Conservation ethics rooted in Buddhist practices: Monk Lobsang Gyatso

Monk Lobsang Gyatso was at the Green Hub Festival 2017. He speaks to Shahnaz Akhter on the environmental problems plaguing Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh

What is the biggest environmental problem in Tawang today?

Ans. In Tawang, the Government has signed an agreement to build 13 mega hydropower projects. More than 25 mini and micro projects are already being set up. This is creating electricity problems in some areas for which people are opposing it. We usually divide Tawang into four portions: the upper part is occupied by the security forces for defence, the middle part is for urban settlement. Our people are left with the alluvial part and deprived of basic resources. The other part is not fit for settlement due to the inaccessible terrain. It has created a lot of problem during the past few years. Even the villagers in the upper part are not given compensation. The resources are not adequate and there is a lack of proper management. Tawang is also facing climate change problems. This has led to immense pressure in the environment and imbalance in the ecology of the area.

How can Buddhist monks help overcoming such problems?

In Tawang, monks are considered refugees (sage). People consider us as sacred. They have faith in us. Our monk community has a huge responsibility when the whole civilization’s existence is considered. The people have belief in us and in our potential to create that wave of energy among the masses to mitigate the problems of the environment. We are considered diasporic and help in promoting social values as well. The people also believe that we are no less than environmentalists due to our active role in protecting the environment. Buddhist monastries address environmental issues as part of their religious duty to help relieve suffering of the common people. Diminuting the environmental problems are part of our larger efforts which has led us to foster conservation ethics rooted in Buddhist practices, among the people.

Tell us something about your NGO and its work?

Ans. Our NGO is known as SAVE MON REGION FEDERATION which is situated near the Kendriya Vidyalaya road, Tawang. It is generally led by Buddhist monks and all villagers are members of it. The Save Mon Region Federation, on behalf of the Monpa indigenous community protested against the environmental clearance granted for the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Naymjang Chhu River. We are protecting our very fragile ecology for the last five years. In the last five years we have experienced a very bitter time. On April 26, 2016  I was  charged with leading a group of people from Gongkhar village for protesting against the hydropower project. The local people of Tawang came out and gathered in support of me and they took active part in the protest. It was a challenging time for us but fortunately somehow, we succeded to stop 3 mega hydropower project i.e one is Naymjang Chhu River (780 MW,6.4 Cr) it was due to that the proposed location of the dam is one of two wintering sites for the endangered Black-necked crane, another is due to the improper public hearing in 2009, when government of Arunachal Pradesh used police force to suppress the voice of people. So, we fought for 4 years hard legal battle and last year on April 9 or 7 they got their verdict in favour of us. We have led and participated in many such protests for which had to face many atrocities.­­

How do you think an organisation like Green Hub help in mitigating your ecological problems?

Ans. The Green Hub can help highlight the reality of the grassroots to the world through the audio-visual medium and documentaries. Organisations like the Green Hub can help in spreading awareness among the people and I feel so happy that on behalf of the organisation and our people of Tawang, I got an opportunity to be a part of Green hub.

Do you think films and other audio visual media will help in creating awareness?

Yes, very much. I am optimistic that technology can help us reach out to the outside world. And I got a good opportunity to learn so much and came to know eminent people from different parts of the country and their endless efforts and contributions for protecting the environment.