Introspecting renewed Hydropower push in Manipur
- Part 1 -

Jiten Yumnam *

 Barak River at Namtiram Village
Barak River at Namtiram Village

On 11 August 2019, media reported that at least Thirty-Two (32) potential sites for Hydropower development has been identified in a "Potential Mapping" over Rivers in Manipur. The report continued that out of the 32 identified sites, proposals for the Eight (8) most feasible Eight sites will be submitted to the Ministry by the concerned authorities of the Government of Manipur. The Managing Director of the Manipur State Power Corporation Limited (MSPCL), Mr. N. Sarat explained that a consultancy firm from outside Manipur conducted studies and confirmed the potential for power generation at 32 sites.

He said fresh appraisal and feasibility study was carried out due to the fast-changing state of environment and climate change in Manipur and the proposed dams cannot be based on the previous feasibility assessments . The fresh move for hydro power projects in Manipur sounds a bit absurd given the adverse implications of dams lacking accountability, unusual performances of dams and the changing landscape of energy generation within India and beyond.

Manipur prioritized hydropower as a key thrust area for development and envisaged to generate more than 2,000 MW of power under the Manipur Hydro Power Policy, 2012. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) are key Multinational companies involved in dam building processes in Manipur. The NHPC already signed an agreement with Government of Manipur to construct the 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project on 28 April 2010 reaffirmed on 22 October 2011.

Additionally, NEEPCO signed agreement with the Government of Manipur on 28th August 2014 for construction of 190 MW Pabram Dam, the 67 MW Khongnem Chakha Dam, 60 MW Irang Dam etc over the Barak River and Irang River and 51 MW Tuivai Dam over the Tuivai River . The Chakpi Dam, the 70MW Nungleiband Dam are other key dams proposed over the Chakpi River and Leimatak River.

The fresh push for hydropower projects in Manipur recently by MSPCDL needs serious introspection for its relevance and feasibility as most dams are either delayed or abandoned due to the lack of environmental feasibility or commercial viability in addition to social, environmental and other Impacts.

Dams and Impacts: Mega dams are much controversial in Manipur for inflicting social, environmental and other set of impacts in Manipur. Much has been published as to how the Mapithel dam destroyed 595 Hectares of forest and submerged more than 2000 hectares of agriculture land, impoverish communities depending on such land and how the 105 MW Loktak Project led to submergence of more than 50,000 Acres of agriculture land and led to loss of several faunal and floral species unique to the Loktak Wetlands ecosystems.

The colossal implications of the proposed 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project on land and forest in Manipur is confirmed when the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India, recommended the rejection of "Forest Clearance" for the mega project in its meeting from 11 12 July and 13-14 August 2013, observing that the forest land required for the project is simply disproportionate to the power generation plan of the project and the per-megawatt requirement of Sixteen (16) hectares of forest land for the project is extra ordinarily high.

The total loss of trees and bamboo groves in both Mizoram and Manipur due to the submergence by Tipaimukh dam is estimated at over 8 million trees and over 4 million bamboo groves, which is a disturbing and unacceptable figure by any count. A revised MoU was signed with the Government of Manipur, the NHPC and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited on 28th April 2010, reaffirmed on 22nd October 2011, without the consent of affected communities.

The pursuance of 32 dams will significantly disturb the fragile ecology of Manipur falling in high seismic Zone V, to further increase chances of dam break and major landslides. The livelihood of indigenous peoples will significantly be affected as these dams will almost submerge agriculture land along the banks of these Rivers, undermining their livelihood and survival.

Commercial Unviability of Hydro Projects: The plan to further develop multiple hydropower projects in Manipur need to consider the increased unviability of hydropower projects in Manipur. Indeed, dam building companies already confirmed the unviability of hydropower projects in Manipur. Many projects are either delayed or abandoned due to lack of such viability. The 66 MW Loktak Downstream Project, whose MoUs was signed in 2008, has been delayed as the project proponent, the NHPC and the Manipur Government failed to agree to sign the power purchase agreement (PPA).

The power tariff of Loktak Downstream Project would be around Rs 6.17 per unit which is comparatively high, prompting Manipur Government to desist from signing PPA with NHPC. The tentative cost of the project at 2015 price level is Rs 1300 crore and in another four years' time in 2019, the cost may even exceed 1500 Crores Rupees, further increasing the power tariff. The Manipur Government refused to sign the PPA contending that the power tariff is higher than admissible.

The Chairman of NHPC, Mr. KN Singh pressured the Chief Minister, the Power Minister and the Chief Secretary of the Government of Manipur on 7 April 2017 to sign the PPA. An alternative to seek necessary fund from JICA has been explored. The Government of India maintained that if the project is funded by JICA whose interest is very low, the power tariff can be reduced to Rs 5 per unit . The disagreement on power tariff still lingers and no PPA has been signed.

 Leimatak River
Leimatak River

NEEPCO interestingly revealed that it is abandoning the 190 MW Pabram Dam, the 67 MW Khongnem Chakha Dam, 60 MW Irang Dam, 51 MW Tuivai Dam, which it signed MoU with Manipur Government in 2014, due to lack of commercial feasibility . On 23 April 2019, the NEEPCO in a response to an RTI, confirmed that the development of the Detailed Project Report, Environment Impact Assessment etc for these projects have been abandoned after the findings of the pre-feasibility assessment finalized in January 2015 indicated the commercially unviability with high tariffs ranging from Rs 11.86 per unit to Rs. 21.59 per unit, prompting the NEEPCO to decide that the projects are not investment worthy and discontinuing all activities on the projects. These are projects the MSPCL seeks to reactivate and pursue with the concerned ministries of the Government of India of late.

One need to ponder the commercial feasibility of a mega project like the 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam that will requires heavy investment in terms of 10,000 crores Rupees. The Government of India for long, tried to construct the 162.8 meters high rock filled Tipaimukh dam, at about 500 meters downstream of confluence of Barak and Tuivai Rivers, at a revised project cost of Rs. 8,138.79 Crores at September 2008 price level and will substantially cross Rupees 10,000 Crores by 2019.

In Manipur, dam building needs to consider the cost of constructing roads in inaccessible areas, security cost, rehabilitation and compensation for affected communities and loss of their land. The cost escalates thus affecting the cost of per unit of power generated.

Failed Dams of Manipur: A key factor that need serious introspection is the failure and underperformance of mega dams after commissioning. The Khuga dam, the Mapithel dam, the Khoupum and the Dolaithabi Barrage hits media limelight regularly for the wrong reasons of regular breach of canals causing floods, depriving farmers of irrigation waters for their fields, increased loss of lives in the dam Reservoir and for matters related to corruption in building these dams.

The Khuga Dam Right Side Canal Farmer Association (KDRSCFA) has stated that they will be launching an indefinite strike to protest the lack of water supply for their paddy field, around 500 acres for 150 farmers in the vicinity of Misau Lahvom village in Churachandpur District . Barely four months after its inauguration in November 2010, the left canal of the dam started breaching since February 9, 2011, at Kawnpui area. The right side of the Khuga canal collapsed on June 18, 2016, at Moulbem village, inundating the nearby fields. The eastern canal of Khuga dam breached during a trial run about 3.1 kilometres from the dam site on 9 July 2008.

The Khoupum dam in Western Manipur is also laden with unique features of lying defunct since commissioning of the project. The Khoupum dam project inaugurated by the then Chief Minister, Yangmaiso Shaiza on July 26, 1978 and the Khoupum dam canal project was commissioned by the then Chief Minister, Rishang Keishing in the year 1982-83.

The Khoupum Area Farmer's Welfare Association fervently draws the attention of the Government of Manipur in July 2014 towards the sufferings of the farmers of the Khoupum area due to non-functioning nature of Khoupum dam, which supposedly should be providing irrigation facilities to the farmers covering an area of 750 hectare of arable land for around 30 villages in Khoupum area. All hopes of indigenous farmers have been shattered by the failure of the Khoupum dam canal project since its commissioning.

The JAC on the Khuga Dam Project in July 2014 apprised the Prime Minister of India on the irregularities and misappropriation of funds to the tune of Indian Rupees 1.5 billion involved in Khuga dam construction and seek his intervention to investigate such misappropriations . The cost of the dam has been revised three times; INR 15 crores in 1980, INR 381.28 crores in 2002 and finally to 433-crores in 2011 price level.

The Dolaithabi Barrage inaugurated in January 2019 already 'failed to serve its purpose'. Villagers complained that the tunnel under the Yumnam Patlou Maning Ching that leads to the main right canal are marred with defects. The water that should be flowing downstream from Dolaithabi Barrage to the main right canal passing through the tunnel to reach Yumnam Khunou, Sambei, Chingkhu, Tangkham, Haraorou, Khundrakpam and Waiton is flowing upstream in reverse direction towards the barrage due to 'faulty levelling' of the tunnel ground.

The villagers who are hopeful of receiving water from the barrage are rather disappointed as their agriculture land are deprived of irrigation waters . A serious question which emanates from an introspection of underperforming dams in Manipur is why Manipur should waste public money in the first place for much mammoth structures that failed to serve its purposes, but rather devastate peoples land, lives and future and that inflicted unnecessary conflict and uncertainties among indigenous communities.

Undermining food sovereignty: There's much optimism that mega dams in Manipur would irrigate agriculture land in almost all districts of Manipur and promote food sovereignty. However, there's much dillusionment as these dams failed to provide water for agriculture fields close to the dam. The Khuga dam, the Dolaithabi Barrage, the Mapithel dam, the Khoupum dam, the Loktak Project and even the Singda dam are some of the mega dams, with key component to irrigate agriculture.

However, these dams have failed to provide irrigation waters as reflected in the complaints. These dams rather submerged vast agriculture land. The Mapithel dam submerged more than 2000 hectares of agriculture land, the Loktak project submerged more than 50,000 Acres of agriculture land, the Khuga dam and Khoupum dam also submerged an extensive agriculture land, thus undermining the agriculture production from these areas.

The forced submergence of agriculture land by Mapithel dam, the 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Project and the ongoing process to submerge vast tract of forest and agriculture land by the proposed 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, the 190 MW Pabram dam, Khongnem Chakha Dam, the Irang Dam etc will further undermine food sovereignty and destroys traditional agriculture in Manipur. Manipur will further be forced to import food for outsider, which are laden with harmful chemicals, pesticides, herbicides etc.

To be continued....

* Jiten Yumnam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at mangangmacha(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 26 2019.

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