Dolaithabi Barrage: A Barrage of Concealing Facts

Mamta Lukram & Jangminthang Haokip *

  The impounded water at risk level during lean season in upstream of the Dolaithabi Barrage
The impounded water at risk level during lean season in upstream of the Dolaithabi Barrage

The development projects taken up in the state for larger good need be divulged its details to the people for enhancing better understanding of the project's aims, objectives, and utility. Spaces for feedbacks must be provided rather than discarding as criticisms. Accessed Detailed Project Report (DPR) to the public is a favourable consideration. Development meant for the larger cause must be consulted and well informed to the original inhabitants who will be affected.

Prior to project implementation, accuracy on cost-benefit analysis with targeted benefits must be set. Mitigation measures must be sensitised and effective. Critiques must be classified as check parameters for performance review. Suppressing the voice of dissent and forceful implementation by intimidating people's rights through power politics will hamper efficiency. Such step represents adhocism of conflict settlement.

Adhoc mechanisms according to Bina Agrawal in her 'The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons from India' is described as 'Aspirin Approach' in development- which are neither curative nor preventive; but merely suppressing the syndrome for a while. The act is prevalent dichotomy of amplifying fast momentary relief not treatment; later inducing into irreparable deterioration.

The general public's rights to know the project details taken up in the name of collective welfare must be respected not denied. Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of the original inhabitants imbibed an indispensable ingredient of development projects. Implementing in indigenous people inhibited regions in particular, must be sensitised since projects entail adverse impacts with lasting intergenerational affects.

The traceless/inaccessible Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of Loktak Hydro Electric Power Project's Ithai Barrage signed between the state and the stakeholder devoid of people's knowledge is an instance of state's unaccountability. Ithai Barrage degrades Loktak Lake's ecology alongwith people's lives and sustenance.

Failure to access the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Dolaithabi Barrage providing the reason, Non-Disclosure Document possesses a politicised meaning that encodes legal riddles; common people can't unfold. Laymen's understanding of the interpretation is while the DPR of other dams of the state like the Khuga Dam and Khoupum Dam are accessible through RTI, how come a medium irrigation project like Dolaithabi become a non-disclosure document? As per the information available from the India-WRIS (Water Resource Information System of India), Dolaithabi Barrage is a medium irrigation project engineered through the diversion of Iril River.

The conditionality of the project on
1) Project sharing is none
2) Intercountry is none
3) Interbasin is no
4) Basin are minor rivers draining into Myanmar and Bangladesh.

There is no scope of inter-country water sharing conflicts through this project. The legal binding of non-disclosure document is that the party receiving the confidential information isn't permitted to disclose the information to anyone or unauthorised profit seeking from that information. Concealing project details may be a strategic denial of access to Right to Information (RTI).

 The Dolaithabi Barrage Project
The Dolaithabi Barrage Project

The synonymous meaning that decodes is the involvement of high level confidentiality forbidding revelation to the general mass; may be for possible security reasons or may be because of multiple motives behind. Whatsoever may be the modus operandi, but the darker part is, not all the DPRs are non-disclosure documents. While DPRs of major multipurpose projects like the Khuga Dam and Khoupum Dam are available, a medium irrigation project like Dolaithabi, the execution of which is expected to benefit two districts only, becomes a matter of high confidentiality.

The Dolaithabi Barrage Medium Irrigation Project was approved by the Planning Commission of India in June 1992, with an initial cost of 18.86 cores. The targeted year of completion was 1996-97, however delayed for 19 years with the revised project cost finally reaching upto 508.68 cores by 2017. The price level of the project was revised at September 2005 price level and approved by May, 2007. While the second time was November 2008 price level approved by January 2010.

The said irrigation project was initiated by the VIIIth Five Year Plan with a view to increase irrigation facility in the Imphal East and Senapati Districts of Manipur. The project envisaged construction of 78.75m long barrage across Iril river around Dolaithabi village in Senapati District, to create a canal system to serve a Culturable Commmand Area (CCA) of 5500 ha in 15 villages on the left bank and 12 villages on the right bank of the river in Imphal East District. The Ultimate Irrigation Potential is 7545 hectares. The left main and the right main canals are to be 17.30 km long.

Inauguration Legacy and widespread impacts

Few days left ahead of Dolaithabi barrage inauguration, a social media update about the said barrage went viral, a video showing generator pump set pumping water from the main Dolaithabi barrage into the main canal to dumb-fold people on the content of water volume and flow regime for inauguration show off. A project meant for irrigation purpose that can't support the trail run for the inauguration ritual is susceptible regards success story.

 The dried up immediate downstream of Dolaithabi Barrage with creaky walls on right, few days after inauguration, 13th January 2019
The dried up immediate downstream of Dolaithabi Barrage with creaky walls on right, few days after inauguration, 13th January 2019

Artificial water scarcity in bargaining inauguration of the underperforming project is the other dark side of the inaugural legacy. The Imphal East PHED; Porompat Water Supply, is fed by Iril River. The increasing population pressure and the degrading ecology with fast depleting water volume of the Iril River have been affecting the performance of this water supply department since the last years.

Recently, the blocking up of Iril River for inaugural show engrossed immediate visible impacts leading to the drying up of the river in the downstream regions. Sudden shrinking of riverbed disabled the water pumping network of the Porompat Water Supply; the support system for many thousand households of peri-urban dwellers and important public institutions. It lays defunct for many days in the post-inauguration of the Dolaithabi Barrage. The blocking affected lives of many thousand peri-urban and urban poor.

Media reports and private TV channel news coverage where local club representatives of around appealing the concern authority to open the sluice gates of the barrage for the river's flow regime maintenance were publicised. The plus point to the authority with this negative impact is the down-to-earth pragmatism excuse of the underperformance review from the authority's side; citing the persistence of people's pressure for keep opening the barrage gate to avoid water scarcity in the urban region of Imphal East. Canals which are meant to supply water during lean season to enable winter crops for Green India, will supply excessive water during monsoon season like other irrigation canals do in our state.

The worst hit/affected villages of the Dolaithabi Barrage will not only be the village along Saikhul or other nearby immediate downstream villages, but the direct peri-urban and urban population of this state that rely on Porompat Water supply, for domestic, institutional and other commercial purposes. The cost-benefit analysis of the Dolaithabi Barrage need be sensitised and analysed by the responsible educated citizens across the Imphal area rather than ignoring it as matter of concern for 'others.'

This time, unlike the Khuga Dam or the Thoubal Multipurpose Projects whose benefits of water supply or electricity, the urban dwellers are expected to harvest, the Dolaithabi barrage will clench the water rights of the urban poor and dump them in the battle of water woes due to mismanagement.

 Water volume content of Iril River at immediate downstream (13th Jan 2019), the life support for many thousand rural and urban poor
Water volume content of Iril River at immediate downstream (13th Jan 2019), the life support for many thousand rural and urban poor

Regarding ascending water level in the upstream region, many villages are worried with the increasing level and wonder how the situation would be during the monsoon season. Informally interacting some villagers along Leitanpokpi and Pukhao Terapur, many felt blessed, excited and positive experiencing the massive raising water level during dry season whereby the riverbed should have shrunk during normal years under undisturbed flow. They are unaware of possible impacts and take it lightly and commented that since Iril River current is very strong during monsoon season, they will open the gates; while many shared restlessness with the ascending level of water.

A middle-aged lady found plucking wild pennywort (vegetable) along the inundated bank of immediate upstream, Pukhao Terapur expressed how the one way comfort of accessing abundant water is evolving fear psychosis of life threat on the another end with the ever increasing water level.

Helun Touthang, a responsible denizen from Saikul, a young academician remarked grasping attention towards the barrage;
"Hujikti aaaa youkhre eesingdo (water level ascended extensively), when we were kids, our playmates in group, would walked down kilometres enthusiastically to see those earthmovers, excavators, bulldozers, trucks and other heavy machineries deployed for the construction. Nothing much we knew about the project and grew up itnessing phases of project's construction towards completion. We took of it lightly. Despite the fact we are educated, we don't have much knowledge about the project; once the river started blocking with the ascending water level, it came into sense. But why were we or our elder generations not consulted or made aware of it? Don't you think it important?"

The impounded water at risk level during lean season in upstream of the Dolaithabi Barrage
The impounded water at risk level during lean season in upstream of the Dolaithabi Barrage

* Mamta Lukram & Jangminthang Haokip wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at mamtalukram(AT)yahoo(DOT)com and at doungulpa(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on February 07, 2019.

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