Dam alert

The construction of the Thoubal multi-purpose dam and the Tapaimukh dam in Manipur has sparked off protests

 
By Sajal Nag
Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

-- (Credit: Rustam Vania) IF THE anti-dam movements built around the Narmada and Tehri projects have made people aware of environmental issues, they have also managed to detract attention from similar movements in other parts of India. Two such movements have taken shape in the northeast, a region that has the potential to meet 40 per cent of the power requirement of the country. A large number of large multi-purpose dams have already been constructed here -- including the Umian, Umtru, Loktak and Kapili projects.

These projects displaced a large tribal population and caused irreparable harm to the local ecology. A feeble protest was registered by tribal leaders in a conference in 1955, where they had alleged that the indiscriminate construction of hydroelectric projects had only benefitted the people from the plains while causing the loss of habitat for the upland tribals. But the current agitations over the Thoubal multi-purpose dam and the Tapaimukh dam in Manipur are far more intensive.

The Tapaimukh project is being constructed over an area of 290 sq km and is estimated to cost Rs 1,097 crore. It is probable that 1,310 families spread over 31 villages will be affected, and 12,286 ha of forest and 2,703 ha of cultivable land will be lost. The Hmar and Zeliagrong tribals, who live in the submergible area, have already been served eviction notices. Scores of other villages in the Churachandpur and Tamelong districts will also be severely affected due to the rise in the water level.

The most serious problem, however, is that the dam will be built near the Trans-Asiatic earthquake belt running through Manipur. In fact, the dam is said to be sited only 50 metres from a major fault. Realising the danger, prominent citizens of Manipur, including social workers, intellectuals, members of the Manipur Students' Union and various non-governmental organisations, have formed an action committee called The Act (TA).

TA alleged that no geological studies were conducted before the project was taken up. The region has already experienced 2 major earthquakes in the past 50 years and experts predict another major quake in the near future. The project will also endanger the thinning forests and rare orchids found in the region. Although TA has sent a note to the prime minister highlighting these issues, work on the project continues. TA is now trying to mobilise public opinion on the issue and build up a movement that will halt the construction.
Strong opposition The Thoubal multi-purpose dam has also evoked strong opposition. It will displace about 1,750 people and submerge about 600 ha of forests and 800 ha of agricultural land. The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), an outlawed insurgent organisation, has been opposing the project. The NSCN alleged a few years ago that the figures provided by the government were dubious and that actual numbers would be much higher.

The NSCN also threatened to bring work on the dam to a halt unless the compensation demanded for the 6 villages was paid in advance. It demanded Rs 40,500 per ha, against the Rs 24,300 that the government had agreed to pay. The NSCN put its threats into action in September 1990, setting ablaze Rs 2 crore worth of construction equipment belonging to 2 private firms and destroying government property valued at Rs 10 lakh.

The group struck again in February 1992, igniting a bus owned by the project authorities. In June the same year, NSCN activists shot dead 2 people and injured 2 others at the construction site. The construction has stopped since then. Although the government is determined to complete the Rs 140-crore project by the end of this year, it seems unlikely as the terror of NSCN continues to haunt the Thoubal valley.

Sajal Nag is a lecturer at Rawat College in Shillong

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