By: Jiten Yumnam
The Rivers meandering through the forest and the lush green terrains are one of outstanding natural heritages of Manipur aggressively targeted for power generation by multinational corporations. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO), two of India’s leading dam building Company has aggressively been involved in exploiting the Rivers of Manipur. Under the Manipur Hydro Power Policy, 2012, Manipur has chosen hydropower sector as one of key thrust area for development and envisaged to generate more than 2,000 MW power. In Manipur, the NHPC is trying to make a significant presence to add few more mega hydel projects for power generation in addition to the existing 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project. The NHPC already signed an agreement with the Government of Manipur to construct the controversial 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project on 28 April 2010 reaffirmed on 22 October 2011. NEEPCO is trying to build the 190 MW Pabram Dam, the 67 MW Khongnem Chakha Dam, 60 MW Irang Dam etc over the Barak River and Irang River.
NHPC is aggressively pursuing the construction of 66 MW Loktak Downstream project in Manipur. Indeed, the Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), a multinational company of the Government of India, met the Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr N. Biren on 14 December 2017 and pursued the construction of 66 MW Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Project over the Leimatak River in Manipur. The agreement for the Loktak Downstream Project was signed between the Government of Manipur and the NHPC on September 26, 2008. The Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Corporation Limited (LDHCL) was formed as a joint venture company of NHPC Limited (stake 74%) and State Government of Manipur (stake 26%) for implementation of the project in Tamenglong District of Manipur.
The Loktak Downstream project is a run of the river scheme in which the tail race discharge of upstream commissioned Loktak 105 MW powerhouse along with the inflow of the River Leimatak will be used for power generation. The project envisages construction of 28 metres high barrage on river Leimatak, a tributary of Irang River near Tousang Khunou Village of Manipur to generate 66 MW of hydro power. The tail race tunnel of 71 metres long will be opening into Irang River. The project is estimated at a total cost of Rs 867.77 crores on October 2006. The NHPC’s latest revision of cost for the project stands at Rs. 1250 crore by 2015 price.
The 59th meeting of Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India, held on 20 – 21st July, 2012 recommended the grant of environmental clearance for the project. The project was earlier considered in 53rd meeting of EAC on 11- 12th November, 2011. The Stage – 1 Forest Clearance has been accorded for diversion of 211.50 hectares of forest land on 3 March 2011, without adhering to the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The TEC has been accorded on 15 November 2006 by CEA. Earlier, the Union Power Minister of the Government of India asked the State Government of Manipur and the NHPC to reduce the power tariff to Rs 5.30 per unit as Rs 400 crore would be given as grant. Due to this disagreement, the power purchase agreement has been delayed.
The project authorities detailed that the total catchment area of the project span over 554 Sq.km and the total land requirement is 211.50 hectares, including wet paddy fields on river bed, community land, Jhum land and unclassified forest land. The project authorities also outlined that at least 705 families are likely to be affected due to loss of their right over forest land. However, detailed environment and social impact assessments are concealed from the general public and hence, the larger implications on the rich flora and faunal diversity of Tamenglong Areas remains and on the indigenous peoples is negated, despite the fact that Manipur indeed falls in both the Eastern Himalayas and Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspots.
Earlier, an environment Public Hearing for the project was conducted on 7 June 2011 at Longjang (Thangal) village in Tamenglong district, Manipur. Representatives of villagers and civil society organizations attending the hearing expressed concerns with the project on impact on their land and livelihood sources and also if the NHPC will ever fulfill their promises given the experience of the upstream 105 MW Loktak Project, as reported in the media. During the public hearing, written representations were received from chairman of Zeliangrong Students Union, attorney powered Khunbu and land owner of Toushang Village, Chairman of Soubung village authority, representatives of Chakanglong Peidai, Khullakpa of Taoshang village authority court etc.
Ningthaodai of Thangal village regretted that that the Government of Manipur signed MOU with NHPC without clearly stipulating on rehabilitation and resettlement of affected communities. The EIA and EMP have not been furnished in advance and the project area is a high seismic risk zone. He also opined the public hearing should be re-conducted at the Tousang village as the proper notification of the project and related information and impact assessment of the project in a local appropriate medium has not been provided and villagers are unaware of the implications of the project, other than the promises and glorious presentation of the project by the project authorities. Mr. Tingenglung of Thangal village also demanded more public hearing before commencement of the project stating that the meeting does not correspond to the norms of a public meeting and also on taking the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities on such a sensitive issue, that will entail wide social, environmental and human rights impacts. The absence of free, prior and informed consent is clearly visible.
Martha Pamei of Leishok village complained that her village has been deprived of electricity from Loktak Project and contended that promise made by NHPC were never fulfilled. She expressed that all NHPC’s promises shall be made in writing in order to ensure that they are fulfilled. Jangamlung Panmei, a leader from Tamenglong expressed concern that the purpose of the NHPC and the state government is just to earn profits.
He also expressed concern that land in the hills is often classified as a no man’s area and compensation amount by corporate bodies is often unjust. He suggested that the indigenous peoples should not allow their land and their way of life to be exploited.
The NHPC’s push for Loktak Downstream project came at a time, when indigenous peoples intensified their call and voices for review and decommissioning of the controversial Ithai Barrage of Loktak Project in Manipur. The NHPC’s push for Loktak Downstream project is notwithstanding the appraisal of the Chief Minister of Manipur to the Prime Minister of India on 2 August 2017 to remove the Ithai Barrage to prevent the recurrent and worsening flooding situation in Manipur. The Governor of Manipur also joined the call to decommission the Ithai Barrage considering the wide impacts of Loktak project.
The Loktak Project commissioned way back in 1983 has been operating for almost Four (4) decades without any clear agreement or guidelines on the functioning of the project. With NHPC’s insistence to construct and operate the 60 MW Loktak Downstream projects, that envisaged utilizing water discharged from the Loktak Project from its Leimatak Power Station, the intention is to continue the operation of Loktak Project for another Fifty (50) years or for an indefinite period of time given absence of operating guidelines of the project. Which means, the operating period of Loktak Project will exceed more than 100 years or a century. NHPC is least bothered of the untold suffering and miseries inflicted by the Loktak Project. Given the extensive devastation and destruction in almost forty years of project operation, Manipur cannot afford to have the Loktak Project operating for more than 100 years. There is no holistic and detailed impact assessment due to the continued operation of both 105 MW Loktak HEP Project and the 66 MW Loktak Downstream Project. It seems the NHPC is given a free rein to destroy Loktak Wetlands. And most shockingly, there is no agreement or regulatory mechanism to ensure the rights and the ecology integrity of Loktak wetlands and the accountability of NHPC. This is unacceptable and the NHPC will simply be milking Loktak to its pathetic demise and extinction.
The Loktak Project instead of irrigating 50,000 hectares of agriculture land submerged similar area of land, underming Manipur’s food sovereignty and reducing Manipur to a food dependent state. NHPC rather than assuming responsibility for the violations and the destruction of Loktak wetlands, only insisted on construction of additional mega dams, such as Loktak Downstream Project in Manipur. Such attitude of the NHPC only represents the highest form of disrespect and insensitivity to the concerns, plights and rights of the people of Manipur. NHPC today becomes a perfect symbol of corporate unaccountability, disregard of peoples’ voices and arbitration of all human rights norms. Entrusting the Rivers, land and forest to an unaccountable corporate bodies like the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation to build more dams like the 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam and 66 MW Loktak Downstream Project over Barak River and Leimatak River would simply be suicidal for the people and environment.
It is highly unfortunate that the NHPC aggressively pushed for construction of the Loktak Downstream Project even as the people of Manipur called for the review and decommission of the Ithai Barrage due to the adverse and negative impacts, fully documented by Academia and also evidenced by the suffering and miseries unleashed by NHPC in Loktak wetlands areas. Any development processes, policies of projects that led challenged and caused enormous inconveniences to communities without any space for redressal mechanism can never be considered as sustainable, just and people oriented development, but rather is anti-people and anti-environment. As such, the construction of 66 MW Loktak Downstream Project is still pre-mature and should be put on hold as the continued operation of 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project will only complicate the woes and suffering of communities and will only further inflict total devastation of Loktak wetlands in Manipur. The MoU signed between the Government of Manipur and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation in the year 2008 should be revoked. The Government should stop wasting public money for a project like Loktak downstream project that has failed to assess and present the cumulative impact of both the Ithai Barrage of 105 MW Loktak Project and the proposed 66 MW Loktak Downstream Project and initiate remedial measures.
The NHPC and the Government of India should respect the growing voices among the fishing communities and other indigenous communities of Manipur to remove Ithai Barrage. The Government of Manipur and Government of India should urgently initiate steps to decommission the Ithai Barrage conceding the prolong demands of the people of Manipur. The 105 MW Loktak project has simply been symbol of exploitation, loot and plunders of Manipur’s land and resources and hence should be removed on an urgent basis. Any development intervention over the Rivers of Manipur including dam building or oil exploration should not be pursued without the free, prior and informed consent and without recognizing self-determined development of Indigenous Peoples. It is high time for both the Government of Manipur and also the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation to become accountable to the people of Manipur to redress and end the prolonged and unresolved multifaceted implications of 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, considered as a curse for Manipur. Respecting the voices and aspirations of communities would be crucial steps for fostering true democracy in Manipur.
Source: Imphal Free Press