.
However, while other northeastern states fight over shrinking glaciers and mega-dams, Nagaland has developed a technology that can tap power without having any adverse impact on nature. The Nagaland Empowerment of People through Energy Development (NEPED) has designed a portable hydroger, which can be installed on mountain streams to generate 3-25 KW of power without affecting the water flow. "At least 125 villages rely on hydrogers," said Takum Chang, a member of NEPED.