Implications of ADB Financed Kangchup - Tamenglong Road, Manipur

Jiten Yumnam & Christina Lalremdik *

 ADB road passing through agri land of bhalok
ADB road passing through agri land of bhalok

The Kangchup to Tamenglong Road project financed by the Manila based Asian Development Bank (ADB), meandering through Imphal West District, Kangpokpi District and Tamenglong District in Manipur in India's North East, turns out to be yet another controversial project marked by extensive social and environment impacts and unaccountability of the project authorities. Media reports indicates the unresolved implications of the project in villages in Tamenglong District in Manipur.

On 26th March 2015, the ADB and Government of Manipur signed a $300 million loan agreement for road connectivity to increase trade along the North Bengal and North Eastern region international trade corridor.

The loan is the first loan under a $425 million multi-tranche South Asian Sub-regional Economic Cooperation Road Connectivity Investment Programme approved by the ADB in 2014. The two roads to be constructed under the project are Imphal-Kangchup-Tamenglong road and the Imphal Ring road with completion plan slated for December 2021.

The Government of India and State government of Manipur provided counterpart finance of about $125 million. Later, the Public Works Department, Manipur (PWD) awarded a Rs.1,114.18 crore contract to the Hindustan Construction Company Ltd (HCC), a joint venture with Vensar Constructions Company Ltd. The SMEC International Pvt Ltd in joint venture with SMEC (India) Pvt Ltd is the consultant for the project.

The project envisaged to widen existing 5.6 km road section into four lane and construction of about 97km of new road. The State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority of the Government of Manipur granted the Environment Clearance for the project on 20th March 2019.

The Imphal-Kangchup-Tamenglong highway is also a part of Asian Highway 1 and will cover 111 Km of road starting from Imphal City and ending at Tamenglong Town. The on-going road construction will provide a shorter connectivity from Imphal, Manipur to Guwahati, Assam by at least 90 km, compared to the existing route via Dimapur in Nagaland.

Subsequently when the stretch from Tamenglong to Haflong in Assam is constructed further, Imphal will be connected to the East West corridor at approximately 187.0 km against the existing 267.0 km.

The villagers of Phalong Village, Diluan, Khebuching and other villages etc in Tamenglong District that confronted critical transportation challenges to commute to nearby villages and towns initially appreciated the road initiative in their villages.

However, the massive social and environment impacts due to direct dumping of earth, rocks and other debris from excavated earth from road cutting in hills by the construction company, HCC at Phalong Village (Bhalok) section destroying their agricultural land and water sources led to much concern and anxiety among the villagers. The affected people are mostly from the Rongmei Tribe of Manipur.

An official consultation with key stakeholders which was held in the month of April 2014 and December 2014, at their respective district and headquarter in Imphal with project affected people prior to the commencement of the project. However, the same people that supported the said project are enraged with the destructive pattern caused by the same road construction and the unaccountability of project authorities.

Around Sixty-four (64) Acres of land belonging to at least Twenty-Five (25) paddy field landowners of Phalong Village have been irreparably affected in the village, leading to the danger of food security of the villagers. In Phalong Part II, the road directly cuts through their agriculture field and many are forced to give up their land with minimal compensation.

The direct dumping of earth, rocks and other debris from rock cutting brings a massive impact on the Duigathok and Atithok streams, causing death to fishes, crabs and other aquatic species in the streams. These two streams are the only fishing sources for the villagers and villagers can no longer fish for their livelihood survival.

Community reserve forest areas preserved as water sources of the villagers are also destroyed. Moreover, water pipes bringing water from these water sources to the Phalong villages are also destroyed, causing hardship and additional financial burden to the villagers. Traditional drainage systems that channel water to agriculture land in Phalong Village are also destroyed.

The construction of a pucca dumping wall at Abupangthok stream to control the muddy flood of point 92-95km section of earth excavation have become a threat to the villagers as the dam could break down any time with water level rise. The construction pursued despite villagers' expression of concern.

A major concern of the villagers of Phalong Village is threat of displacement from their homestead land. Around Seventy (70) houses in Phalong Part III will be displaced by the Road Project. All these houses are demarcated for dismantling with the Government's plan to acquire at least 60 feet in each side from median passing through the heart of the village.

The Villagers requested the project authorities for alternate arrangements to avoid impacts, but with no positive response. The affected villagers are uncertain if ever the project authorities will ever compensate and rehabilitate them.

One major impacts of road building and especially hill cutting is the massive destruction of the forest areas by direct discharge and dumping of excavated earth, rock and other debris in their forest areas. More than 100 hectares of forest land has been destroyed just only in Bhalok Area and the entire forest land destruction in nearly ten (10) villages along the road will be more than 200 hectares.

No detailed impact on the forest land due to the massive disposal of earth, rock and mud in the forest land has ever been conducted. The project authorities failed to take forest clearance under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. No information and initiatives to take the consent of the traditional bodies and authorities of the affected villagers existed to the knowledge of the affected villagers for forest clearance.

The villagers of Bhalok collect seasonal products for their survival and cultivate agriculture produces, like orange, pineapple etc in hilly terrains. The destruction of forest has greatly affected the livelihood and water sources of villagers.

The destruction of forest will make the entire village land prone to landslides. The destruction of forest will threaten the habitat of Amur Falcon in Phalong, declared as an Amur Falcon Village by the Government since 26th November 2015.

The slow pace of work also caused much inconveniences to villagers. After the initial road cutting, the road is sea of dust in winter and a muddy terrain during rains, rendering imposing for villagers to commute.

The villagers of Phalong were earlier subjected to temporary restriction of movement in the road under construction, posing constraint to move around the neighbouring villages due to road construction in 2018. The villagers even petitioned the Deputy Commissioner of Tamenglong District 29th April 2018 to revoke the travel ban.

Diluan Villagers, near Phalong, affected by the road project also expressed concern that the road project is unsustainable development as the project has destroyed the natural environment, livelihood sources of villagers and brings disunity to the villagers.

Compensation of a few amounts was given to some selective persons for extensive damage of villagers' land by the project and the real impacts remains unaddressed till today. The future of the villagers is bleak for all their livelihood opportunities in each dimension are being forcefully taken away in the name of development.

The Government of Manipur failed to provide adequate rehabilitation measures for villages whose agriculture land, forest and water bodies were affected. The affected villagers want the project authorities to come up with a comprehensible rehabilitative measure that are highly contextualized to the needs of the affected villagers and not a small amount of cash to keep their mouth sealed from further exposing their unlawful ways of pushing through the road construction.

Indeed, several affected villagers refused to accept the compensation money of Rupees 10,000 to 30,000 per households, offered by the project authorities considering it as too minimal, unfair and unjust.

The Manipur Government has decided to acquire land for the construction of the project road through acquisition of land from landowners as per the provisions of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR), 2013.

However, the Government seems to maintain a policy that for road construction in hilly areas, the land will be taken through donations from Village Chiefs, but compensation will be paid to individual land holders for all non-land assets including structures, standing crops and trees. Accordingly, the Project authorities claimed land has been donated by the villagers with Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) signed with villagers.

But the Phalong villagers are unwilling to part with their land and the Government failed to provide adequate compensation. There are additional worries that the Government will resort to additional acquisition of villagers' land and this is not properly conveyed to the villagers. Further after the completion of the ADB assisted project, if the Imphal Kangchup Tamenglong road is converted to National Highway, in due course of time, then the road land required for the subsequent upgradation would be formally acquired.

Though the project authorities claimed that the Safeguard policies of the ADB will be fully complied, there is rampant violations. The Environment Impact Assessment report prepared by ADB stated that no severe environment impact regarding the habitat functionality and species persistence is observed as the project area does not fall in the critical and sensitive habitat.

However, the EIA undermined the rich biodiversity and the uniqueness of the flora and flora of the Tamenglong region. Moreover, there was no mentioning of Phalong village as Amur falcon village or the presence of such rare variety of birds as recognised by the government of Manipur on 26th November 2015.

The project indeed failed to conduct a thorough detailed impact assessment on the land, forest, water sources, livelihood and culture of the villagers and necessary mitigation measures. The EIA report also mentioned that a proper disposal plan will be prepared for disposal of unsuitable materials generated from the road excavation and that the contractors will be held responsible for the protection of water bodies.

The villagers are concerned with how the project authorities negated the mitigation measures outlined in the EIA with the direct dumping of excavated earth in their land. The ADB, prior to the Project commencement prepared the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Framework, the Environment Impact Assessment and the Indigenous Peoples Action Plan, in accordance with their Safeguard policies, 2009.

However, the provisions and the commitments in these plans are violated. The consultations held with the affected villages are marked by non-provision of information. Several promises were made which includes compensation of any possible damage done before its commencement and to rehabilitate for all impacts, improvement in the creation and provision of social services, like construction of community playground etc. However, the promises are not fulfilled yet and the road cutting commences without compensation.

Additionally, the Kangchup-Tamenglong Road project need to establish Grievance Redress Mechanism, as per ADB guidelines, in order to ensure a better project implementation by listing out the concerns of people affected by the project and to serve as mechanism to mediate conflict, to assist villagers address any concerns about their assistance.

However, the villagers who lose their land are at a loss on whom to approach to address their grievances. The ADB road project is marred with unaccountability of the State and the project companies, despite the grievances and outcry of affected villagers to consider their miseries.

On 20th July 2017, the affected field owner submitted their grievances to the Deputy Chief Commissioner, Tamenglong District, Manipur, complaining about the faulty dumping of debris. However, the Government failed to come up with concrete commitments to avoid impacts of the ADB funded Kangchup to Tamenglong Road Project.

The project authorities failed to make an alternative arrangement to provide appropriate rehabilitation and resettlement measures for both the destructed agricultural lands and resettlement of affected houses in Bhalok Part III despite of all the complaints of affected communities. The villagers are concerned over the project authorities and the companies' failure to keep their promises and commitments of completing all rehabilitation and resettlement before commencement of the work.

The Government of Manipur, Asian Development Bank and all the concern authority should conduct a detailed impact assessment on the project affected areas in Tamenglong district, considering the multidimensional adverse impacts already evident and formulate a plan to mitigate all adverse implications.

The project authorities should take "Forest Clearance" for the road project, to avoid and minimize the extensive destruction of forest land and livelihood Impacts in Phalong Village, Diluan Village and other villagers, affected by the road project.

The Government should also ensure adequate rehabilitation and resettlement for villagers affected by the ADB financed Kangchup to Tamenglong Road project as per the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and further the road project should stop causing damage to the agriculture land, forest, water sources in affected villages.

The free, prior and informed consent of all affected communities should be taken before pursuance of the Kangchup Tamenglong Road with due provision of all necessary project related information. A Grievance Mechanism should be established to ensure accountability of all involved in the project.

The project authorities should fully implement ADB's safeguard policy, 2009 to mitigate social, environment impacts on affected indigenous peoples. Just development rooted in upholding the needs, aspiration and rights of indigenous communities with adequate mitigation and accountability measures is crucial for sustainable development.

* Jiten Yumnam & Christina Lalremdik wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at mangangmacha(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 21 2019.

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