the north-eastern states of Mizoram and Manipur have intensified their protest against the Rs 5,000 crore Tipaimukh hydro-electric dam, proposed to be constructed on River Barak at the tri-junction of Manipur, Mizoram and Assam. Bangladesh has already been opposing the project (see Down To Earth, 'Dhaka sulks', December 31, 2004, p 20) tooth and nail. A recent public hearing in Mizoram witnessed widespread opposition for the project. While Mizoram's environmental and human rights activists held demonstrations against it, various non-governmental organisations of Manipur also voiced their opposition to it.
During the public hearing conducted by the Mizoram Pollution Control Board (mpcb) at Darlawn, indigenous people expressed their apprehension that the dam would adversely affect their lives and livelihoods. Voices against the project, mooted in 1955, have re-surfaced after Union heavy industries minister Santosh Mohan Dev's recent announcement that it was time to implement the project now. Prime minister Manmohan Singh also convened a meeting of the Chief Secretaries of Assam, Manipur and Mizoram on January 5, 2004, in New Delhi to discuss the project's implementation, according to Dev. The 1,500-megawatt project aims at serving the twin purpose of generating power and mitigating the perennial flood problem in the Barak valley.
But Mizoram's human rights groups argue that the kind of development the project envisages is opposed to the country's Constitution, which supports protecting tribal populations and their lands. K Hawla Sailo, secretary of the Human Rights Network of Indigenous People North East Chapter, says his group will never agree to projects that violate the rights of people. mpcb secretary Lalduhawma says the affected people are not satisfied with the rehabilitation and compensation package offered by the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited, entrusted with the project's construction. Earlier, tribal protestors, under the banner of the Committee Against Tipaimukh Dam, had expressed the fear that the dam will submerge large areas of forestland, housing unique flora and fauna and many places of religious and historical importance. Imphal-based environmental journalist Salam Rajesh points out: "If the dam with an estimated reservoir capacity of 15.5 billion metric cube is constructed, over 275 square kilometre area will be submerged permanently. Moreover, 15,000 people will be displaced by its reservoir. The most horrifying and irreparable impact would be on their life and livelihood, culture and tradition."
Opposition to the Tipaimukh dam was also witnessed in the early 1990s when organisations like the Hmar Students Union, Zeliangrong Naga Union and Naga Union of Manipur staged many protest meetings over the issue. They were joined by other groups later. Even the Manipur state assembly had unanimously opposed the dam twice, in 1995 and 1998. But the present Manipur chief minister O Ibobi Singh supports the project: "I appeal to everyone not to put up any hurdles before this multipurpose project, which will create jobs for thousands.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.