Monday 10 February 2014

Tipaimukh dam amidst Manipur’s development imbroglio

By: Koijam Pushparani

Quite often, we come across people complaining about the price of the basic necessities available in the market. We complain about the frequent load shedding, the bad condition of the roads and the drainage system. One might have seen the crowded and dreadful roads of the Imphal city or the flooded roads after a heavy rainfall. The condition becomes even worse as we move away from the city area. We cannot deny that the state seriously needs to address the issues of development but one basic problem associated with it is the state’s approach to development where negative impacts often precede development. The developmental works taken up by the government are yet to be critically looked upon. No doubt, the development of physical infrastructures such as transport, tourism, power supplies, irrigation and water supply, etc is of public interests and welfare but the fact that most of these projects end up disappointing the public is a well-known story. Furthermore, the efforts of the government often strike off the development of social infrastructure such as health, education, poverty, employment, etc which would help in building an egalitarian society, hence reflecting the discrepancies in terms of developmental approach towards the physical and the social infrastructures in Manipur.

The proposed 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam as a development plan pursued by the Govt and other corporate bodies can be illustrated. Tipaimukh is an initiative of Assam government which was materialized in the year 1999 when the Brahmaputra Flood Control Board (BFCB) handed over the project to  a company named, North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited (NEEPCO). The Project was approved by the Governor of Manipur under President’s Rule in 2001 without the consent of the communities of Tamenglong, Churachandur and the rest of Manipur, and it was followed by a series of formalities devoid of proples’ rightful participation. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Government of Manipur and NEEPCO in 2002. An Environmental Clearance (EC) for Tipaimukh Dam was granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), New Delhi in 2008. Later, with the change in project propagator (now a joint venture of NHPC, SJVNL and Government of Manipur), another MoU was signed in 2011. After the clearance for Environmental Clearance (EC), the GOM sought for the Forest Clearance (FC) which has been rejected by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).

The Forest Clearance for Tipaimukh includes 22, 777.50 hectares in Manipur and 1551.60 hectares in Mizoram. The FAC in its minutes on 11th and 12th July, 2013 and 13th and 14th August, 2013 rejected the forest diversion in Manipur and Mizoram. The FAC concluded that the requirement of the forest land for the project is large in case of Manipur and not proportionate to its power generation capacity. The FAC further concluded that the mega project will also have significant forest impact in Mizoram.

The 162.8 meter high earthen Tipaimukh dam is to be constructed at the downstream, at the confluence of river Barak and Tuivai Rivers near Manipur-Mizoram border. The estimated figures of the trees and bamboo groves that will be lost due to the project is over 8 million trees and 4 million bamboo groves which no “Compensatory Afforestation” measure would ever compensate. The proposed project would have an adverse impact on the environment and the ecosystem. It would affect the valuable and endangered floras and faunas that have medicinal, cultural and other values to the indigenous communities as well. While the project would cause displacement of thousands of people in Churachandpur and Tamenglong districts in Manipur, it plans to generate an employment of 862 nos, which is very less compared to the thousands who would be displaced. Moreover, the Project has not conducted a detailed and holistic Impact Assessment yet. In brief, the project is a death-trap for the indigenous community in the two districts and their source of livelihood. Further, the project alters and impact livelihood in the downstream portion of Barak River in Assam and Bangladesh. The project would affect the transportation of the communities including the historic Old Cachar Road (Tonjei Maril) and traditional waterways along the Barak River.

We need to acknowledge that the land, forest and river form an integral part of our socio-cultural belief system and that these resources sustain them socio-culturally and economically and the construction of Tipaimukh would have an adverse affect on them. The rights of the indigenous community such as Hmar and Zeliangrong people over the land and resources will be violated in the name of development. Against these facts, it is surprising that while these communities are the ones at the receiving end of the impacts of the proposed projects they have been denied a say in the decision making process. The project has been met with strong resistance from the communities. Public protests have been staged to revoke the Environmental Clearance (2008) and the MoU (2011). The court hearings have been opposed on account of absence of holistic Impact Assessment and non recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights over their ancestral land and resources. As a response to the public demands and agitations, the government restricted the public hearings and held them under heavy security. Tipaimukh project has exposed the governments’ indifference towards dealing with the issues that concern development on one side and that of the rights and traditional values of indigenous communities on the other.

Tipaimukh dam can be taken as a ploy of the governments to extract funds and misappropriate public funds. The proposed Tipaimukh project costs Rs.8,138.79 Crores. It is explicit that the Government insists on comodification of our natural resources and overlooked the devastating impacts of the proposed construction. Its highly apprehensive the Tipaimukh project, like other government projects in Manipur will bring no development but hardship for the indigenous community, especially those along the Barak and Tuivai rivers.

The reality of multipurpose projects in Manipur is yet to be discovered by a larger population of our society who welcome the developmental programs of the government without even realizing that these developmental works are profit driven. The indulgence of the state and the centre in collusion with some corporate in exploiting the natural resources had cost the survival of the communities dependent on the resources. These projects are often tangled with the inhumane artifact such as illegal seizure of large amount of private and community land, plundering of natural resources such as river, wetland, land, forests, etc and a series of civil and human rights violation of people. The Loktak Hydroelectric project (1984) and the Singda dam (1995) have not only completely failed in meeting their objectives but are laden with violation of communities’ rights. The Thoubal Multipurpose projects or Mapithel dam (1980) is still an ongoing construction with lots of loophole and civil rights violation. The past few decades have witnessed an over exploitation of the natural resources which seem to have no end and so is the struggle of the indigenous communities for survival and to protect their rights over the resources.

The situation invites an occasion from the government of an alternative to the existing development process, which is inclusive and a more humane approach towards development. Any developmental plan should ensure a democratic participation of people since it is an inherent right of the indigenous communities for free, prior and informed consent on any government program that affects them. The natural resources still sustain a large percentage of population and the undertaking of project without recognizing communities’ rights over their land and resources and without proper plans for the resettlement of the displaced and affected would negate the purpose of the project. And also keeping in view the increasing environment and the change in climate, and other socio-economic and larger political impacts, any developmental processes should be sensitive to the needs of communities and promotion of environmental integrity. 

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