Manipur: Of Two Epicentres

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By Jiten Yumnam

The New Year 2016 began with a dreadful note in Manipur. An Earthquake of 6.8 Richter magnitude jolt Manipur and across the entire North east region on early 4th January morning.Even before the newspaper in Manipur and across India reports, the US Geological Monitoring Center and the British Broadcasting Corporation already reported details of Earthquake in Manipur, with its epicenter at Noney in Tamenglong district. The quake occurred due to ongoing seismic activity in the plate boundary region between the continental Indian and Eurasian plates. The Indian plate is reportedly moving towards the north-northeast with respect to Eurasia at a velocity of about 48 mm a year.

Eight people lose their lives as of 5 January and several houses and properties damaged extensively all across Manipur.Almost all houses in Noney Parts I, II, III, IV and V, close to the epicenter bore the brunt of the quake as cracks and crevices were found developed. Various Churches including Longmai Part-II Baptist Church, Longmai Part-III Baptist Church, and Longmai Part-IV Baptist Church developed cracks on the floors, ceilings and walls. People of neighboring Pungmon village are jittery as a large crack has surfaced in the middle of the village. More than 200 buildings were damaged in Manipur.5 houses were damaged in Tamenglong headquarters, 6 damaged in Nungba and 23 houses damaged in Tousem.The worst impact was felt in the twin districts of Imphal East and West, where most deaths have occurred and many buildings either collapsed or developed cracks.

Interestingly, most structures inflicted with major damages are the Government built structures, completed recently and built mostly by private and public companies. The Quake will certainly jolt some weird truths and laid bare some nostalgic facts of corporate fraud and unaccountability in Manipur.For instance, the newly-constructed three main building of the Ima Market (Women’s Market) and the Manipur State Assembly, partially damaged due to earthquake, were all built by the Simplex Infrastructure Limited. Engineers confirm that the buildings might not withstand another earthquake of high magnitude. The tremors caused serious damage to the three buildings of the all-women market in Imphal, leaving over 3000 vendors without sheds . The inability of these structures to withstand a tremor of 6.8 Richter scale indicates the seismic inconsideration and the low quality of works. The Simplex Company is also involved in construction ofMapithel dam, the Imphal Water Supply Project, to be financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the French Government supported Imphal Sewerage Project and Trans Asian Railway works in Manipur.An impartial investigation on the inconsideration of the aspects of seismic impacts and low workquality in these projects should be urgently conducted to hold these companies accountable for theirlapses. These companies in their pursuit for profitsundermined social, environmental and seismic impacts. It is highly doubtful that other construction works such as in Mapithel dam, the tunneling works for Trans Asian Railways etc have fully integrated seismic impacts in their construction designs etc.

The Imphal Airport, Minuthong Bridge, Old Secretariat building, the Manipur Information Technology Park building, the BSNL main building, the lone flyover, all in Imphal are partially damaged. There are also reports of developing three cracks in the Singda Dam . Damages were also witnessed at Kangla historical site. Among the 12 pillars located at the Govinda Beithop, 10 pillars have sustained cracks.

The Tamenglong area and entire Manipur features on Seismic Zone V of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) 2000 seismic zone map of India, which is the highest risk zone for earthquakes in the Indian subcontinent. The last major quake in Manipur was in 1988, with magnitude 7.2. Some 19 other quakes greater than magnitude 6 have occurred within 156 miles of Manipurin the past 100 years.

Tamenglong and for that matter Manipur is not just the epicenter of the Earthquake, but also for series of large scale development projects that will both have serious implications on the fragility of the Earth and which will also be affected by high seismic activity in Manipur.Tamenglong district is currently subjected to extensive tunneling works for the Trans Asian Railway, the World Bank supported High Voltage Transmission Lines, the Trans Asian Highway, preparations for Petroleum exploration and drilling, in addition to array of several mega dams, primarily the 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project. Additionally, on August 28, 2014, the Government of Manipur signed four new Memorandums of Understanding with the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation for construction of four new mega-dams, namely the 60 MW Irang HEP, 67 MW Khongnem Chakha, 190 MW Pabram HEP, and 51 MW Tuivai HEP projects over Rivers under the Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy, 2012. The proposed 66 MW Loktak Downstream Dam and the Nungleiband HEP is also planned in Tamenglong district. These mega development plans will further exert pressures on the Earth below, adding to risk of tremors.The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), India has indeed attributed to the increase in earthquake risk in North East region due to a spurt in developmental activities driven by economic development and globalization.

Large scale development projects are aggressively pursued in Manipur as part of India’s Look East Policy to connect with South East Asian Countries. Manipur is right in the center of indeed three regions, South Asia, South East Asia and East Asia and crisscrossed with overlapping and overwhelming initiatives of the Government of India with its LEP, Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN countries, the Asian Development Bank’s SASEC initiative, the BCIM initiative and the investment initiatives of JICA, the World Bank, German Financial Cooperation etc. All these extra focus add additional pressures on land and territories with unprecedented scale of infrastructure and energy related developments.The quest for economic and political powers seems to negate and accord a deaf ear to the reality and very fact that Manipur is juxtaposed in middle of a high seismic zone.

The epicenter of the January 4 quake should be an occasion for due consideration and sensitivity to the repeated assertions from academicians, the technicians, civil society organizations, that Manipur’s proximity and location in very high seismic zone V, requires a cautious and inevitable consideration of seismic aspect and impacts in all development decision making and related processes. The proposed plans for building Tipaimukh Dam, Pabram and Irang Hydel projects and other mega dams under the Manipur Hydro Power Policy, 2012, the proposed Oil Exploration Plans in Tamenglong and Churachandpur districts, the extensive tunneling and construction works for both Trans Asian Railway and Trans Asian Highway and multitude of other large scale development projects within Manipur need serious introspection for their feasibility and rationality in places like Manipur with high seismicity.

There should be a clear an impartial investigation into the lapses and the unaccountability of the corporate bodies involved in the construction of mega structures in Manipur, especially on undermining the seismic impacts. Existing mega development structures like Mapithel dam, the Singda dam, Khuga etc for their compliance or due consideration of Seismic impacts. This natural calamity should also led to a development decision based on rightful participation of all indigenous communities and all those concerned with a just and a sustainable development in Manipur, with due inevitable consideration of a holistic impact assessments. Deep catastrophes will only await Manipur if the concerned authorities fail to heed the alarm bells and voice of sanity on larger social and environmental concerns.

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