ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ethnic Environmentalism in the Eastern Himalaya



The Sikkim–Darjeeling Himalaya is undergoing serious environmental changes as a result of the rampant construction of hydroelectric projects and climate-induced changes. Their impact is most discernible on the economically and politically vulnerable mountain communities. The silence in the public sphere around environmental issues reflects the scalar distribution of political power, the limitations of existing grievance-sharing mechanisms, and the predominance of ethnicity as a key variable in negotiations around the environment.

Research for this article was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the Department for International Development. It was conducted as a part of the project “Hydropower Development in the Context of Climate-Change: Exploring Conflicts and Fostering Cooperation across Scales and Boundaries in the Eastern Himalaya.”

The author would like to thank Sangam Katel, Lopsang Lama, and Ashwin Mothay for their assistance in the field and all the respondents in Sikkim and Darjeeling.

The Teesta river, which courses through the Sikkim–Darjeeling Himalaya, is inundated with dams. Thirty dams are at different stages of construction or have been commissioned in Sikkim (Government of Sikkim 2016a), and in Darjeeling, two low dams1 have been commissioned in 2013 and 2016. Couched in the language of modernity and development, hydropower is projected as a source of clean, green energy, a sustainable method of energy generation in the face of climate change.

However, changes in rainfall patterns, glacial melt and the plausible threat of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) due to global warming complicate the multiple interconnections between climate change and hydropower generation (Bhushal 2015; Palmer et al 2008; Grumbine and Pandit 2013).

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Updated On : 20th Nov, 2017
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