Wrangles in Mapithel dam: Legal perspectives

Jajo Themson *

Protest against Mapithel Dam by Chadong villagers  with various civil societies :: 20 June 2015
Protest against Mapithel Dam by Chadong villagers on 20 June 2015 :: Pix - Ibomcha Yumnam

Introduction: There have been numerous instances of contradiction where Judiciary orders and actions of project developers and other administrative machineries happened to be squabble. History of India clearly revealed instances of discord between constitutional framework and real execution of infrastructural development projects such as Mining, Industries, Railway, Airport, National & state Highway construction, mega dam projects etc. and corresponding negative blows to the existing environment & forest laws and other procedural systems and impacts upon the original settlers who actually owned land and resources.

Among the developmental projects of Manipur, the Mapithel dam is one which is associated with various areas of controversies. In all the anomalies, case litigation is one of the challenges that lie at different level of courts which are considered the most serious squabble in the Mapithel dam of Thoubal Multipurpose Project.

The three decades old Mapithel dam project bears a vivid picture of serious violations of trampling Court's order and arrayed from basic norms, rules, guidelines of World Commission on Dams and intervention of the UNSR that professed for indigenous peoples rights over their land and natural resources and right to live.

The 36 years old Mapithel dam project has been intertwined in the cobweb of triangular layers of cases so far. The first case was filed before the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) through the Naga Women Union Manipur ((NWUM) in 2012. However, it is observed that this case being in a mere statutory body, could not take up to the level of strict court system.

The second case lies pending before the Manipur High Court (The then Guwahati High Court) since 2011 on Rehabilitation & Resettlement (R&R) matter. And the third layer of case is before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), a Fast Track wing of the Supreme Court of India on Forest & Environment, is litigation against the violations of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 & Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Case before the Manipur High Court: The case before the Manipur High Court is related to Rehabilitation & Resettlement (R&R) issues which was under the purview of the Expert Review Committee (ERC) constituted by a Govt. Order Vide No. 20/1/2005-IFC (Pt) dated 18th January & 14th February 2008.

Seven rounds of official meetings were hold from 2008 till February 2011 under the banner of the ERC. Field Experts of 11 Govt. departments took up exhaustive effort to work out a conducive conclusion. Series of field investigation were carried out in the affected area in three years duration. Subsequently, those experts submitted their field visit reports but the whole process was scrapped when the same Govt. issued an Office Memorandum (OM) on 13 June 2011.

Thus, the affected villagers headed by the Mapithel Dam Affected Villages Organization (MDAVO) filed a case in July 2011 against the said OM which was in favor of only two affected villages. Additional case was filed by the Village Authorities of Chadong against formation of new affected committee by name, Mapithel Dam Multipurpose Project Displaced Villages Committee (MDMPDVC) and the secret agreement they entered with state Govt. on 24/9/2012.

The Guwahati High Court was pleased to pass an interim order on its prema facie case, dated 25/4/2012 stating that, the MDMPDVC is a Bogus Committee and hence the agreement they signed on 24/9/2011 shall stay until further order.

JVT & subsequent actions violate High Court's Stay Order: While it was clearly inculcated in the interim order not to proceed further on R & R matter, a Joint Verification Team (JVT) was instituted on 28/9/2012, followed by forced Household verification in October & November 2012 free hand even after the Court served a legal notice on dated 10th November 2012.

A Contempt of Court was filed on 16th January 2013 for defiling of Court's Order. Still then, further household verifications were carried out and RR packages were paid to some beneficiaries. Besides all these independent actions, the Court disposed off the Contempt case in September 2013 substantiating the vacate petition filed from the Mapithel project Proponent, Govt. of Manipur. And thus, the main case has been left in multiple times adjournment without final verdict for over five years.

Case before National Green Tribunal (NGT):

In another case litigation, the affected villagers filed a case before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in August 2013 against 3 decades long illegal construction of Mapithel dam without obtaining the mandatory Forest and Environment Clearances. On confirming the illegality, the construction of the project was halted by the NGT court in its Order dated 12th November 2013 & 20th of November 2013 for violation of Forest & Environment acts, stating that, the project be maintained its Status Quo till 23rd January 2014 for necessary compliance of rules as per the acts.

The said court issued the Interim orders based on the recommendations of the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), a nodal Ministry regarding R&R and other related matters in November 2013. However, the 33 years old violations of National Green acts was resolved as the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest & Climate Change (MoEF & CC) granted the Stage-II final Forest & Environment Clearances on 31st December 2013 and subsequent Clearance order of the NGT on 15:01:2014 without going through the in-depth of the contraventions.

The petitioners filed an Appeal case on 15th December 2014 being the grant of Environment & Forest Clearances by the Ministry of Environment & Forest & Climate Change (MoEF & CC) and subsequent NGT Court Order were premature and miscarried justice. The petitioners further applied for reviewing of the judgment on 22nd March 2016, which was admitted on 7th April 2016.

The NGT court on dated 21st November 2016 issued an order for final verdict of the Review case on 22 December 2017.

Comment & Conclusion: It is a testimony of bitter experience that it seems hopeless for the general public to receive justice unless judiciary wing is given real independent function as a guardian of law. Practice of maintaining thin-line relativity between Legislature and Judiciary is one of the biggest challenges in Manipur. It's ever true that Justice delayed is justice denied.

It is remarkable that question of credibility of state Judiciary becomes high. Many instances of major case left in a marathon of adjournment on a beat to make the case a natural death. The case of Mapithel dam before the state High Court is going to be a clear testimony where denial of justice suffices up to the successive failure of justice in the land.

Further, the case of forest and environment acts violation in Mapithel dam project might be the first case litigation before the NGT court from Manipur. The power of Forest & Environment laws of India is being manifested through the case history of Mapithel dam.

Decades of serious violations of letter and spirit of the FCA, 1980 and FRA, 2006 seem to be diluted in terms of some penal fines to the perpetrators without resuscitating or rectifying the contraventions. This is becoming a bad precedent in the history of Manipur and substantiates another chapter of entire India where justice was not done to the forest dependent communities making the Forest and Environment laws a mockery.

Lastly, the introduction of Single Window System by the Union MoEF&CC on Forest & Environment Clearances in September, 2017 is yet new challenges for the indigenous communities as the same was launched solely in the interest of project developers to safe time, price and ensure quality supply while provision of enough space for independent decision of the land, forest and resources owners seem to be erased with less consideration. It is suggested that timely voice of the general public will save nine in the interest of development justice.

* Jajo Themson wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on November 15, 2017.

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