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E-Pao! Opinion - Khuga Dam: Reality check

Khuga Dam: Reality check

By: Thangkhanlal Ngaihte *

The visit to the Khuga Dam by a team of ministers and Manipur officials last October was just one of many VIP visits that the project has seen over the last four years. But with one difference: On this visit, the visiting party, which included the state's fisheries minister N Mangi Singh, released 100,000 fish into the lake that had formed behind the dam.

It was an act that signifies that the long wait is over and the Khuga Dam is set to bear fruit. There is no doubt that the pace of construction of this dam, about eight kilometres south of Churachandpur in Manipur, accelerated under the present Secular Progressive Front (SPF) government. I have lost count of the number of times the chief minister came visiting.

The project, started in the early 1980s, has cost more than Rs 200 crore and its original estimate? All of Rs 15 crore. The major construction work at the dam ~ the walling off of the river ~ was completed last year. Under heavy monsoon rain, the water surged and at least 17 villages upstream were evacuated and relocated in eight "grouping centres" built by the government.

The villagers apparently never imagined that the water would ever rise to this level. They were forced to dismantle their houses in driving rain and shift to makeshift shelters with the dam water lapping at their feet. There was widespread chaos as part of Teddim Road, which links the district headquarters with Singngat and Mizoram beyond, was submerged. The diversion road, more of a dirt track, had to be cleared of weeds and boulders.

With the Assembly elections next month, the Congress-led Secular Progressive Front government in Manipur is touting the Khuga Dam project as one of its major achievements. The 2007 wall calendar produced by the government's directorate of information and public relations (DIPR) eulogised it as "a dream come true project of Manipur".

Under the memorandum of understanding signed between the state government and Central authorities, the former is to complete all remaining works in the project by March. But a look at the ground reality shows that this promise by the government is going the same way as other such promises: nowhere.

It is clear that the construction will not be complete by the due date, unless, there is a miracle. The Khuga Dam, like most other river valley projects, has three main purposes, namely, provision of drinking water to Lamka town and its surrounding villages; irrigation of agricultural land; and generation of electric power.

As of now, none of the three components are ready. It is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. There is no explaining how the main dam was first built ~ submerging large expanses of fertile farm lands and settlements which otherwise could still have been saved and used ~ while the people languish.

There are two irrigation canals which are incomplete and dilapidated. One of the canals simply releases its load into the Mata stream flowing nearby, while the other takes an about turn and disgorges at the Tuitha (Khuga) river from where it came!

The executive engineer, Mr H Ginzathang, said a small lake is still to be first built next to the dam to regulate the water's flow before it enters into the canals. As for the power component, the project's Power House was supposed to have been completed by now (the latest due date for its completion was 15 November, last year).

As it is, construction is yet to start in earnest. It is being stalled every step of the way by reasons ranging from shortage of cement and iron to strikes by the Dam Action Committee (DAC) which has been agitating against the dam. There is no knowing when the project will start generating power.

The water supply component has a different story. Pipes were first laid around 2000, during President's rule. But pipes made of inferior quality burst at frequent intervals when water flowed through them. So it was abandoned. Now the Construction and Design Services (C&DS), UP Jal Nigam, has undertaken the project as part of the overall water supply scheme for Lamka town in coordination with the state's PHE department.

Pipelines are being laid and the treatment unit is under construction but it is not known when it will be completed. So, what we have is a huge water body that has submerged our fertile lands, roads, crops and gardens, roads, cemeteries and places of work; a mass of water that blocks us from reaching our fields and worksites.

All the costs that the dam is to incur have been incurred. But there is simply no corresponding benefits. The only consolation for local people, most of whom have never seen such a huge water body, appears to be the fish that the minister released last October. And perhaps, an enchanting view of the glistening waters in the sunset!

But even that is not to be: fishing and photographing are banned at the dam site. Take a trip up the dirt road and visit any of the resettlement sites. See the tiny huts, made of thatch and bamboo and twisted metal, which clustered together in a heap along the dust-filled roads. Watch the ill-clad children loitering in the company of pigs and fowls. Take a look at their water supply which generates all of a bucketful in two hours.

Listen to their tales. The Manipur government said it is a dream coming true. For the impoverished people here though, it is a nightmare realised.




* Thangkhanlal Ngaihte, researcher and freelance writer, wrote this article for The Statesman. He is also a regular columnist of The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on January 23rd, 2007 .


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