Around 60 monks from the Tawang valley in Arunachal Pradesh valley have travelled to Delhi to draw public and media attention to alleged police atrocity in their district and to demand justice. Representatives from Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF) and National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) briefed the media yesterday about the developments in Tawang district.
According to them, 21-year-old Nyima Wangdi, a monk from the Tawang Monastery and 31-year-old Tsering Tempa from Jangda village were shot dead on May 2, 2016, while 19 others were seriously injured when police opened fire on a crowd of almost 2,000 people who had gathered peacefully at Tawang district collector’s office to demand immediate release of their community leader, Lama Lobsang Gyatso.
The issue started with the local community protesting the construction of 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu power project in the Tawang valley. The project is a threat to the wintering habitat of the black-necked crane, an endangered bird considered sacred by the Buddhist Monpa community. The bird is considered an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama who was from Tawang and wrote about the bird in his poetry.
The community of Tawang Valley had written several times to the local administration and the state government agencies but there was no response. Due to this, the tribal community of the valley had approached NGT which suspended the environment clearance of the project on the April 7, 2016. Ever since there was a coordinated reaction from the state administration, local MLA and zila parishad chairman (JPC), it is alleged.
On April 26, 2016, Lama Lobsang Gyatso was arrested but released the same day. On April 28, the zila parishad chairman called a public meeting ostensibly to discuss development of Tawang region but he singled out and attacked the Lama. Lama Lobsang Gyatso was rearrested on April 28. Due to these developments the community suspected that worse might happen to their leader and assembled peacefully on May 2 to demand his release from police custody.
Representatives of SMRF, an environmental civil society organisation working in the region along with representatives from NAPM and Delhi Solidarity Group (DSG) met with chairman, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) on May 24 and with joint secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in New Delhi on May 25. The chairman assured that he will direct state authorities to register cases under Prevention of Atrocities (SC/ST) Act, and also ask for CID and judicial enquiry, not involving local police in investigation, and assured compensation to the injured and the families of people who were killed in police firing.
The joint secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, assured that they are not going to challenge the order dated April 7 of National Green Tribunal (NGT). He also gave assurances about conducting studies pertaining to the endangered bird through Wildlife Institute of India for the entire season as decided by the experts. Demand for the consultation with community and religious issues (linked to black-necked-crane bird) was also accepted.
The NHRC has also been approached and are looking into the matter. The demand for CBI enquiry and issue pertaining to the manner of project sanctioning / approval, are yet to be addressed.
Lobsang Chhodup, one of the monks who came from Tawang valley, said, “We want the government to pay heed to this. People in Arunachal should not feel as though they are being neglected”.
Himanshu Thakkar, from South Asian Network for Rivers, Dams and People said, “The electricity generated from Tawang will not reach them even though the destruction will be entirely theirs.”
Jampa Tsering who works with Humanity Foundation, Tawang, has said, “Tawang region needs micro-hydel power projects and not the mega projects.” Vimal bhai from NAPM said that Arunachal Pradesh is not any Naxal affected region nor a conflict area nor a communally sensitive region. Instead, it is a peaceful place in the country which has a large population of Buddhist monks. There was no reason for the police to open fire on them without any warning. This incident forces us to think whether it was a pre-planned action.”
The representatives from SMRF, NAPM and DSG condemned the high handedness of the administration in dealing with a peaceful protest and demanded that there should be an enquiry into the incident and the guilty punished. They also observed that the nexus between the state machinery and the private companies is working against the interest of the people in the region and that this cannot continue. They said that the directions of NGT and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change must be complied with and adhered to.
The press conference was followed by a protest at Jantar Mantar.