Thoubal River Valley Multipurpose Project Has Little Benefit

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The Centre for Organisation Research and Education (CORE), Forum for Indigenous Perspectives and Action (FIPA) and United Peoples Front Manipur (UPFM) expresses deep distress regarding the current trend of governance failure in the state and police high handedness towards the indigenous communities of Manipur in the name of development. After a joint fact-finding mission to Chadong Village in Ukhrul District, conducted on 4th April 2013, certain facts and issues have been validated that government ineptitude, controversy and human suffering are the dominant features of the Thoubal River Valley Multipurpose Project, which was first proposed in the early part of 1970s. The project is implemented in Mapithel area in Phungyar subdivision of Ukhrul district targeting to irrigate 21,000 hectares of cultivable land besides giving 10 million gallons of drinking water every day and supply 7.5 MW of power.

The present imbroglio only serves to highlight once again the highly contentious and prickly issues that have plagued this project, promoted as a prestigious and beneficial one for the people of Manipur. In fact, after more than three decades of troubled construction period with the work having changed hands several times, it is obvious that the dam affected people and communities are facing multiple jeopardy regarding their lives and future. The answer is as simple as it is disturbing – the government does not give even a figment of care for the people of Manipur.

The current verification process of Chadong villagers is in contravention of the Hon’ble Gauhati High Court’s order which banned all compensation activities until a final order on the resumption of the expert review of R&R of the villages affected by the Mapithel dam. The effort on the part of the government to bypass the officially sanctioned review by using divisive politics in the village will backfire in the long run. The protesting villagers have called upon the government to resume the review process so that affected villages can peacefully re-settle and carry on with their lives.

We are deeply disturbed by the way families, clans, and intra- and inter-village have been divided as a result of the government withdrawing from the Expert Review process. This has created an atmosphere of serious mistrust in the villages affected adversely by the project.

Grim apprehension must be expressed regarding the verification process at Chadong village initiated by the Deputy Commissioner of Ukhrul District while imposing CrPC section 144 till 5:00 pmfully guarded by Manipur police led by SP Ukhrul Mr. K.Kabip creating fear psychosis and tension among the villagers. Many treeswere cut down to block the roads withburning of tyres, and many women and men including children were out on the roadside displaying placards which read, “Go back DC”, “No review Stop Dam”, “Stop militarization”, “Stop divisive Policy”, “We want Justice”, “We deserve Our Rights”, “No ERC Process No Finalization”, “No Review No Dam”, etc.. The DC Ukhrul and his team were prevented from reaching Chadong Village at Riha Village. The DC and his team had to take another route to reach Chadong Village with the help of JCB to clear the roads, onlyreaching Chadong Village at night with full police security led by SP Ukhrul. However, no villagers turned up for the open invitation of verification led by DC
Ukhrul, except for an odd fearful one or two who had been coerced.

This is a very unacceptable manner of conduct by the government of Manipur. The role of the DC is not to impose himself in this manner and terrorise villagers. The people of Chadong Village have many questions to ask the process of verification as a democratic and constitutional right, and the government of Manipur has an obligation to answer them sincerely and to the satisfaction of the villagers.

The project was started as a goodwill project for the welfare of the people of Manipur by the government. Mapithel Dam Affected Villagers Organisation (MDAVO) has been demanding appropriate and equitable compensations to be given according to the reports of the Expert Review Committee, set up on 18th January 2008 with the Commissioner of Irrigation and Flood Control Department (IFCD) as its chairman, to examine the review of R&R programme of the affected villages. The move to take up urgent finalization of rehabilitation package of Lamlai Khunou and Chadong Villages out of other affected villages such as Sangkai, Zalengbung, Sikibung, Thawai, Riha, Ramrei Ato (Lamlai Khullen) and Maphou by IFCD Commissioner’s 13th June office memorandum ignores the expert committee review process and recommendations. Is this demand an unreasonable one or a crime? The question is also why have an expert committee to review the whole R&R package, and ignore such experts’ findings or recommendations after the committee’s work is completed. The Irrigation and Flood Control Department (IFCD) is the main proponent of the project but its role has been a bungling one trying to steam-roll a goodwill project that has now lost all its good shine.

Many people of the villages affected by the dam gathered at Yaingangpokpi-Riha road and Lafongvia Chadong road, and blocked the roads two entire daysfrom the early morning on3rd April till 5 o’clock in the evening on 4th April 2013. Several protestors of Riha village including women came out and blocked the roads by burning tree branches and other items. This is evidence of a serious objection to the latest measures being undertaken by the IFCD and DC Ukhrul.

It has to be noted that on 15thJune, 2011, certain people in association with the government again formed a boguscommittee called “Mapithel/Thoubal Dam Multi-Purpose Project Displaced Village Committee” (MTDMPDVC), purportedly representing the people but reality a phoney attempt to sow confusion and division among the dam affected people. The new “committee” in collusion with the government signed an agreement without any kind of information to the villages. In the agreement, which was signed in 24th September 2011, it was mentioned Rupees 16 lakhs will be compensated for the chieftain and Rupees 14 lakhs for the villagers. After this, efforts started to forcefully give compensations. Under this, the government forcefully conducted verifications in Chadong village on 28thOctober and 4thNovember last year with the help of armed security persons. In response, villagers boycotted the verification process and instead asked for the Expert Review to be resumed.

The present confrontation between the people and government, resulting in another impasse, leads to certain conclusions and recommendations. The fact-finding team met the DC Ukhrul. The team did not meet any officials of the IFCD.

Conclusions

The joint fact-finding team, after visiting Chadong Village and meeting the people of village arrive at the following conclusions:

1. Over the past three decades, a prestigious goodwill project of the state promoted and implemented for the welfare of the people has been completely stripped of any appearance of goodwill for the affected villages and communities. At many critical junctures during this extended period of project construction, war-like situations were deliberately encouraged or generated by the government of Manipur. The present situation where the DC Ukhrul with the aid of huge contingents of armed police personnel under the Superintendent of Police Ukhrul, Mr. K. Kabip is literally forcefully occupying Chadong Village, is yet another conflict situation where people are forced to rise up in protest in the face of government insensitivity, undemocratic and discriminatory conduct, sly attempts to hoodwink villagers and aggression against their peaceful life.

2. The issue of compensation under a Rehabilitation and Resettlement Plan of 1998, which lays down that rehabilitation and resettlement programme  should be  completed first before commissioning the project has not been implemented. An earlier agreement in 1993 when the Government and the affected villagers signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement had also not been implemented. According to the MoU, the affected villagers should be given within two years (1994-95) failing which the Government should pay compensation amount together with interest.

3. The government of Manipur has pursued for the completion and commissioning of the Thoubal River Valley Multipurpose Project without giving due regard to the livelihoods, security and resettlement of the over 1500 families in several villages that are adversely affected by the project, and by the Mapithel Dam in particular.

4. The reports of the Expert Review Committee established by the government of Manipur in 2008 have not been accepted and its recommendations in the final report have not been complied with by the government.

5. The present initiative of verification for compensation being forcefully conducted by the DC Ukhrul is in contempt of the Hon’ble Gauhati High Court’s order, and people have clearly rejected it. The verification process cannot proceed any further without the full cooperation and participation of the people of Chadong Village. Nor can it proceed without further violence and strife in Chadong Village and it is even possible that there will be violence between other affected villages. The imposition of Section 144 of the CrPC in Chadong Village prior to commencement of verification is evidence that the government is fully aware that the verification process is a clear threat to civil peace and order.

6. Imposition of prohibitory orders on a civilian population by the District authorities for the purpose  of verifying for compensation for a goodwill  development project is  a direct contradiction between intent and action.

7. The villagers of Chadong Village in Ukhrul District of Manipur are exercising their legitimate and democratic right to protest vehemently against an intolerable authority that has divested itself of any responsibility and continuing to intimidate and terrorise them, while claiming that it is all to their, the people’s benefit. This is a most unkind joke of development and progress in Manipur.

8. On the other hand, there is also evidence that there exist sharp divisions and dissent among the people of Chadong Village. Such divisions have not promoted nor strengthened community spirit and solidarity among the people, thereby, impeding and weakening the community in its struggle for justice and rights.

9. There is also evidence that the creation of the phoney Displaced Committee in 2011, “Mapithel Dam Multi-Purpose Project Displace Committee” is a deliberate move by some vested persons with the blessings of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department (IFCD) and possibly with other higher ups in government of Manipur in order to divide the community and impose its will upon the unwilling people of Chadong Village in a dishonest manner of obvious deception.

Recommendations

1. The Expert Review Committee set up by the Government of Manipur in 2008 should be resumed with the full participation of the government of Manipur and the recommendations of the final report thereof must be carefully considered by the government and such recommendations from an expert body should be complied with for peaceful and acceptable resolution of the issue of compensation under the R&R package of the Thoubal River Valley Multipurpose Project.

2. The orders of the Gauhati High Court restraining the government from undertaking further verifications till further orders should be fully complied with, and the present verification being undertaken by the DC Ukhrul under police protection, which is in direct contravention of the Hon’ble High Court’s direction, should be halted immediately.

3. The imposition of Section 144 of the CrPC at Chadong Village must be withdrawn immediately.

4. Government of Manipur should consult and negotiate all outstanding and genuine issues of the people of Chadong Village with the legitimate representative organisation only. Government of Manipur and its concerned agency/department must refrain from creating confusion and division among the people by promoting bogus bodies or committees in order to please the vested interests of individuals or impose the will of the government without free and prior informed consent of the people of Chadong Village.

5. Every earnest effort must be made by the elders of the Village Authorities of Chadong Village and other neighbouring villages to resolve intra-village and inter-village conflicts through traditional methods of conflict resolution in order to promote and strengthen peoples’ unity and collective action for justice and rights. It would be desirable to involve all constituents of the villages including women and youth in such modes of conflict resolution.

(The above is a joint release from CORE, Forum for Indigenous Perspectives and Actions (FIPA) and the United People’s Front Manipur (UPFM).

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