Another Wall of Injustice

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By Jiten Yumnam

In January this year, the Thoubal River was impeded by the Mapithel Dam. In the pipeline since the 1980s, the commissioning of the dam meant that the backwater reservoir slowly began to rise, fill and spread, even though resettlement had not been completed. It was a despicable act by the Manipur government to forcefully commission the Thoubal Multipurpose Project. By June, due to the rains in the northeastern Indian state, the dam reservoir began to rise rapidly and submerged an extensive area of Chadong village, where many project-affected people reside. The reservoir began to submerge their agricultural land, grazing grounds and forest.

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Villagers protest after commissioning of the Mapithel Dam earlier this year Photo : Jiten Yumnam

As I write this, homes are being inundated by the rising waters. Villagers are compelled to rely on bamboo rafts to cross the river, given that the only bridge that connects Chadong with other villages along the Mapithel Valley has already been submerged. Most say they can not swim; turbulent waters in high winds pose a constant risk. The villagers are in deep despair as they watch their ancestral lands vanish. But right now they are most worried for their immediate livelihood as their cultivable land is lost to the rising water.

The Thoubal Multipurpose Project is intended to generate 7.5 MW of hydroelectricity and supply 10 million gallons of water each day to the state capital, Imphal. But the filling of the reservoir without addressing the concerns of affected communities – in the absence of holistic impact assessment of the dam – amounts to no less than harassment and is illegal. The Tangkhul Naga and Kuki people will lose their subsistence agricultural land and forests, their source of survival.

The blocking of the river has already led to the drying up of the Thoubal River in the immediate downstream stretch of the dam. The villagers in downstream villages, belonging to the Meiteitribe, are worried of extreme water shortages. The villagers can no longer fish and collect sand and stones brought down by the Thoubal River, which is an economic mainstay in addition to agriculture. Collection of firewood and seasonal food sources from nearby hills is getting disturbed as forest areas are being destroyed, also partly due to militarization in the region. The Mapithel Dam site is located in a highly seismic area, and villagers are concerned about a potential dam break.

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Villagers are compelled to rely on bamboo rafts to cross the river after the Mapithel Dam inundated the only bridge in the area Photo : Jiten Yumnam

The ongoing filling of the Mapithel Dam reservoir is accompanied with full-scale deployment of security forces of the government of India while subduing all affected peoples’ call and resistance against the blocking of the Thoubal River. Villagers strongly opposed the forceful filling up of the dam reservoir as a clear example of undemocratic and anti-indigenous peoples development. This has created political disenchantment and a fear psychosis among the affected villagers.

The ongoing effort to finalize Mapithel Dam construction is moving ahead, despite the fact that the National Green Tribunal is still considering the violation of forest rights under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006. In clear procedural violations, the Ministry of Environment and Forest, government of India accorded final forest clearance for Mapithel Dam only on December 31, 2013, more than 30 years after the project was approved in 1980, and that too without conducting any site visit to the affected area.

The rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) is being carried out in a piecemeal and divisive manner and has already caused much controversy and human rights violations, resulting in confusion and division among affected communities. Due to the failure of the agreement on R&R, the government of Manipur constituted an Expert Review Committee in January 2008. However, the government withdrew from the process after seven rounds of talks, the last held in February 2011. The government of Manipur forcefully began verification at Lamlai Khunou and Chadong Village in October 2012, despite community objections. The verification is a direct violation of the stay order of the Gauhati High Court on April 25, 2012.

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Agricultural land partially submerged in Chadong village by Mapithel Dam Photo : Jiten Yumnam

The construction of Mapithel Dam is still fraught with the absence of a detailed impact assessment on communities with their rightful participation, especially regarding the impact on forest land and other livelihood sources. The plight of the affected communities remains uncertain as project authorities continue to fill the dam reservoir with military presence on their land, suppressing their democratic rights. Mapithel Dam is yet another clear symbol of development injustice.

The filling of the reservoir should be stopped until rehabilitation has been satisfactorily completed while free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous people is taken on board. The militarization of the region, in the name of battling insurgents, too should be halted immediately. Lastly, all forms of involuntary displacement in violation of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights, 2007 and the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, 2000 should be put to a stop. Now.

  • Jitin Yumnam is Secretary, Centre for Research and Advocacy (Manipur), and can be contacted at: [email protected]
  • Source : http://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/328-20

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