(Feature Image: Screen grab of Sikkim Spectators field visit video report interviewing landslide affected local people)
NHPC’s Teesta V HEP dam site has again witnessed a disastrous landslide. The incident occurred between 02:00 am and 03:00 am on Sunday, March 26, 2023 in Sokpay village area under Dikchu Zang block of Gangtok district. The same morning, Gyatso Lepcha of Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), Sikkim alerted SANDRP about the landslide.
Sokpay village is located uphill from Teesta V dam site on Dikchu-Rakdong road. The available images show a linear trail of rubble, boulders sliding downhill form hilltop into the Teesta V reservoir.
Media reports have confirmed complete destruction of 4 houses in Sokpay village. The occupants narrowly escaped the disaster by running out of homes in the nick of time.
No human casualty has been reported but about 5-6 cattle were killed in the disaster. Some public buildings have also suffered partial damages apart from disruption in village power and drinking water supply. About 20 families were reportedly moved to safer location after the incident.
The slide has left more than 2 km long vertical scar on Dikchu hill wiping out vegetation, trees on its way down. The Dikchu-Gangtok NH and Dikchu-Mangan road has also been affected and blocked by heavy boulders.
Initially, administration assumed rains to be triggering reason for the landslide but later found out it to be a dry slide at fresh location thus ruling out the rainfall factor. This account after ground visit by Save The Hills mentions rainfall figures for March in last three years and does not find rains as possible reason for the unusual landslide.
The local people have blamed NHPC’s Teesta V dam construction at hill base and building of power transmission tower of Teesta Urja Limited at hill top as reasons responsible for the disaster. The administration has meanwhile asked Mines and Geology department to study and find out causes behind the incident.
The ground visit reports by Sikkim Spectators and Sikkim Chronicle describe the incident, its impact and interview local people expressing their fear, worries and anger over the disaster and NHPC’s work.
This disaster could have taken heavy toll of human lives. The Sikkim government is expected to conduct independent inquiry and put the report in public domain soon. Putting the investigation reports promptly in public domain is becoming quite rare in several such disasters involving hydro power projects in Himalayan states.
The NHPC has a poor track record of learning any lesson from these incidents. The dam site of same project had suffered damages in June 2020 landslides. Before this, NHPC’s guest house and a bridge in Dikchu were washed away in a cloud burst induced deluge in June 2019.
In this December 2022 video report by The Wire, local people show the reoccurring and widening cracks in their homes due to Teesta V dam construction. Similarly people have drowned downstream of Teesta V and other dams of Sikkim, as highlighted in this article about High Court order.
The administration has declared the Sokpay village as sinking zone requiring displacement of the local residents who have already been raising concerns over compensation and rehabilitation schemes. As per them, they have not received the promised benefits but have been losing their land, lives and livelihoods to NHPC’s mismanagement and Teesta V dam.
Bhim Singh Rawat (email@example.com)