Voices from another Atlantis

993

Ratika Yumnam

Somehow the word `Atlantis`™ kept repeating itself at the back of my mind when I thought of Chadong, an Atlantis perhaps of lost memories. But unfortunately it is not a myth like Atlantis and reality seeps in like the dam waters. Chadong village of Ukhrul district is the current ground zero for the ongoing Mapithel crisis. The dam, which is a component of the Thoubal Multipurpose Project, was approved by the Planning Commission in 1980 without free, prior, informed consent of the people. It was slated to be completed by 1987, ironically the construction started only in 1990.
More than 8000 people will be affected once the dam is commissioned. 22 villages will have to look for alternative ways to survive. Indigenous communities will be uprooted from their sustainable traditional livelihood. They will be forced to adopt new ways of living, which may not be conducive to their environment and occupational skills. It is not just a story of Chadong, but neighbouring villages like Riha and Thoyee have begun panicking as well. Although their homesteads would not be submerged, their paddy fields will disappear in that watery abyss in a matter of days if the inundation does not stop. A bridge that connects to forest will also submerge, cutting off the lifelines of indigenous peoples who depend on it for their sustenance.
The situation is so bad that there is only one boat, rather two conjoined canoes operating as a boat for the villagers of Chadong. Just a week back, a 7-months pregnant lady had developed certain complications and much to her ordeal, she had to travel by means of that `boat`™, walk 5kms ahead and cross dangerous makeshift bamboo bridges, to reach the only motorable connecting road to Imphal. Her mother-in-law who accompanied her was too scared of the vast water body, as she had never experienced it before in her life. She latched on to one of my fellow activist, who all through this consoledher that it is ok and it is not as scary as it looks.
One might ask what`™s the hullabaloo about a sinking village? Isn`™t that part of `development`™? Of course, there are arguments like `one has to give up something in order to gain another thing.`™
But, in response to that, I would like to present some facts about the Thoubal Multipurpose project. The project itself is comprised of an earthen dam at Phayang village, Ukhrul district, for water supply and power generation; a barrage at Keithelmanbi 17 kms downstream for irrigation; and left and right bank canal system for irrigation. The supposed target benefits from this project is listed as power generation of 7.5 MW (3 generators of 2.5 MW capacity each); 10-12 MGD of drinking water for Imphal city; irrigation of 33,449 ha of land for Thoubal and Imphal East districts; navigation and flood control. However some of the prices, which the affected areas would have to pay for this project range from irreversible ecological to socio-cultural damages. And without proper Social Impact Assessment or even Environmental Impact Assessment done, it is a flagrant violation of the law of the land and abuse of constitutional and indigenous rights. Besides these human impacts, there are also pressing concerns about the scientific practicality of such dams, especially in a seismologically sensitive area like Manipur. Just recently, the small dam at Sekmai had developed cracks (link http://www.thesangaiexpress.com/page/items/53298/sekmai-dam-develops-crack ). Also, one needs to question the validity of such a technology in this age, considering the dam was proposed and sanctioned in the 1980s. A 25-years delay in its construction seems to hint at its obsolescence. In addition to that, projecting dams as clean technology is a myth. In the light of climate change and global warming, dams leave more carbon footprints due to rotting vegetations releasing methane. One example is the Balbina dam at Brazilian Amazon,which is estimated to produce 20-40 times the amount of carbon dioxide produced by coal fired power plants.
Besides these pressing concerns, the Thoubal project, and more specifically the Mapithel dam is an imposed project, accompanied by displacement of indigenous communities, heavy militarization and intimidation. The government of Manipur has breached many of its contracts time and again. Some of the notable ones are listed below:

`¢ An agreement between representatives of some affected villagers and government officials signed in 1993 stated that land compensation would be paid in 2 installments between 1993 and 1994. Instead it was paid in the form of 8 piece-meal payments much later in the years from 1996 to 2005.
`¢ Some landowners still have yet to receive their promised compensation.
`¢ Landowners still have not received 12% interest payment for the delayed compensation delivery.
`¢ Agreements regarding dam-related employment have yet to materialize.
`¢ Rehabilitative measures have yet to be considered or implemented.

Besides these breaches, there are inherent flaws of the contract itself. One basic flaw being the fact that the Memorandum of Agreed Terms and Conditions (1993) was executed only 13 years later after the approval and sanction of the project (1980). Also, construction began without conforming to the international norm of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the affected people. Even so, the supposed `consent`™ that the Government took from the affected villagers is highly questionable, considering it was based on false promises and taken under duress. No proper participatory assessment has been done when it comes to various impact dimensions such as environment, health, socio-economic and indigenous cultures. And indeed, no attempt was made to inform or seek the approval of Hill Areas Committee regarding the land acquisition. There is no comprehensive plan for R&R for the landless and landowners whose paddy fields and forest are to be submerged. Fishing and water rights for the affected villagers have not been even discussed. Cost-benefit analysis has not been done, which raises obviousconcerns about the dam becoming a White Elephant project.
The inundation started in January 2015, and the government has failed miserably in providing basic assistance to the affected people. One can only imagine the horrors if an epidemic outbreak occurs in the village.
In the end, my week-long stay at Chadong and the poignancy of the situation reminded me of JiaZhangke`™s movie Still Life. Needless to say, in a very Rhett Butlerian finesse, I would conclude – `Frankly my dear, we don`™t need a dam!`

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