Teesta River

  • Latest News: On November 19, the discussion on diversion of forest lands for the 520 MW Teesta IV hydropower project was deferred to a subsequent meeting. On November 23, the project proponent was asked to submit further details before environmental clearance could be considered.

The Teesta River originates in the Himalayas and flows through the Indian States of Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh, where it flows into the Brahmaputra. Flowing through the length of Sikkim, the Teesta River is considered to be the lifeline of the state. The Teesta valley in Sikkim is rich in biodiversity, and the river provides livelihoods for the residents along its entire length of 393 km (245 miles).

The Teesta River has become a contested battleground between the government and the indigenous Lepcha and Bhutia communities in Sikkim, India. The government of India hopes to dam the last free-flowing 13 kms (8 miles) of the Teesta River for hydropower. Already over 71 kms (44 miles) of the river – which flows through earthquake-prone, ecologically and geologically fragile terrain – is either in reservoirs or diverted through tunnels for hydropower generation. These dams pose a threat to river communities and the rich biodiversity of the region. Studies of potential projects along the Teesta River lack the rigorous environmental and social assessments necessary and fail to properly address potential long-term cumulative impacts the dams will have.

While the forces pushing for hydropower development in the region may be strong, they are rivaled by the spirit and perseverance of indigenous communities of Sikkim fighting dam development. These include the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) and Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC). Community efforts have resulted in the Government of Sikkim cancelling the construction of a total of 10 dams, with the last four cancelled in June 2012.

Downstream, the issues and concerns are different. A bilateral treaty between India and Bangladesh on sharing Teesta waters has failed to materialize, despite efforts and a plethora of committees. While canals from barrages have helped agriculture in India and Bangladesh, the fishing communities have suffered. Farmers are very concerned, and say that given the number of hydropower dams planned upstream, they are not sure how long they will continue to get water when they need it.

International Rivers is working to support groups that are fighting dams on the Teesta River and joins them in their efforts to protect this environmentally and culturally unique region in Northeast India.