Hill agitators force hydel projects shut

The Telegraph

VIVEK CHHETRI

Darjeeling, Aug. 3: Statehood agitators forced two hydel projects shut in the hills today, shaving a small part of Bengal’s generation capacity but claiming to succeed in their attempt to trigger concern in New Delhi.

Around 9am, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha activists cordoned off the Ramman and Nippon projects on the Ramman and Lodhama rivers, about 90km from Darjeeling, preventing employees from entering. Earlier, around 1am, a panchayat office was burnt down at Majaua, 33km from Darjeeling.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said in Calcutta: “The government has already taken firm decisions (against the vandals).”

Police sources said Morcha leader Prakash Gurung, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Sabha member from the area, had been arrested on the charge of closing down the hydel projects with a combined capacity of 54MW.

A Morcha leader, who did not wish to be quoted, said: “After the two projects were shut, the news reached the Union home ministry, which took serious note of it. Delhi is now aware that we have intensified the Gorkhaland agitation.”

District officials said the Union home ministry had expressed strong reservations over the act and this had been conveyed to the Morcha leadership.

Although the two projects generate an amount of power officials said was too small to affect supply in the state, Darjeeling district magistrate Saumitra Mohan warned that any stoppage was “bound to have implications” and would not be tolerated. “Forces are being sent and action will be taken against anybody trying to stop electricity generation,” he said.

Power department officials described the two projects as “backup for disruptions”. “The two projects’ combined capacity of 54MW is not substantial. Besides, it’s thermal power that forms the backbone of the state’s supply network,” an official said.

He claimed the state government had intelligence that the disruption would not go on for “too long”, anyway.

The other hydel projects in the hills are the Jaldhaka Stage 1 (36MW) and Stage 2 (8MW) in Kalimpong subdivision, and four smaller plants.

The indefinite hill strike has also halted construction at the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation’s Teesta Low Dam Project IV, at Kalijhora in Kalimpong subdivision, with a capacity of 160MW.

“We have been working hard to complete the project by next year, and such disruption will not help,” an NHPC official said about the project, whose original deadline of 2009 was pushed back by agitations and flooding by the Teesta.

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