Protests by Bhutia tribal people in the state of Sikkim in India have forced the postponement of the 30MW Rathong Chu hydro project indefinitely, despite money already being paid for land acquisition. The project, located close to the Kanchenjunga peak in the Himalayas, was opposed by Bhutia groups who refused to trade in their traditional homelands for the hydro development.

Opposition to the dam was organised by a coalition of environmental and religious groups, Concerned Citizens of Sikkim (CCS), and was supported by the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature. The whole of Sikkim has been named a biodiversity hotspot by the WWF, and the Rathong Chu project was considered to be a serious threat by the WWF to the Kanchenjunga National Park at the base of the third highest mountain peak in the world.

Yuksom, near where the Rathong Chu Project’s power house would have been constructed, has for years been the starting point for trekking and has many archeological monuments and Buddhist temples. The CCS campaign benefited from surveys conducted by the Chagpori Tibetan Medical Research Institute in neighbouring Darjeeling, which identified hundreds of rare plant species which grow in the project area. The Kanchenjunga National Park is also well known as the home of several endangered animal species including the Sikkimese shapi, barking deer, civets, bears, the red panda, the blue sheep and a variety of jungle and mountain cats.

A campaign similar to the one mounted by the Bhutias is now taking shape north of Kashmir where the Dard Shin tribal group is opposing a 330MW hydro project, which threatens archeological monuments important for the preservation of their unique culture. The Kashmir state administration has already issued land acquisition notices and has assured adequate compensation for the 961 families it maintains will be displaced.

However, the Dard Shins say they were never consulted before the government entered into a deal with Swedish consortium Skanska and a number of Indian contractors for the $500M project.

The Dard Shin now plan to appeal to India’s Supreme Court against the project.