TODAY -

NHPC's 105 MW Loktak Project: A curse for Manipur

Jiten Yumnam *

The World Environment Day 2017: Loktak Ema Laments
The World Environment Day 2017: Loktak Ema Laments :: Pix - Mamta Lukram



The deep rooted and multifaceted adverse impacts of the 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, commissioned by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) continues to haunt Manipur for long. A simple interaction with denizens of Loktak wetlands, within and peripheral part of the wetland would unravel the alteration, a change more of nightmarish experiences to communities, of loss of land, of loss of fish species and seasonal plants, of a change in culture, that brings lamentations to memories of abundance, of freedom and glories in their bygone days, prior to the dam.

Much has been discussed and written on wide impacts of Loktak Project and the NHPC, a multinational company, responsible for altering Loktak wetlands ecology and the endless sufferings seems to be least concerned. Rather, denying its role in the devastation of Loktak and refuting the call of communities and even the Government of Manipur to decommission Ithai as emanating from sheer 'Ignorance', simply constitute an utter disrespect and insult to the people of Manipur. NHPC even boldly absolved and deny responsibility for the sufferings unleashed in Loktak wetlands in legal processes with communities seeking compensation for crop damages by the project. This is a clear evidence of how the NHPC functions with a clear impunity, far away from any sort of monitoring and regulatory mechanism.

Unfortunately, the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) in a scandalous manner facilitate the NHPC's unaccountability and assertion of impunity by unleashing merciless brutalities, adding to the woes and suffering of the fishing communities, displaced by NHPC's Loktak Project itself since 1983. The formulation of the Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006 and LDA's subsequent eviction notice on 11 November 2011, that lead to atrocities in Loktak is all aimed to clear Loktak of people and all vegetation and all life in it, to ensure an unhindered flow of water for NHPC's Loktak power station through the Ningthoukhong canals.

Unfortunately, the merciless arsoning of floating huts and displacement of fishing communities in mid-November 2011 inside Loktak wetlands by LDA with the aid of Manipur police will remain as the darkest moments for Loktak and in the history of the Manipur. The entire process of NHPC's operation of Loktak Project with impunity and LDA's atrocities in Loktak wetlands simply has commonalities of maximizing profits simply by exploiting Loktak wetlands and inflicting wide sufferings to fishing communities. The CBI now prepares to investigate the corruption of around 300 crores in phumdi clearance in Loktak wetlands by K-Pro Company with LDA in 2011.

The NHPC's Loktak Project is simply becoming a symbol of ruthless plunder and exploitation of Manipur. The project is now also synonymous with the oppression of the people of Manipur and the suppression of the indigenous peoples' legitimate exercise of their self-determination over their land, lives and future. It seems the Loktak Project is designed perfectly to destroy and weaken Manipur, by usurping its agriculture land and destroying its key primary economic base. Manipur indeed has long been reduced to a food importing state for long, ever since the commissioning of Ithai Barrage.

The NHPC continues to reap maximum profit at the cost of Manipur's land and suffering for its people. The economic loss due to submergence of more than 80,000 acres of agriculture land and subsequent economic loss of communities in Loktak wetlands need a careful assessment. A cost benefit analysis of Loktak Project would only indicate the extensive loss for Manipur. The percentage of revenue received by the Government of Manipur from Loktak project is simply and far disproportionate to its loss.

A continued operation of Loktak Project for the next Ten to Twenty years will simply cause havoc and completely destroy Loktak. Given the fast rate of sedimentation of Loktak Wetlands from the Rivers flowing into Loktak Wetlands due to denudation of forest in their catchment areas, Loktak Wetlands simply will disappear. Rivers like Khordak River and Manipur River is all silted up already. Any amount of dredging through the Canadian Government funded dredging programme or any amount of corruptive cleaning of Phumdis by companies like K-Pro, all ostracizing and undermining traditional and sustainable management of Loktak Wetlands by communities, can never save Loktak Wetlands. The proposal to fund further cleaning with help from Japan, as indicated by the recent visit of Japan's Ambassador to India early this year in Manipur, or any other agencies will never lead to any positive change in Loktak, except for harassment on communities, corruption and irrationality of such initiatives.

Notwithstanding the multiple impacts and the continued unaccountability of the NHPC, the objectives and performance of the Loktak Project need be clearly scrutinized as well. The Loktak lift irrigation project, which originally intends to provide irrigation and rejuvenate more than 30,000 hectares of agriculture land, now languish useless and non-functional, while farmers also lament of the land loss due to the construction of the irrigation canals at Bishenpur, Moirang, Tronglaobi and many other areas in vicinity of Loktak wetlands.

Despite the worsening situation in Loktak wetlands and the nonfunctional nature of the key objectives of the Loktak Project, there is no mechanism to monitor the impacts and the performance of Loktak Project. NHPC seems to function above the people of Manipur and the Government of Manipur. Loktak project also contribute in worsening flood situation in Manipur. Every time the rain comes, communities in Loktak wetlands area have to make fervent appeals to NHPC due to floods, submergence of their agriculture land and damage to their livelihood .

The NHPC always responds late, opening few gates, only after extensive damages are inflicted and this ordeal persist for the last three decades. For communities depending on Loktak wetlands, the NHPC is simply a curse, a project that brings so much of miseries and hardship for them and that extinguished hopes for them and for their generations. For NHPC, the priority is to maintain adequate water level for maximum power generation to generate maximum profits, irrespective of the damages it inflicted on communities and on Loktak itself.

And the question is how long such ordeal and NHPC unaccountability will continue and how long will the people of Manipur suffer? There is no clarity how long the project will continue and with the recent confirmation of an absence of a clear agreement between NHPC and the Government of Manipur, that defined the terms and conditions of the operation of Ithai Barrage, the end to such ordeal is nowhere in sight in near future. The NHPC seems to enjoy complete freedom to destroy Loktak Wetlands and all the traditions and cultures associated with it in its ultimate for an indefinite period of time. Manipur's indeed reeling and enduring a time, where corporate bodies are increasingly ruling the roost.

For long, the NHPC has taken the people of Manipur for a ride for long. It is simply involved in exploiting its land and resources, all with the reliance of the Indian Armed Forces, which are deployed in Manipur under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, which also led to a fundamental question if the Indian army deployed in Manipur is also to facilitate the full- fledged exploitation of its land and resources. The deployment of Indian armed forces in key infrastructures like Ithai Barrage, Loktak Power Station, Ningthoukhong Canal for Loktak project indicates that there is also a larger interest of the armed forces of India in Manipur, other than countering and suppressing its ongoing self-determination movement. The same question is also application in the ongoing process to expropriate other minerals and natural resources, like oil exploration move by Oil India Limited (OIL), which incidentally is also preparing to explore and drill oil in Loktak wetlands areas.

It is really unfortunate that a project like Loktak project, that is already a curse for Manipur, that has inflicted so much of suffering with no responsibility and accountability of the project proponent, NHPC, there is no review of the project, for its relevance and rationale even after nearly forty years of project operation. The NHPC all the more seems to insist on reinforcing its practice of exploitation and plunder of Loktak wetlands, by trying to garner more profits from CDM mechanism by renovating Loktak power station and also by building another dam, the 60 MW Loktak Downstream project to harness the water released from the power Station. This indeed will be the height of India's imperialist expansionist polices of exploitation, loot and plunder of Manipur, akin to British' economic exploitation of India.

Decommissioning or removing the Ithai Barrage from the Manipur River is the only solution at this point to save Loktak Wetlands and to recover its vibrant and fragile ecology. The decommissioning of the Ithai Barrage should be carried out as per the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, 2000, that outlined the key steps and procedures to decommission mega dams like Ithai Barrage. The current management plan and process in Loktak by negating communities' rights and role in such management goes against the spirits and provisions of the Ramsar Convention and the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

For all violations and unaccountability, NHPC should completely be banished from Manipur. The MoU with NHPC for the construction of the Loktak Downstream Project and the 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam should be revoked by the Government of Manipur. Other corporate bodies like the K-Pro company and officials of Loktak Development Authority involved in corruptive practices in Loktak wetlands should be prosecuted. Policies like the Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006 that unleashed sufferings to fishing communities and which are incompatible to the sustainable practices and ethos in Loktak wetlands should be scrapped altogether.

It is high time the people of Manipur and the Government of Manipur take responsibility for their own land, rivers, wetlands, forest and its minerals. Manipur's sustainable development practices can be best achieved by involving its people, by taking care of its land and resources and by ensuring accountability for all stakeholders involved in its development, primarily companies like NHPC and other financial institutions. Removing unsustainable projects like NHPC's Loktak Project, already a curse for Manipur will be a virtuous beginning for fostering sustainable development in Manipur.


* Jiten Yumnam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on September 02, 2017.


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