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Free flowing rivers as source of life, identity, culture of indigenous peoples of North-East

By Sanaton Laishram* 
The Affected Citizens of Teesta, Sikkim, Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur and the Borok Peoples Human Rights Organization, Tripura organized the North East India meet on Free Flowing Rivers, held at Gangtok, Sikkim from the 29th till the 30th November 2023.
The participants deliberated on the importance of free flowing Rivers as source of life, identity and culture of indigenous peoples in North East India. The participants also dwelled on the intrinsic survival and cultural relationship of indigenous peoples and their self-determined development over their rivers, forest and land.
The participants took serious note of the bursting of the 1200 MW Teesta III dam on 4 October 2023 that lead to massive disaster, loss of lives and destruction of properties and the continued unaccountability of the dam project authorities and Government. The participants called for decommission of the Teesta III dam and to stop building the proposed 520 MW Teesta IV Hydroelectric Project in Sikkim.
Mr. Gyatso Lepcha, Secretary, Affected Citizens of Teesta, Sikkim shared the free flow of our Rivers are obstructed by the construction of large dams, viz, 1200 MW Teesta III Dam, 510 MW Teesta V dam, 2000 MW Lower Subansiri dam, 105 MW Loktak Hydroelectric Project, Mapithel dam, Dumbur dam etc in North East. Large dams are also falsely projected as clean, green and renewable energy source to mitigate climate change.
Mr. Jiten Yumnam, Centre for Research and Advocacy expressed that Dam building worsened climate change and also affected by climate change, like Teesta III bursting in Sikkim. Rapid climate change, melting of Himalayan glaciers, glacial lake outburst, landslides has increased the disaster potential in North East India.
The participants resolved that the Government should ensure the free and unhindered flow of all Rivers in Sikkim and across North East India. Recognize the rights of River to flow free. The resolutions continued that the Government should stop building large dams in North East India due to fragile biodiversity, high seismicity, increased disaster, climate change and myriad social and environment impacts.
The Government should stop the classification and pursuance of large hydroelectric project as green, clean, renewable energy and climate friendly solutions. Stop plans to 3097 MW Etalin dam in Arunachal Pradesh, 190 MW Pabram Dam in Manipur etc in North East India. No more dams in Sikkim and Himalayan region.
The Government should the non-feasibility of building dams in the Himalayas in North East India due to impact of climate change, such as Glacial Lake Outburst, landslides, earthquake. International Financial Institutions, viz, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other bilateral donors, should stop financing large dams and related infrastructures across North East India.
The participants also resolved that the Government should promote sustainable and just energy solution and feasible alternatives in close consultation and rightful participation of all communities across North East India. Ensure rightful participation of all communities in all development decision making affecting their rivers, land, forest, lives and future. Frame Mountain and Rivers Protection policies rooted in recognition of community rights.
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*President, Centre For Research And Advocacy, Manipur

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