Chadong village will no longer be where it has been for generations. In the weeks ahead, all that once constituted the village would be underwater. An artificial lake reservoir is in the making, now that the Mapithel Dam Project over the Mapithel river which meanders down into the valley to become the Thoubal river, is complete and the dam floodgates are being lowered. The beautiful Chadong village, nestled in a narrow valley, is below the dam height and will be submerged. If the government has its way to convince all the villagers to agree to an alternate site for the village in the higher reaches of the same mountain range, a new Chadong village will hopefully grow to prosper there as a lakeside settlement. They will no longer have their beloved river and the strips of flatlands which nurtured their paddy fields to behold with pride, but a new, miles wide lake in its place. It has not been an easy farewell for the villagers, as media reports and photographs of the agony of those who have been resisting evacuation are evidence. They are now forced to abandon their homes on makeshift rafts and canoes as the flood waters continually rise to engulf their former homes. Now that the inevitable has happened, we do hope the government is liberal in its resettlement package, and help Chadong set roots again in the new site. For Chadong village, it could be a nightmare in the years ahead if they find it impossible to readjust to the new environment and economic macros, but it could also be the promise of the boons and bounties of a brave new world of opportunities as a lakeside town. We do hope the latter is ultimately the destiny of the village. We also hope the government ensures the blue print for such a future is not lacking in details or materials. Our prayers are with the village. Our gratitude too for the sacrifice they are made to make for what is believed to be the greater common good. We also hope it does come to be for the greater common good from which the tormented villagers are the greatest beneficiaries in the long run.
While we hope for the best, it is also difficult not to be sceptical at the same time, considering there are so many unscrupulous men (and increasingly women) in position of power at various levels of the government structure, and others enjoying the borrowed halos of power by being its brokers or else sycophantic followers of those who wield power. This predatory class of men entrusted with state power have time and again shown they can without remorse make capital of the misery of others. In the immediate context, this was loudly and painfully visible in the picture of the brand new Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, RMSA, scheme school building, constructed recently by the Education Department, Government of Manipur at Chadong village. What exactly can be made of this? It is again difficult to believe the entire decision making process of the district and state administration were not aware that the Mapithel Dam construction was nearing completion and site of the school would soon be underwater. If indeed they were unaware of this, they deserved to be dismissed from their jobs not only for their ignorance but for the waste they have caused to public tax money. Or are these politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and contractors, so staunched in their belief in the theory of evolution that they believed by the time the dam is commissioned, children in the area as well as teachers who would be posted there would have developed gills to breath underwater.
In all likelihood, there were some who were desperate to make quick bucks. Funds for the school building under the Central government scheme would have already been earmarked in the befuddled planning process and these officials instead of pointing out the flaw in the scheme, would have seen an opportunity to make a double kill by building this school under the scheme and after it has submerged, seek more funds to build another, and in the process line their pockets twice for the same job. Two very contrasting pictures which can generalise the power structure in Manipur are therefore visible yet again in the Chadong episode. On the one hand are ordinary villagers made to make huge sacrifices for the benefit of a belief in a greater common good, and on the other are power brokers and power mongers jumping at the opportunity to enhance their selfish vested interests by manipulating and skewing this same greater common good, of which the institution of a village school definitely is a visible symbol. Besides taking care to ensure the welfare of new Chadong village, we hope the government also will institute an inquiry into this blatant and atrocious waste, if not robbery of public money, and fix responsibilities.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam