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People in Imphal talk of the micro-climatic changes that the dam will bring and its impact on their famous orange groves; they talk of negotiating and fighting. The Naga people have held their own public hearings in several sub-divisions of Tamenglong condemning the project. The official public hearing under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, is yet to be held even after three years of getting clearance. Yet, neepco has floated a global tender.
"The global tenders were floated in anticipation of getting the environmental and forest clearance from the Union ministry of environment and forests," says Ibomcha. It has refused to share the environment impact assessment (eia) with the public."We do not officially have either the project report or the eia or any other information. Forty years and every iota of information we have got has been by stealth," says an angry Aram Pamei, ex-head of the Naga Women's Union.
The final paperwork is being completed. Recently, the prime minister reportedly released Rs 400 crore for the security of the dam besides the Rs 60 crore, which is already allegedly sanctioned, asking that the work begin quickly. This is unprecedented in the controversial history of big dams in India. Again, he has done so despite the legal requirements of clearances remaining unfulfilled. There are apprehensions that the money shall be used to quell anti-dam protests. "Manipur has the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. It can be used to quash almost any protest or dissent, labelling them as anti-state," explains Jitn Yumnam of Centre for Organisation, Research and Education, an Imphal-based ngo. "This is not a normal state of affairs where one can protest or file a right to information petition."
The state government has fallen in line. It has come down on intellectuals raising issues against the dam. The registrar of Manipur University and another faculty member were recently pulled up by the vice-chancellor for participating in a seminar on Tipaimukh.
A public hearing held in Mizoram earlier had reportedly gone against neepco, which has been trying to hold another to get a favourable verdict. But a neepco official defends his corporation "There is no question of lack of transparency. A memorandum of understanding was signed between neepco and the Manipur government on January 23, 2003, authorising neepco to complete the formalities. Thereafter it was published in the Manipur gazette inviting objections within a month. Objections were forwarded by the state to neepco, which gave comprehensive replies in the form of a booklet which should be available with the government. The pollution control board (pcb) is responsible for translating it into Manipuri, Hmar and Zeliangrong. Likewise, the eia was given to pcb to do the needful. After these formalities are done, the public hearing can be held," says Ibomcha. But it's still not possible to get a date out of him.
There are issues beyond legality. "First, the government does not build any infrastructure in our areas. In the monsoons we remain cut off. We are unable to sell anything. Then the government comes in and says because you only are at subsistence levels, you are dispensable. Imagine if the state had provided what it should -- roads, water, other amenities. We would have been the richest people in the region.They wouldn't have dared to touch us because we too would be influential. But now they promise us these utilities in the name of the dam and say you shall get them when we remove you from your lands. What will we do with the hospital and roads then?" asks the secretary of the Zeliangrong Union in Tamenglong. "In the rest of India you hear about the Narmada and Tehri conflicts because so many people are displaced. It is easy to do away with us because our numbers look so small. For the other communities in mainland India 40,000 people maybe a convenient number to dispense with, for us that is one-third of our population," he adds.
Tipaimukh is a challenge for the Indian state. It can use the opportunity to reassure Manipur through a transparent approach. The current policy of opacity can only strain ties further.
With inputs from Sunita Akoijam, Imphal