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Act 1; Scene 1 Churachandpur, Manipur "Don't divide our people; don't take away our land; save our biodiversity; dam destroys our land; we are strongly opposed to the Tipaimukh dam".
Act 1; Scene 2 Tamenglong, Manipur "Don't make us refugees; no land, no identity; our land is our life; Where will we go if the dam submerges our own land?"
Two neighbouring towns in Manipur had awaited public hearings on the proposed Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydel Project (see 'Fissured land', Down To Earth , October 15, 2006) for months. The government finally announced them for November 2006, after it had floated a global tender for works on it and the Union government had already promised a Rs 400 crore security cover for a 'proposed' project. To anyone who had not inferred the farcical character of the public hearings, the prime minister decided to inaugurate the dam even before the environmental clearances were through.Finally, he relented, only to promise the inauguration before Christmas, clearly informing how irrelevant the public hearings were for the government which had already made up its mind. But the people voiced their anguish in no unclear terms at Tamenglong (the Naga dominated district, where displacement would be the highest) and in Churachandpur (the Hmar dominated district, where the government promised the dam would bring attendant development). The state nevertheless announced the events were successfull.
The public hearing was held behind closed doors with heavy security in the office of the deputy commissioner on November 17. Sumant Singh, the deputy commissioner, chaired the hearing along with representatives from organisations such as the Manipur Pollution Control Board, North Eastern Electric Power Cooperation (neepco)--the government agency entrusted with the responsibility of building power projects in the northeast--Tipaimukh Hydro Electric Project and others, and also about 8-10 village chiefs.
But representatives of over 30 villages and environmental activists, besides the media, were denied entry inside the deputy commissioner's office where the public hearing was held. The government had already declared in its advertisement that only those able to prove their proposed displacement would be allowed in.The officials played delay-tactics compelling the people to leave the venue because they had come from far away places. The situation remained tense outside the venue. "We are not criminals. We are innocent citizens who want to meet the deputy commissioner. Why is our right to information and participation being so blatantly violated?" asked Sumitra Kamei, a villager.
At a press conference held after the hearing, the administration gave its own version. "Churachandpur today gave its assent to the proposal for the construction of Tipaimukh Dam," said Singh. The panel members claimed that the Chief's Association of Tipaimukh Dam Affected Area had laid down certain conditions, which included land and agricultural compensation and 50 per cent job reservation for the affected people. But neepco representatives clarified that these demands were already in the memorandum of understanding (mou) that it signed with the state government.
After blocking off the protestors, the panel made a brazen declaration "among the organisations that were present in the hearing, no one has voiced their opposition to the construction of the dam, rather many had words of appreciation for the project". The misgivings that people may have with regard to the dam.
Finally, he relented, only to promise the inauguration before Christmas, clearly informing how irrelevant the public hearings were for the
"The public hearing held today at the Churachandpur deputy commissioner's office is null and void and there should be a fresh notification for another public hearing. Legal action will be processed soon on Sumant Singh for holding a public hearing against legal norms," Oinam Bikramjit, co-convener of Action Committee against Tipaimukh Project (actip), said. Besides allowing selective participation, the notification for public hearing as well as copies of the environmental impact assessment (eia) was not made available to the villagers, he noted.
Panti Golmei, president Rongmei Women's Organisation, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, said that people were not aware of the hearing and got to know of it through newspapers. "We were kept waiting for over three hours at the gate of the Churachandpur deputy commissioner's office while the deputy commissioner and his staff wasted our time with their dilly-dally tactics. We condemn Sumant Singh," she said.
Public hearing in Tamenglong was held on November 22, 2006. The otherwise busy Tamenglong headquarter wore a deserted look with all business establishments and markets shut down as a mark of protest against the public hearing.
Two days ahead of the public hearing, the state government had sent two companies of the Indian Reserved Battalion (irb). People at the district's headquarter said, "We were surprised to see irb and we knew that there was trouble ahead." As irb escorted officials to the hearing, it gave Tamenglong a ready-for-war look. Security forces patrolled a kilometre away from the office chamber of the deputy commissioner--the venue of the hearing. Representatives of 26 different organisations, including Zeliangrong Union (Assam, Manipur, Nagaland), actip, Zeliangrong Students' Union, and others were allowed entry to the meeting after a long struggle with the security. But they walked out midway boycotting the hearing.
"We will die for out land but we will never agree to give it at any cost," said Kadicham Pamei, chairman of Zeliangrong Union, Tamenglong zone after he walked out of the hearing after half an hour. "We have been demanding our government to develop the Zeihlat Lake and Barak waterfalls as tourist spots but they never listened and now they are all set to submerge them," he charged.
The public hearing began at 10 am according to the proceedings of the report by Thaithuilung Pamei, the deputy commissioner. However, he said that four representatives from 13 villages out of the 53 that stand to be affected had come at 9 am to give their consent to the dam. He said that they submitted a memorandum making a four-point demand, which neepco officials clarified that they were already present in the mou. On whether the documents were translated to local dialects, Pamei said that translating the huge volumes to all the local dialects was not feasible. Samson Riamei, speaker United Naga Council, said that repeated appeals from people have been ignored by neepco and the government. "They, instead, fixed a date for a public hearing when we had said we don't want one," Riamei said. Kailal Gangte, village chief of a Kuki village in Tamenglong said, "I was told by one Lungdin that we will get good roads and employment if the dam is constructed. As for submergence, my village is located on high hills so I gave my consent for construction," he said.
In the din, the officials heard only what they wanted to. The prime minister's Christmas event--inauguration of the Tipaimukh project, after all, is already scheduled.