Of the most ambitious and controversial mega projects in Manipur, the 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project (Loktak Project) hit news headlines in early August 2017, again for wrong reasons. Several media establishments published the non-existence of memorandum of understanding or agreement (MoU) on Loktak Project between the Government of Manipur and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), as confirmed by the NHPC on 9 May 2017 in response to an RTI filed by Mr. Joy Haobijam of Thanga, Manipur. The arsoning of floating huts in Loktak Wetlands and the merciless brutality unleashed by the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) and the Manipur Police in November 2011 and the scandalous corruption in the cleaning of ‘Phumdi’, floating biomass in Loktak Wetlands involving the K-Pro company, also hits news headlines in recent years.
The absence of an MoU, that should be defining the terms and conditions of the operation of the Loktak project, simply led to series of unanswered questions, especially on who should be regulating the operation of the 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project concerning its project duration, on responding to social and environmental impacts, the decommissioning period, and the rights and role of the State Government and to address the lingering grievances of the communities, challenged by the project. With the absence of a MoU, it seems the Government of Manipur is divesting its responsibility to regulate a project marred with wide social and environment impacts on its land and resources, which provides a critical livelihood source for several indigenous communities of Manipur. The NHPC seems to be conferred with a free hand to just plunder and expropriate the wetlands and other natural resources of Manipur without any monitoring, regulation and accountability mechanism.
The construction of Loktak Multipurpose Hydro Electric Project was taken up by the Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India in 1971 and was commissioned by the Government of India in 1983 with the National Hydro Electric Power Corporation (NHPC) executing the project. The Ithai Dam or barrage was constructed in the downstream of Manipur River (Imphal River) to generate 105 MW of power by and to provide Lift irrigation facilities for 24,000 hectares of land. The Ithai barrage constructed has already led to submergence of more than 80,000 acres of agriculture land.
The construction of the Ithai Dam has brought a reverse picture in economic status of Manipur from a self-sufficient to borrower’s position with a large number of agricultural lands submerged under water. Manipur continues to lose around 300 crore rupees annually, if one calculates the annual loss of crop yield, fishing and other seasonal vegetable harvest from the land destroyed by Loktak Project in and around Loktak wetlands, over 80,000 acres of land. Manipur has incurred a loss of more than 10,000 crores of rupees since the project operation from 1983 onwards. A careful calculation of economic, social and environment impact of Loktak project is a serious and critical need of the hour.
The NHPC Company refused to concede to the demands of the community affected by Loktak HEP project in Manipur for their rehabilitation and resettlement. Many of the displaced people are forced to seek refuge in Loktak Lake, building floating huts over phumdis, floating vegetation mass formed due to seasonal fluctuation of water level of the Lake. However, the Government of Manipur unleashed a reign of state terror by burning down these floating huts in November 2011. The arsoning was carried out by Loktak Development Authority (LDA) and the Manipur Police based on the eviction notification of LDA on 11 November 2011 under the Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006.
Loktak Lake is already designated as a Ramsar Protected Site under the Ramsar Convention and one of the key obligations of the Government is to ensure that communities depending on Loktak Wetlands are fully involved in all management process of the Lake as also endorsed by the resolution VII.8 and VIII.19 of Ramsar Convention`s Conference of contracting parties held at Costa Rica in May 1999 and at Spain in November 2002. Notwithstanding these resolutions, fishing communities of Loktak Lake are evicted and their intrinsic survival dependence on the Lake curtailed.
The Impact of Ithai Barrage is not limited to only submergence of agriculture land and destroying peoples’ livelihood. The Ithai Barrage has been responsible for series of floods in Manipur as the NHPC in several occasion, refuse to open the sluice gates of Ithai Barrage, leading to widespread submergence of agricultural areas. Manipur already experienced more than five major floods from April till July 2017. Acknowledging the role of Ithai Barrage in the worsening flood situation in Manipur, the Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr. Biren has even requested Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India in July 2017 to remove the Ithai Barrage that blocks the Manipur River. Unleashing environmental impacts, the Ithai Barrage also led to disappearance of several indigenous fishes from Loktak Lake such as the Ngaton, Khabak, Pengba, Tharaak, Ngaaraa, Ngaatin etc. It has been observed that these fishes migrated from the Chindwin-Irrawady river system of Burma to the course of Imphal/Manipur River for breeding in the adjoining lakes and streams of Manipur valley. The production of at least Twenty Three (23) indigenous varieties of aquatic edible plants, e.g Heikak, Thaangjing, Loklei, and Pulei etc has been reduced.
The Loktak Project has contributed in militarization in Manipur as Indian paramilitary forces are deployed to protect the facilities of the project, such as Ithai, Leimatak and Ningthoukhong etc. There are several cases where military officials manning the Loktak Project facilities committed human rights violations, viz arbitrary killings and summary execution of indigenous populace of Manipur.
The Loktak Project has become a real symbol of plunder and exploitation of the land and resources of Manipur and is also a key factor for undermining food sovereignty of Manipur. The continued operation of the Loktak Project without any accountability of the NHPC and the State undermines the significance of Loktak wetlands, which is classified as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The Loktak project is also responsible for continued suffering of fishing communities, such as due to promulgation of the Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006.
The NHPC reaps huge profits while unleashing wide suffering to indigenous populace and undermining food sovereignty of Manipur. Further, NHPC has plans to accrue additional profits by renovating the Loktak Power Station by reaping and market carbon credits from the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is also a false solution to climate change. In a clear disrespect and insult to the people of Manipur, the NHPC even claimed in the High Court of Manipur that it is not responsible for the submergence of land and devastation of Loktak Wetlands ecosystem. The indulgence of NHPC by profiteering from the destruction of land and environment and impoverishing and suppressing indigenous communities of Manipur and absolving of any responsibility constitutes a highest form of corporate unaccountability.
The most unfortunate thing is the NHPC is also being entrusted by the Government of India to build the colossal 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project along the Barak River and also the 60 MW Loktak Downstream Project, both of which will entail wide submergence of both agriculture and forest land in Churachandpur and Tamenglong Districts of Manipur. Such massive destructive of land will further undermine food sovereignty and foster Manipur’s dependency on outsiders. Corporate bodies like the NHPC that remained unaccountable for the sheer destruction of the land and resources in Manipur should not be allowed to operate further in Manipur.
NHPC should also stop unethical ways of reaping financial gains by seeking carbon credits from upgrading the Loktak Project operations. Such practices will only reinforce the unethical practices and the violations within. The NHPC should stop reaping profits from Manipur by destroying its wetlands and by harassing its indigenous peoples. Such process will be akin to perpetuation of violations. NHPC should be held accountable for the violations and the disrespect of the people of Manipur.
The Government of Manipur and the Govt of India should explain to the people of Manipur on the absence of an agreement or an accountability mechanism for 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project. The Government of Manipur should also urge upon the NHPC to take responsibility and accountability for the sufferings unleashed on communities and for the environment devastations in Loktak wetlands. The Government of Manipur should take full responsibility by reviewing 105 MW Loktak Project and to take appropriate steps in coordination with the Government of India to decommission the Ithai Barrage at the earliest.
There is a larger question if the operation of Loktak Project with an annual loss of more than 300 Crore for Manipur is still feasible? Moreover, North East India is already power surplus and people of Manipur buy power irrespective of where it is generated. The Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006 should also be repealed to recognize the rights and role of fishing communities in the sustainable management of Loktak wetlands. NHPC should be held accountable for the multiple violations unleashed in Manipur. A development process that inflicted suffering to the communities and that devastate their livelihood and that insisted on corporatization and perception of land and resources only as sources of profit amidst absence of any accountability mechanism for corporations and the State can never lead to sustainable development and such development processes should be rescinded.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Source: The Sangai Express