E-Pao! Essay - Tamanthi Dam In Burma

Tamanthi Dam In Burma

By:- Thangja Lun *

The Tamanthi Hydroelectric Power Project (THPP) with a generating capacity of 1200 projects is proposed on the Chindwin river that flows through the heart of Kuki inhabited area of Western Sagaing Division. Leivomjang, a Kuki village between Tamanthi and Homalin, is the dam site.

THPP has been entrusted for construction to the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), a Central Sector Indian power utility, by the State Peace and Development Council (SDPC), the Burmese military junta, through an MoU signed between the SDPC and the Indian Government during Gen. Than Shwe's visit to India in October 2004. According to the MoU, 80 per cent of the power generated will be exported to India.

The proposed dam will affect more than 35 Kuki villages which need to be relocated. About 17,000 acres of agricultural land will be acquired for the project. So far neither the NHPC nor the SDPC has held any consultation with the affected Kuki people and the villagers. No documentation on the project, environmental and social impacts and mitigation is available.

How NHPC came into the scene

According to information gathered, the preliminary survey for the THPP was first carried out by technical experts from Japan and then Korea. Owing to certain deadlock over sharing of profits, any further talks did not materialise.

In November 1999, the Indian power delegation and Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise carried out a joint investigation and a report was prepared for discussion in the Indian Parliament. After the visit of the SDPC Chairman, a five-member team of power experts comprising D V Khera, Member CEA, A N Sinha, Member, Planning CEA, Yogendra Prasad, Chairman and Managing Director, NHPC, B Sharma, Executive Director, NHPC and R K Madan, Director Projects, Power Grid Corporation of India visited Burma on February 19, 2005 and held further discussions on transmission links, technical aspects, investments, payment contracts etc.

Our concerns

The ruling military regime is committed to planning and building hydroelectric power projects, trying to harness its huge potential. There are proposals, at present to erect 200 large, medium and small hydro power stations with the total generation capacity of nearly 40,000 MW, most of them without scientific investigation into the potential impacts and also without any consultation with or participation of the affected community.

While none of these projects are directly supported by Multilateral Development Banks, it is certain that the Regional Power Interconnections plan of the Asian Development Bank's Greater Mekong Sub-region program is on the role and providing incentive for Burma to exploit its river systems aggressively.

In a blatant disregard to the internationally accepted principles of the World Commission on Dams (WCD), of public access and participation, equitable resettlement programme, effective environmental mitigation and fair sharing of benefits between the affected communities and developers, the Military Junta of Burma, in collaboration with NHPC of India, propose to build a mega hydroelectric power project in the heart of Kuki inhabited areas in Burma which will displace the ethnic Kukis from their ancestral homeland.

The THPP will adversely affect the biodiversity, ecological balance and the climatic conditions of the region. Floods in the upstream, and changes in the morphology of the riverbed and bank will destroy the habitats of precious species of flora and fauna. Burma's largest National Park is very close to the dam site.

The ethnic Kukis of the area will be subjected to forced labour till the completion of the proposed project. Relocation of 35 Kuki villages and acquisition of 17,000 hectares of agricultural land will result in severe food security and loss of livelihood.

The subjugation of Kukis will continue through the game of outnumbering them and reducing them to minority through a calculated influx and settlement of poverty-ridden people from other regions of Burma as construction labourers for the project.

Having exhausted the forest reserves, the SPDC is now out to exploit its water resources. It has planned to earn millions of dollars by exporting surplus power produced through hydro electric projects across Burma. The Tamanthi dam will give them one such opportunity to earn millions through exporting 80 per cent of the power produced to India.

Mike Hurle of The World Markets Review states, "Whilst the project was first proposed five years ago, the participation of an Indian partner could push it off the drawing board, at a time when Indian delegations have been looking at a wide range of energy co-operation options with their eastern neighbour Asia Regional: 29 January 2004: India Considers Developing Energy Linkages to Myanmar). Myanmar has over a dozen hydroelectric projects under consideration and has been seeking assistance from its neighbours, including in South-East Asia and China, as well as India."

The Kuki nationality, therefore, feels that instead of strengthening the Burmese military rule, a democracy like India is expected to facilitate and foster the ushering of democracy in Burma. This act will be consistent with India's international obligations.

Kukis must be protected and their sovereignty respected

Like many other ethnic groups in Burma, the Kukis are one of the many nations who have been living in Burma since ancient times. A freedom loving people, they rose up in rebellion against the British invasion. However, the independence of both India and Burma, and redrawing of their boundaries divided the Kuki nation also.

Kukis living in the Indo-Burma region have been the victims of terror by successive military rulers. Kukis have suffered forced labour, rape , torture, destruction of their property, migrant influx and livelihood loss, but never subjugated themselves to the military junta. Another dam, another round of relocation and displacement will not deter them.

The Federation of Ethnic Nationalities of Burma (FNEB), Kuki National Organisation (KNO), the Kuki Students Democratic Front (KSDF) together with the Anti-Tamanthi Dam Campaign Committee:

** Demand that the Indian Government and NHPC stop the proposed Tamanthi Hydroelectric Power Project and all other mega projects in Burma must be stopped until the restoration of democracy and consultative people's participation in decision making takes place.
** Call for ban on and oppose all forms of investment and development assistance in to Burma until genuine democracy is restored
** Urges the Indian democracy and its people to support immediate peaceful democratic change in Burma.

The dam affected people and their allies around the world at the Second International Meeting of Dam Affected People and their Allies, at Rasi Salai, Thailand, resolved in December 2004:

"Under the current military regime in Burma, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), dam building - like all other large scale development - leads directly to serious human rights abuses and environmental destruction. People face severe and systematic human rights violations, such as forced relocation, systematic sexual violence against women, extra judicial killings, intimidation of local populations, which has forced them, especially in the ethnic nationalities area, to become refugees in neighbouring countries, as well as Internally Displaced Persons.

Let the Chindwin river flow

Let Kuki people live with dignity

Thangja lun, contributes for the first time to
The writer can be contacted at
This article was webcasted on 31st August 2005.

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