NEW DELHI: The increasingly ostrich-like approach adopted by governments based on keeping news out of the media---successfully so---does not reduce the gravity of the issues on the ground. A case in point is India’s sensitive border state still claimed by China as its own, Arunachal Pradesh where tensions over hydro power projects in Tawang have exacerbated after the death of two protesters in police firing.

The protest has now been brought to Delhi with monks staging a peaceful march at Jantar Mantar and activists holding a press conference that went largely uncovered here. As representatives from Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF) at the centre of the storm as it were said--along with the National Alliance of Peoples Movement---the stir that has rocked Tawang since end April has been completely blacked out by the so called national media.

The tensions have gone unreported despite Arunac

On May 2, 21 year old Nyima Wangdi, a monk from the Tawang Monastery and 31 year old Tsering Tempa from Jangda village were shot dead by the police 19 persons were also seriously injured when Police opened fire on a crowd of almost 2000 people who had gathered peacefully at Tawang District Collector Headquarter, to demand immediate release of their community leader Lama Lobsang Gyatso.

Jampa Tsering, a social activist from Tawang, told The Citizen that of the injured, six were in very serious condition. He said that Tawang has been in some ferment since 2007, with more active protests against mega hydro power projects cleared by the government from 2011. As he pointed out, in Arunachal Pradesh students and others are reluctant to protest against the government for fear of being identified and acted against. “All jobs in our state come from the government so this is a risk not everyone wants to take,” he said.

However, this time matters were aggravated when instead of meeting the activists and others to discuss the problems of land and livelihood arising from the mega project, the government decided to push this through without consultation. And through the years refused to handle the issue, meet the people, clarify the situation.

As Tsering said, the problem 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 were given 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. On April 26,Lama Lobsang Gyatso was arrested and released on the same day. On Apr 28, the Zila Parishad Chairman called a public meeting to discuss development of Tawang Region but singled out and attacked the Lama. Lama Lobsang Gyatso was rearrested the same day and taken to the police jail.

Worried about his safety the people started assembling outside the police station to demand his release.

Tsering said that large crowds gathered outside the police station that was close to the courts, shouting slogans and demanding his release. Tsering said that the anger was intense but the crowds were peaceful, as the man who had threatened the Lama had not been arrested, and when finally he was taken in he was released within hours.

The court ruled that the Lama be kept in for another two days. The crowd started protesting angrily, almost losing control following rumours that he had been taken away from the courts to another district and would be killed. Tsering said that some representatives were asked into the police station to verify his presence but in the jostling and the shouting the police, instead of resorting to a lathi charge and tear gas as it had in protests in the past, opened fire into the crowds.

Tsering said that the representatives of the organisations in Delhi have got some assurances from officials in government and have to see whether these are carried through. He said after the protests the AP Home Minister had made several promises that remain unfulfilled. The demand for a CBI enquiry into the sanctioning of the project, the approval and the issue per se has still be addressed.

Lobsang Chhodup, one of the monks who came from Tawang valley, said that “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 that “The electricity generated from Tawang will not reach them even though the destruction will be entirely theirs.”

Tsering who is President of The Humanity Group , pointed out that, “Tawang region needs micro hydel power projects and not the mega projects.” He said that the tension has been created by the “hidden shareholders of power developers and public leaders” with two innocent persons being murdered, and 19 injured.