The told and untold miseries engrossed in the construction of the Mapithel Dam over the Thoubal River in Manipur has attracted much of the international attention. In last visit of UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing and Land Rights, Miloon Kothari, in his meeting with the affected community at Thoyee Community Hall, on 25th September 2016, remarked that the history of Mapithel Dam serves as the glaring example of the government’s failure to respect the people’s right, a fallacy of the government to take into account what it should.
Shivani Choudhury, Director, Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), New Delhi, expressed her concern over how the affected villagers foster their movement seeking justice against forceful commissioning of the Mapithel Dam, despite the hardships they have gone through, where the plight of vulnerability of women and children reeling high.
Despite the claims and refutations of continued procedural and human rights violations engrossed in the implementation of the dam, the upstream affected villagers are the rightful claimants of the beneficiaries to the mitigation measures. Supported by the constitutional legal provisions, the voice of the upstream affected people is shrilled enough to penetrate into the deaf ears of the dam authorities enforcing them to wave signals for taking up few steps.
The absentia of the downstream provisions in the Dam Commissioning Plans of India reduces the downstream affected communities into the silent sufferers. Their voices are forbidden to the dam authorities or the government concerned. Everyday life, they reeled though through the adverse impacts of the dam with no hope for any assistance packages.
Mapithel Dam has several affected downstream villages, namely Leironthel, Nungbrang, Keithelmanbi, Laikhong, Itham, Moirangpurel, Tumukhong etc. Out of these affected villages, Tumukhong is the immediate downstream village which lies within zero (0) kilometre from the dam reservoir site.
The commencement of the filling up of the Mapithel dam reservoir since 15th January 2015, was the turning point in the history of the downstream affected villagers that marks the beginning of ‘Reign of Sorrow,’ Tumukhong Village which once boasted of its flourishing vegetables, occupying a space in market with name tag ‘Tumukhong vegetables,’ now lay barren and unproductive in the post-construction of the Mapithel dam. Villagers are alienated from their means of livelihood, they are estranged from their Right to Work, the Right to Life. Men are frustrated, women and children are exposed to the pathetic plight of vulnerability.
The Mapithel Dam and Tumukhong Village
To an innocent villager of Tumukhong, they may fail to possess the idea of all the necessary facts and figures of the dam, yet they know the best how the dam reservoir has spell disaster to their lives. From life security threats, out of the dam wreckage, loss of livelihood to social disorganisation, villagers are reeling without the pursuit of life. One middle-aged lady remarked;
‘For mere day-to-day sustenance, for the struggle for existence, we can wait for the days to past, feeding on the traditional porridge of wild vegetables (khongbanda houba pankhokmana heklaga), but the upcoming generations, what lies in their future? These thoughts agitated so relentlessly that many young mothers who are no longer able to afford their kids’ education expenses felt to have develop the symptoms of heart disease or psychological anxiety! “
In a recent visit to the village in July last week 2017, the women leaders narrated how they survive in ordeal like situation during the days of frequent floods, with 500/600 metres away from the dam reservoir. Life insecurity was so high that during days of incessant rain and flood, when night falls, one of the family member has to stay awake the whole night till dawn to vigil the flood situation. The person is expected to ring an emergency siren of the possible dam wreckage to the family and the neighbours. So, men usually sleep by the daytime. An aged elderly lady of the village, Laishram Sakhi Leima, 73 years, expressed;
“Once the dam reservoir starts bursting, we cannot save our lives, we all will be washed away instantly, yet we prefer to stay awake, to give an emergency siren to the younger generations, to offer them a try of ‘run for life’. Sleeping children, I wept silently for them…they are so innocent and sleep so sound that I pray for their safety at the bargain of my aging life! Life is so helpless at this age. They asked me to stay away at my relative’s place, but I prefer dying with my family, at this home where my husband did pass away, shouldering me the responsibility to nurture and care my generations. During floods, I sensed the near end of my life frequently”
In the post-flood situation, the water that are released from the dam is such filthy and foul smelling that the Tumukhong Awang Leikai in particular, the neighbour, adjacent to the dam reservoir, felt suffocated. One cannot open the doors or the windows to let the air in. The unhygienic smell smelt for days long induced people to fall sick of fever, cold and cough.
Once anyone get sick, it took more than weeks to recover. The immune system gets infected and the unhygienic situation catalyst. The inability to afford the expenses of medical treatments or inability to afford medicines prolonged the infections. Whoever felt sick in those days, they assured minimum three weeks recovery period. It ripped apart the economic structure of the families and was responsible for drowning into debts.
Womenfolk also shared how insects swarm with nightfall. Villagers refrain from switch on the lights due to swarming of insects. They are worried for the possible outbreak of epidemics.
Some visible Direct Impacts
Some of the visible direct impacts of the Mapithel Dam to the downstream villagers, Tumukhong in particular are;
Fear Psychosis of Dam Break: The fear psychosis of possible dam break is the most eminent impact to the Tumukhong village. The case of dam leakage during 2015, compelling the villagers to flee for safety and the current situation exhibiting multiple seepage and leakage has stamped a lasting trauma of fear psychosis.
Loss of Livelihood: Small-scale sand and stone mining from the river bed is the economic domain of the downstream villagers. The blocking of the Thoubal river has dried up the river bed, making it bare and barren. The villagers have lost their means of livelihood.
Food Scarcity: The construction of the Mapithel Dam has reduced Tumukhong, the once fertile productive village into an unproductive barren. The village sustained on the food items supplied from Imphal at shooting prices. The dam has completely destroyed the food sovereignty of the village.
Water scarcity: Thoubal River has been the only source of water for the Tumukhong villagers. Villagers are surviving on piped water from a neighbouring community’s perennial spring on annual tax payment basis to the village authority.
During the lean season villagers hired excavators to bore hole at the river bed for collecting ground water. Skin diseases, eye sore, upset stomach and other sanitary related problems are very high in the Tumukhong Village.
Vulnerability of Women and Children: Plight of the women and children are vulnerable. They become the soft targets for the all sorts of odds in a disorganised society. They need special attention from every direction, health, education, sanitation, protection measures and assistance.
False Promises of the Lack of Concern: Tumukhong villagers, collectively with other downstream affected communities like the Itham, Moirangpurel, Keithelmanbi, Nungbrang, Leirongthel etc. have been relentlessly seeking state’s timely intervention in the hardships people have been facing. During their long struggle, once they have arrived to an understanding with the state’s legislatures, promising them assistance packages at the earliest, which was never materialised till date.
Social Conflict and Tensions: The unconditional life hardships afflicted by the Mapithel Dam has generated a deep sense of distrust amongst the villagers. Frustration generated the sense of antagonism spontaneously aggravating social conflicts and tensions in the society. The absence of the R&R provision, the insensitive Impact Assessment with adhocism in settling the social disputes has engineered the widening contestation of interest amongst the villagers.
Conclusion: A Reign of Sorrow
Mega Dams are commissioned for the development and welfare of the people. Holistic Impact Assessment and effective mitigation measures must be strengthened to minimise the adversities out of the projects, the failure to which will accentuate conflict aggravation in an already conflict torn state; marginalising the already marginalised community.
To the wailing hearts of the affected community, the structure which is meant to bring prosperity has metaphorically become a structure that spell ‘A reign of Sorrow.’ This must be the reason why Miloon Kothari remarked that the Mapithel Dam resistance movement has become referral movement inspiring many thousands affected people across the country and the globe.
Source: The Sangai Express