At a time when thousands of volunteers are battling an inferno in the hills of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to save forests, the peaceful city of Tawang situated in Arunachal Pradesh might be looking at trouble as two people, including a Buddhist monk were killed in police firing.

The gross high-handedness of the police against a crowd of around 200 protesting outside Tawang police station is just one of the issues at hand. The protesters were calling for the release of Lama Lobsang Gyatso of the Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), who was arrested on April 28, The Times Of India reported.

  • The SMRF has been leading a movement against several hydroelectric dams which are coming up in the region, since these power projects can have adverse effects on the delicate ecosystem of the Eastern Himalayas.
  • The dams are being built after the Arunachal Pradesh government signed MoUs with several firms for constructing close to 100 hydel power projects in the state, out of which 13 will be set up in Tawang alone, The Indian Express reported.
  • The SMRF led by Gyatso also argues that Tawang falls in a seismically vulnerable zone which has seen major earthquakes in the past decade, and the projects can make things worse.
  • The anti-dam movement includes student bodies, environmental groups and civil society groups, as Buddhist Lamas also joined protests in January to oppose dams in the “ecologically, culturally and strategically” sensitive district, The Times Of India reported.
  • Lobsang Gyatso was heading a protest against the 2880 MW Dibang Multi Purpose Project, which will submerge 45.77 sq km of forest area, a lot of which is community owned.
  • Activists allege that environmental clearances were given without listening to genuine grievances.
  • Meanwhile the arrest came after an audio clip of Lama Lobsang Gyatso questioned the nationality of Guru Tulku Rinpoche of Tawang monastery, following which an FIR was lodged against him.
  • Lobsang Gyatso had also alleged that the Guru refused to permit a large number of monks from Tawang monastery from participating in anti-dam protests. 
  • Another person who allegedly threatened to kill the Lama in a meeting was released immediately on bail, while Gyatso was released on Monday after five days in custody.
  • The release came after police opened fire on a group of protesters demanding Gyatso’s release, killing two and injuring around 10 people in a crowd of roughly 200. 
  • While it isn’t clear if the police gave prior warning before opening fire, the CM Kaliko Pul has ordered a high level inquiry in the matter, as the movement against dams is intensifying.

Arunachal Pradesh accounts for 50,328 MW out of a potential hydro-power capacity of 1,48,701 MW in India, and the region is also under Beijing’s watch, since China stakes claim to the entire state.