Introduction : Almost all the development interventions especially mega projects interweave dimensional devastation of forest and its resources. There is intrinsic relationship between Forest and indigenous people in terms of social & cultural and economic that sustains their survival throughout different stages of their life. Nature produces the grass we use to feed livestock, the food we eat, the water we drink, and also the medicine we need. It inspires our culture, our traditions, our science and almost all walks of life. This is why there has been incessant struggle of indigenous people for conservation of nature, preserving the balance of the ecosystem which has always been the indigenous way of life.
The indigenous tribal peoples living in the Mapithel valley have been surviving in the region through many generations with close affinity with the forest and its resources. Forest is elixir for their life existence in the valley since their forefathers. The inseparable relationship between them and the provision they received from its free gift cannot be compensated with any other means being the forest dependent group.
The construction of Mapithel dam of Thoubal Multipurpose Project inevitably requires portions of land and forest. A total land area of 2,972.28 hectares of different categories covering paddy field, forest, home-stead and grazing grounds which are either completely submerged or adversely affected. Moreover, many forest & land areas which were not identified whether they are under submergence or not, have also been inundated which are not considered as compensatory area. Land & forest at the dam construction site, borrow land area, fruit & non-fruit bearing trees due to left and right flank of road construction as a component of the dam project fall under forest areas being damaged.
The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 (FCA, 1980), regulates the Diversion of forest for non-forest activities which requires prior clearances from the Ministry of Forest & Environment (MoEF). This was enacted to help in conservation of forest and to regulate de-reservation of forest. The FCA, 1980 & Forest Rights (Recognition of Scheduled Tribe & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers on forest) Act, 2006 (FRA, 2006) operate through corresponding rules and guidelines. Section 2 of the FCA, 1980 provides certain guidelines which state Govt. cannot proceed without approval of the Central Govt. in the following activities, De-reservation of reserved forest land, Use of forest land for non-forestry purpose and Assignment of forest land through lease or otherwise to any private person or any agency/corporation/organization which is not owned/managed/controlled by the state govt. clearing of trees that have grown naturally in a forest land or portion of it, for the purpose of using it for re-forestation.
It is mandatory to raise Compensatory Afforestation as an ameliorative measure double to the areas to be diverted/submerged. Catchment Area Treatment (CAT) plan is yet another aspect of forest which ought to be protected for perennial water sustenance of the dam reservoir. Besides this, maintenance of Green Belt around the dam reservoir is an inevitable part too.
Forest in Mapithel dam : According to figure found, out of 1215 hectares of land area under submergence, 48.97% ie, 595 hectares is forest area. And 70 Sq. km out of around 527 sq kms, are dense forest land. As per point II & III of the conditions stipulated in stage-I, in-principle clearance, Compensatory afforestation shall be done double to 595 ha i,e, 1190 hectares. And Catchment Area Treatment (CAT) plan @ 565 sq km. shall be implemented.
Forest diversion @595 hectares cover the forest areas of 14 villages such as, Maphou/Phayang, Louphong, Nongdam (T & K), Chadong, Lamlai Khunou, Ramrei, Riha, Thoyee, Jalenbung, Thoyee Kuki, Shangkai, Shikiphung and Lamlai Chingphei. Moreover, hundreds of hectares of forest destruction caused at construction site, borrow land at Chadong village, fruit & non-fruit bearing tress and deforestation happened due to Left & Right flank road construction as component of Mapithel dam.
Compensatory Afforestation (CA) : As per the conditions stipulated in the FCA, 1980, Compensatory afforestation ought to be carried out double to 595 ha i,e, 1190ha as mandatory in case of Mapithel dam. Reforestation was primarily targeted to take up at Chadong, Ramrei and Riha villages in 1993 however as per the latest information received as on 8th February 2016, 7 villages of Ukhrul district such as Mongkot Chepu-200ha, 2. Chepu Yaolen-200ha, 3. Somdal-100ha, 4. Ramva-100ha, 5. T.M Kasom-100ha, 6. Talloi-190ha and 7. Tungou-300ha have been selected for raising forest for Mapithel dam (CA).
Catchment Area Treatment (CAT) plan : Before analyzing the subsequent chapters, it will be good to know something about “What is catchment area and how are they treated” Generally, the river tributaries, brooks, streams, springs, forest trees and hills from where water flows in to certain location which sustains through them, is simply known as catchment area. Therefore, the hills, forest and tributaries, big or small, belonging to 43 villages of Ukhrul district in the Mapithel dam project upstream through which water flows into Yangwui kong/Thoubal River are the catchment areas of the project.
CAT plan of Mapithel dam project is categorized into Critical area and not critical. Critical areas constitutes 55 sq km of forest belonging to 10 villages such as, Maphou – Lamlai Monbung @ 18.70, Lamlai Khullen @4.31, Bungpi-Shangkai @5.03, Litan @3.95, Ringui @3.59, Lamlang Gate @4.31, Pharung-Shimdang @2.88, Ukhrul-Shimtang @ 3.59, Hungdung @6.47 and Teinem-Phadang @2.17 are identified as critical area. Critical area simply meant the portions where priority need to be given as the identified area have lost almost 3/4th of the top soil depth due to severe erosion observed by the expert, otherwise reservation will be the same.
The proposed CAT plan for Mapithel dam @ 565 sq.km covers the forest land areas of 43 villages of Ukhrul district. The following is the list of 43 villages of Ukhrul district comprising of 7223 households which are identified for CAT plan implementation as per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environment Management Plan (EMP) prepared by the IFCD, Govt. of Manipur in 2006:- Tallui, Somdal, Phadang, Ngaimu (as written), Tuinem, Ukhrul, Seikhor, Shimtang, Hundung-Upper & lower, Langdang, Choithar, Lamlang, T. Chahong, Tushar, Tungou, Lambui, Shokvao, Yaolen Chepu, Lamlai Chingphei, TM. Kasom, Litan, Mongkot Chepu, Shangkai, Khangkhui khullen, Khangkhui khunou, Nungshong Khullen, Nungshong Khunou, Nungshang Chingthak, Shangching, Nungshang Chingkha, Jalenbung, Lamlai Khullen, Lamlai khunou, Chadong, Shikibung, Thawai Tangkhul, Riha Loutei, Thawai Kuki, Louphong, Lamlai Monbung, Loutei Kuki, Nongdam Tangkhul and Nongdam Kuki.
Importance of CAT plan implementation : It is the catchment areas protection that substantiates sustenance of dam water reservoir. It is an undeniable factor that Soil erosion, mud & land sliding leading to regular siltation causing speedy shallow up of the water reservoir within few year’s time and subsequent dysfunction of dams. As per the EIA report of the IFCD, Manipur, prepared by the Hydro-Bio-Tech Design Engineers in 2006, there has been side by side of forest areas being suffered critical damage due to several reasons where soil erosion has attained serious proportion. 100 years target life span of the Singda dam is now limits to maximum 30-35 years which runs 25 years today. Even in case of Mapithel dam, no action steps have been taken up under CAT plan according to the Forest Department till February 2016.
Negative impacts on tribal land owners : While the project proponent is trying to utilize the forest land on reforestation and catchment area treatment plan as the pivotal roles, implementation of the same will be giving exceptionally severe impacts upon the tribal customary forest land ownership. The rights of affecting land owners will be denied as the re-forested area under Compensatory Afforestation shall be notified as reserved/protected forest by the state Govt. within 6 months according to the official notice of B.K Singh Sr. Assistant General Inspector of Forest to the Principal Secretary (Forest), Forest Department, Govt. of Manipur, dated 11th January 2010. The plan of forest protection under CAT has a big challenge to the existing customary laws of the Tangkhul Naga tribe. They have their own set up laws of traditional land holding which are being infringed due to Mapithel dam construction. Diversions of forest and protections under different rules and regulations for the dam construction shatters the intrinsic relationship between the indigenous tribal communities and the forest which gives direct threats on survival of the people in the region.
Soon as CAT plan is implemented, it will be protected as good as reserved forest. It is compulsory that Rules and relevant forest protection Acts to be imposed in the reserved/protected forest area. Different regulations such as, fire protection measures (Chapter-II of Manipur Forest Rules 1971), restriction of hunting and shooting in the reserved forest (Chapter-III), pasturing of cattle in the reserved forest areas (Chapter-IV), Reserving trees in the protected forest (V), Cutting of trees, cultivation etc. in the protected forest (Chapter-VI), Transit of forest produce (Chapter-VII), Drift and standard timber (Chapter-VIII), Powers and duties of Forest Officers and Revenue Officer (Chapter-IX), Preservation of wild life in reserved forest (Chapter-XI), Eviction (Chapter-XII), Rules for the establishment and control of forest villages (Chapter-XIII) and penalties and rewards (Chapter-XIV) will be automatically imposed. Otherwise, the purpose of the dam may be hopeless. And in return, this literally leads to marginalization to the forest land owners.
Mandatory clearances : As per the conditions contained in Section 2 of the FCA, 1980, obtaining Forest & Environment Clearances from the concerned Ministries are mandatory. As per the set up rules, the User Agency/the project proponent is required to seek permission from the Ministry of Environment & Forest (MoEF) at different levels. If the required forest diversion area is below 40 hectares, the User agency shall take permission from the MoEF, Regional Office, Shillong. And if the proposed forest diversion area exceeds 40 hectares, the necessary Forest & Environment clearances to be taken from the Central MoEF, Delhi. The FCA, 1980 requires certain procedures which are enshrined in the FCA for obtaining approval or clearances for a project needing forest diversion. FCA basically requires seeking approval from the Central Ministry for use of forest for non-forestry purposes which is referred to as Forest Clearance. The Forest & Environment Clearances should be accorded at two stages viz, Stage-I in-principle clearance to the proposed forest diversion subject to fulfillment of certain conditions and the stage-II will be the final which involved compliance of necessary procedures as per the FCA, 1980, FPA, 1989 and FRA, 2006 provide.
Litigations : The project proponent, IFCD Govt. of Manipur has been constructing the Mapithel dam project over 3 decades without obtaining Forest and Environment Clearances. Violations of Forest acts and Environmental laws were confirmed only when the affected villagers filed a case before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Principal Bench, Delhi in August 2013.
Construction of the project was halted by the NGT court in its Order dated 12th November 2013 & 20th of November 2013 for violation of Forest & Environment acts, stating that, the project be maintained its Status Quo till 23rd January 2014 for necessary compliance of rules as per the acts. The said court issued the Interim orders based on the recommendations of the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), a nodal Ministry regarding R&R and other related matters in November 2013. However, the 33 years old issue of mandatory clearances was resolved with a stroke of pen as the Union MoEF granted the Stage-II final Forest & Environment Clearances on 31st December 2013 and subsequent Clearance order of the NGT on 15:01:2014.
This is an undeniable fact to confirm that the Mapithel dam of Thoubal Multipurpose project involves flagrant violations on the aspect of forest diversion, land acquisition for protection of Catchment Area Treatment (CAT). There has been no knowledge and approval of the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) which violates the Article 371-C of the Indian Constitution. Necessary process of taking proper FPIC of the affected forest land owners shall not be undermined.
Lastly, it is a compelling circumstance that the concerned project Authority takes up rectification measures and resolves the protracted imbroglio in Mapithel forest perspective in the line of legal framework before commissioning the project. Absence of this will give drastic impacts upon the affected tribal forest land owners of Mapithel dam in particular and tribal communities in general. Moreover, the same can be construed as snatching away the customary rights by force which will be a serious violation of forest and environmental laws. Moreover, it defeats the letter and spirit of FCA, 1980 and FRA, 2006 and will repeat the historic injustice done to the forest dwellers in India.
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Source: The Sangai Express