What’s in Mapithel Dam?
By Koijam Pushparani
Never has it been tolerated by the state, when it comes to the indigenous communities, asserting their rights over community land and other natural resources. The State has been imposing its will on the people, waging war against those who resist them. The decade long struggle of the indigenous tribal community in Manipur for their rights to land, cultivated and depended upon by them, has not been very smooth. The Government of India and the state government, in unison with the powerful corporate bodies, have defied their own set of laws and violated the rights of the indigenous tribal community. Despite the Forest Rights Act of 2006, the community rights to forests land are still being trampled upon and ignored. And at this juncture, it is certain that the interests of the tribal community have been set aside for vested-interest of the few.
The construction of Mapithel dam began in 1990 ignoring the rights of the indigenous communities’ over the resources and without seeking free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the affected communities. The project was sanctioned at the cost of Rs. 45 crore and the revised cost of the project is Rs 1,387 crores as per 2011 revised estimate. The ongoing dam in its completion will submerge 778 hectares of agricultural land and 595 hectares of forest land, not only forcing the communities out of their source of production but displacing thousands from their land as well. The displacement will take place in the absence of proper Rehabilitation and Resettlement plan for all the affected villagers. The State Government’s order for forced eviction of the affected villagers for Rehabilitation in 2012, has questioned its own legitimacy and responsibility towards its people.
The Mapithel dam over Thoubal River in Ukhrul district, Manipur was commissioned by the Planning Commission in 1980 with the aim of utilizing water resource of Thoubal River for irrigation, drinking water and to generate electricity. Without any detailed impact assessment of the project and a comprehensive Rehabilitation and Resettlement program for the affected communities, the state government has prematurely and unilaterally set the deadline for the project completion, leading to social divisions among the affected. Almost 80 percent of the construction work is finished and the project is set to complete by 2015 and throughout these decades, the construction work was carried out without the mandatory “Forest Clearance” and without monitoring the violations. And instead, the Ministry conceded final clearance for the construction of the dam, curtailing the rights and welfare of the tribal communities. With nearly 80 percent of the affected villagers dependent on agriculture and forest produces, the ongoing construction has severely impacted the livelihood, creating confusion and insecurity among the Tangkhuls and the Kukis in the Ukhrul district.
The construction will also have multiple impacts on the villages in the downstream area of dam site along Thoubal River such as Tumukhong, Itham, Moirangpurel, Laikhong, Saichang, Chaningpokpi, Bongyang, Bewlaland, Morkon, Songphel, Molnom in Imphal East and Senapati district of Manipur. Most of the village communities in the downstream have been living by collecting sand and stone from the Thoubal River. The construction will lead to water shortage, affecting agriculture and other allied activities both in the upstream and the downstream areas, threatening the food sovereignty of the communities dependent on land, forest and river.
The twist in the Mapithel Dam of the Thoubal Multipurpose came with the decision of Union Environment Minister, M. Veerappa Moily on 31st December 2013, to grant final stage II Forest Clearance for the construction of Mapithel Dam contradicting the letter sent by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on November 26 2013 which laid out the enforcement of the Forest Right Act (FRA), 2006 to ‘correct historical injustice’ done to the tribal communities as part of the ongoing case in the National Green Tribunal. Denouncing the earlier statement, the Ministry says that FRA should not apply to the acquisition of land from the Tangkhul and Kuki tribal people as a ‘rare and unique’ exception.
The Posco steel plant in Odhisha met the same fate as Mapithel, with the Ministry clearing the Environmental Clearance for the project despite the contentious land acquisition process and protest from the local communities. While in another similar case of Vedanta bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri in Odisha, the Ministry complying with FRA, has rejected Forest Clearance for the project. The decision for non-compliance on application with the FRA in case of Mapithel dam, was taken in the shadow of the 1993 Memorandum of Agreed terms and conditions signed between the state government and some representatives of the affected villages, endorsing the agreement for Rehabilitation as ‘consent’ under FRA, 2006 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA). The violation by the Government of Manipur in the past three decades is history now.
It is vital here to point out that the agreement of 1993 has already been confirmed to be defective as it had no Rehabilitation and Resettlement program and as most of the agreed terms were violated by the state. In an acknowledgement of the violations and the incomplete nature of the 1993 agreement, the state government finally constituted an Expert Review Committee in 2008 to review impacts of Mapithel dam and review rehabilitation process etc. However, backtracking from the ERC process, the Government of Manipur forged an arbitrary agreement (strictly for rehabilitation) with a newly formed body in 2011 and claiming it legitimate. This is contested by the affected groups and the Guwahati High court even denounced the legitimacy of such agreements.
The violation on the part of the state and the central government went beyond violations of forest laws. The social turmoil and economic impoverishment have been coupled with militarization of the project site in order to put down the resistance from the affected villagers. The aggressive use of force by the law enforcing agencies following a protest by the affected villagers in 2008 can be best exemplified. Responding to the Human Rights violations in Ukhrul, the UN Special Rapporteur strongly urged the Government of India to fully take into account the provisions in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as other relevant provisions and respond to the articulated, demands and acts of protest by tribal communities in relation to Mapithel dam. However, the State has ignored the recommendations of the UN SR IP and stayed indifferent to the plight of the tribal communities.
The impact of militarisation has also risked the safety of women in the affected villages. Village school has been turned into military camps infringing the right to education of the children in the affected villages in Ukhrul district. The imposition of militarisation can also be understood against the backdrop of the ongoing self determination movement of the various ethnic groups in Manipur. Sidelining all these political and socio-economic concerns, the State continues to insist on corporatization of land and natural resources in the name of development in Manipur, whose benefits, as the country’s post independent economy testifies, never reached the masses.
Development model emphasizing on infrastructure such as mega dams, infrastructure projects, power projects, etc. has adversely affected large section of people, particularly rural community. In addition to existing failed mega/micro projects in Manipur, the state is pushing for more destructive projects, namely Tipaimukh project, Oil Exploration Plan, High Power Transmission Lines and the recent Loktak Ring road project, evoking strong opposition from the affected communities against the exploitation of the resources which is linked with their livelihood. Apparently, the state is at war with its own people. And with the state firmed on acquiring and corporatizing more land, however with negligible rehabilitation, displacement will be a serious issue of the state in the following years.
Notwithstanding the social crisis, the construction of dams and diversion of the forests for non-forest purpose shall also be considered in the growing concern for the global climate change. Threats to the climate and ecology also arise from exploitation and expropriation of the resources by the states and corporate. The submergence of 595 hectares of forest land from the construction of Mapithel dam will have an adverse impact on the environment, aggravating the climatic condition of the state. Besides, the forests of Manipur are increasingly targeted for climate change mitigation, such as REDD and REDD+ project initiatives, which will give transfer control of community’s forests land to state forest departments and companies, giving a free hand to the states in the politics of land and other natural resources.
The way forward
The increasing and aggressive pursuance of neo-liberal policies in Manipur, especially in the last few decades, has brought huge investments from developed countries and international financial institutions, with obscurely predefined objectives to eradicate poverty from Manipur and within the region. The pursuance of such neo liberal policies led to exploitation of natural resources of Manipur and further subjected indigenous communities to land alienation, displacement, conflict related human rights violations, violence against women and other multifaceted and multiplying impacts. The spoils of the exploitation have been strictly confined to the few political elites and corporate making them filthy rich, at the cost of the lives of the communities. Manipur, unfortunately, is increasingly witnessing such paradox and contradictions.
In a democracy where rights of the poor, particularly tribal, have been grossly violated, it is likely that states’ apathy will create severe political crisis with distrust towards the democratic ideology of the country. It is hereby essential that the state recognises the inherent relationship between the communities and the natural resources that sustain their livelihood and also ensures the democratic participation of the communities in issues that concerns their land and survival, lest it could invite violent resurrection from the million victims, questioning India’s own democracy. The development of Manipur and Mapithel region can be best assured with the full participation and consultation of all communities to be affected by Mapithel dam. Embarking on a dubious process of mastering divisions and manipulations of all sorts will only complicate the development imbroglio and the resistance from all impacted by such development malaise.