By: Jiten Yumnam
The rejection of “Forest Clearance” for the proposed 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project to be built over Barak River in Manipur in India’s North East, by the Forest Advisory Committee, Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India in July and August 2013 for forest loss in Manipur and Mizoram laid bare the serious contradictions in development decision making in Manipur.
The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), while recommending the rejection of “Forest Clearance” for the mega project in its meeting from 11 – 12 July and 13-14 August 2013, observed that the forest land required for the project is simply disproportionate to the power generation plan of the project and the per-megawatt requirement of Sixteen (16) hectares of forest land for the project is extra ordinarily high. The total forest area to be affected in Manipur, as claimed by the project authorities, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited already contains 7.8 million trees and 0.27 million bamboo columns.
The project will also led to massive destruction of forest land and the livelihood of the Hmar people of Mizoram State. A total of approximately 14,634 trees including 11,306 trees below 60 cm girth and another 4.4 million of bamboo columns in 1063.4 hectares of bamboo forest will be permanently lost due to the project in Mizoram. The total loss of trees and bamboo groves in both Mizoram and Manipur due to the submergence by Tipaimukh dam is estimated at over 8 million trees and over 4 million bamboo groves, which is a disturbing and unacceptable figure by any count. Both Manipur and Mizoram falls in the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot, a globally recognized area with rich and diverse flora and fauna species and the Tipaimukh dam project will have direct impact on the extremely valuable and endangered faunal and floral species.
The “Forest Clearance” rejection for Tipaimukh dam also brought into focus the legitimacy of the “Environment Clearance”, conceded by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India on 24 October 2008 despite peoples’ objections to Tipaimukh dam in all the five public hearings held from 2004 till 2008. The rejection of forest clearance also confirms that the “Environment Clearance” is based on incomplete assessment of impacts of forest loss and especially on communities livelihood dependence, with due and rightful participation of all affected communities.
The Government of India has been aggressively trying to construct the 162.8 meters high rock filled Tipaimukh dam, at about 500 meters downstream of the confluence of Barak and Tuivai Rivers, at a revised project cost of Rs. 8,138.79 Crores at September 2008 price level. In 2001, the Tipaimukh Dam Project was approved by the Governor of Manipur under President’s Rule without peoples consent. On 28th December 2002, the Manipur cabinet approved the MoU signed between the Government of Manipur and North Eastern Electric Power Corporation. The then Power Minister of India, Mr. Sushil Kumar Shinde laid the foundation stone for the project on 15 December 2006. Later, a revised MoU was signed with the Government of Manipur, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited on 28th April 2010, reaffirmed on 22nd October 2011, without obtaining the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of all affected communities.
The FAC recommendations against “Forest Clearance” reaffirms the longstanding concerns of affected communities that the loss of more than Three Hundred (300) square kilometer of forest land for direct submergence and another Six Hundred (600) square kilometres for compensatory afforestation would not only threaten their survival but would also irreparably devastate a rich ecosystem. Forest is source of life, water, food, identify for indigenous peoples of Manipur and that nothing can compensate the loss of 7.8 million trees and bamboos in over 25,822 hectares of community land due to Tipaimukh Dam.
The FAC rejection also brought into focus the rationality of the formation of the India-Bangladesh joint technical survey team, in 2012 on Tipaimukh Dam. There are serious challenges as to whether the political decision makers would respect the recommendations of Forest Advisory Committee. Indeed, the Prime Minister of India, Mr Manmohan Singh, offered more stakes to the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dipu Moni, on her visit to India in end July 2013 on the management of Barak River and also in the construction of Tipaimukh Dam even immediately after the FAC rejected Forest Clearance for the proposed Tipaimukh Dam. This is a clear disrespect of the rights, wishes and legitimate claims of all indigenous communities of Manipur, but also a desecration of the sanctity of the much hyped democratic polity of the Government of India.
A serious concern with the sub group formation and the processes thereafter is the blatant failure to ensure participation of indigenous communities to be affected by the proposed Tipaimukh Dam in Manipur. One wonders what transpired in the Sub Group on Tipaimukh Dam. It will be highly ludicrous for a decision on Tipaimukh Dam construction be decided only by India and Bangladesh as the land, rivers, forests and resources in Manipur belongs to indigenous peoples of Manipur, and hence, their rightful rights to involve in all decision making processes affecting their land.
The Forest Advisory Committee of MoEF already classified the proposed Tipaimukh dam as one of the most destructive projects in India as its forest submergence alone will be equivalent to 497 other hydel projects across India. One is left to ponder on the rationality of pursuing such highly destructive and unsustainable project. For India, the submergence plan of nearly thirty thousand (30,000) hectares of forest land negates the spirit of the Green India Mission and its commitments made at Rio+20 Global Conference on Environment and Development, Rio De Janeiro in June 2012.
The sub group formation between the Governments of India and Bangladesh on 28 August 2012 for joint surveys to assess the impacts of proposed 1500 MW Tipaimukh Dam over Barak River in Manipur should respect and adhere to the recommendations of the key observations and recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF, Government of India. The two countries should refrain from taking any exclusive and arbitrary decision for Tipaimukh Dam construction. The people of Manipur cannot accept any secretive and compromise deals between India and Bangladesh for Tipaimukh Dam construction.
A holistic thorough assessment of the possible impact of the Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project with the participation of the affected people both in Manipur, Assam and further down in Bangladesh should precede any decision on Tipaimukh Dam. The push for Tipaimukh HEP is amidst the absence of cumulative impact assessment on forest areas in the three districts due to proposed Tipaimukh HEP, proposed Oil Exploration, Trans Asian Railway and National Highway expansion all planned in the catchment area of proposed Tipaimukh dam. The decision making framework recommended by the World Commission on Dams, respecting rights of people, ensuring their participation, option assessment should guide the decision making process of Tipaimukh Dam.
The Ministry of Environment and Forest and the Government of India should desist from granting Forest Clearance for Tipaimukh Dam and should respect the respect the recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee on Tipaimukh Dam not to accord “Forest Clearance”. The Ministry of Environment and Forest should revoke the ‘Environment Clearance’ for Tipaimukh dam on 24 October 2008 as it is confirmed that there is inadequate appraisal of forest impacts. It is also high time that the Government of Manipur revoke the MoU signed with National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and the Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited on 28 April 2010, reaffirmed on 22 October 2011.
The Tipaimukh Dam has been aggressively pursued to meet power shortage in Manipur and other parts of India’s North East. However, the definition of Manipur’s power needs by outsiders without their consultation is a clear cut case of violation of indigenous peoples’ right to self determination, to determine their development rights based on their needs, wishes and aspirations. The Government of Manipur should now embark on an alternative model of power generation in Manipur, based on the needs, wishes and aspiration of the people and to minimize impacts on environment.
Manipur has long ceased to think for itself and rather serve as a loyal facilitator of wanton destruction of its natural heritages for the unscrupulous profit of corporations and their cohorts. It’s time rife for the people and also the government of Manipur to start planning for itself and seek alternatives that should culminate into long term sustainability. Planners and those pushing for destructive, unsustainable development should be conscious that Manipur has people sensitive to the commitments and obligations of all concerned, for a sustainable world, centred on people and nature oriented development. The Government of India and the Government of Manipur should take the Free Prior and Informed Consent of all affected peoples as recommended by the UN CERD Committee specific on Tipaimukh Dam in 2007. The Government of India should recognize the inherent rights of the people of Manipur to determine its right to development based on the needs, wishes and its aspirations. Any forced and arbitrary development pursued goes against principles of rights and sustainability.
(The views expressed in this article are personal opinion of the author, and can reach firstname.lastname@example.org)