Flood and Ithai Barrage: A brief reflection of the convergent and divergent views

Mamta Lukram *

Public consultation on Loktak project and Ithai barrage held on August 12 2017
Public consultation on Loktak project and Ithai barrage held on August 12 2017

The villagers around the Ithai and other surrounding villages, seems to possess little knowledge like we did, about the official records of the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC)'s Ithai Barrage, for the 105MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydro Electric Project (LMHEP), except for the physical realities of the mega structure. One village elder who introduce himself as one-time staff of the barrage, now retired, was the only who could share on development discourse about the pros and cons of the barrage.

Sharing convergent view, which at times sounds perfect, he opined that we should appreciate the development projects taken up in the state, harness its benefits and uplift our living standard rather than misinterpreting it as money making magical box for few corrupt officials. Underpinning reasons for compounding Ithai barrage’s adverse impacts is the fraudulent irresponsible state authority. The state should not talk for NHPC, they should talk to NHPC for the people; make NHPC accountable, held them responsible for the loss and let them take up mitigation measures. He questioned LDA’s position.

He spoke about the NHPC’s efforts and investments for mitigation measure, the state unaccountability of which, reduces it into mere scandals, like K-Pro. The fallacious state’s intervention with heights of frauds and corruption proves futile every development projects in the state. Manipulation in water level record maintenance at the barrage is another deceptive act of the officials dumbfolding the public.

The officials who maintain water level records are usually present only for few while in a day. They are totally unaware of the daily fluctuating levels. The villagers unanimously agreed the fact that more than 80,000 hectares of land has been submerged in the periphery villages of the Loktak, by the construction of the dam. The proposed command area to irrigate 24,000 hectares through Loktak Lift Irrigation under the NHPC’c Loktak Project, drastically falling into 6000 hectares in reality was also acknowledged.

Majority dwelt divergently on the quantum overall loss, development injustice committed to the people, the socio-economic importance of the lake and its irreparably degrading ecology, the unresponsiveness of NHPC, hardships people are striving etc were their crux. They strictly talked about the NHPC’s deaf ear on the protest to open the shutters at times of flood. They stressed the dysfunctional aspect of the shutter gates, which have been under water for the last three decades and all the gates become corroded and dysfunctional. Lubrication efforts proved vain. Out of the 5 gates, only 1/2 gates are functional, they assured.

During years of frequent floodslike 2017, this barrage will spell catastrophe to the whole state. They stressed on a rumour which talks about NHPC’s proposed plan for replacing the old shutters by new improved technologies by 2019, puzzling the villagers in rationalising how those modernised equipment will further intensify the resource expropriation in the state.

The Relativism of Khordak Dam, Flood and Ithai Barrage : Khordak is the major natural replenishing drainage system of the Loktak Lake. The conservation of the lake’s ecology depends largely on the healthy management of drainage system. The metaphor of installing the Khordak Dam ahead of confluence to the Manipur River deciphers the symbolic significance of Khordak joining the Manipur river’s course; the damming of which disrupt and block the natural inflow and outflow of water.

At this stance Khordak Dam is the first and the foremost acronym of the water level politics privileged by the NHPC over Loktak Wetland, by monopolising the natural flow control, to transform Lokatk Lake into a convenient reservoir for Hydro power generation only. This manipulative apparatus deployed by NHPC plundered the overall ecology of the wetland.

Khordak Dam is no less a critical structure than the Ithai barrage. This dam constitutes a basic negative ingredient in NHPC’s Ithai Dam. During flood situations, opening Ithai barrage shutter gates bear no resemblance if the Khordak dam gates are closed, Loktak can’t be safer, lives and property are not secured. Inundated water from the lake will not be drained out unless the khordak dam gates are not open, which the NHPC officials usually deliberately sidelined. This unresponsive act is disastrous for the state. So, NHPC’s Ithai barrage and its component Khordak Dam is solely responsible for the worsening of the flood situation in Manipur simultaneously plundering the wetland ecology.

Flood and Ungamen Maril : Ungamen is another minor draining outlet from the Loktak Lake, apart from the Khordak. At the confluence of the Manipur River and the Tuitha (Khuga) River, the Ungamen conjoined the Manipur river, few hundred metres or around half a kilometre ahead of the Ithai Barrage. It’s role is critically important in maintaining the drainage system of the Lake.

At present, Ungamen is the only other natural drainage, sans installation of artificial structure. NHPC’s efforts rendered for installation of mini dam over Ungamen ended in vain due to various reasons, according to the villagers.

Excessive sedimentation in the last few decades due to environment degradation at the catchment area of the rivers and overloaded deposition due to the Ithai barrage has silted the Ungamen, completely incapacitating its draining functions. Rather Ungamen overturned like a natural barrier inundating vast vicinity of the Loktak such as Nongmaikhong, Kumbi, Wapokpi etc. Opening the Ithai barrage shutter gates may descend the water level of the Manipur River, but not the inundated Loktak.

One of the village elder remarked that after concerted appeal for dredging Ungamen stretch, the initiatives were taken up and simultaneously the situation improves. Currently inundated water from the lake is draining rapidly. NHPC undermines people’s voice, that’s their major mistake. They are too unresponsive, or should it be interpreted as high headedness. They waited for protest, that aggravate frustration, and finally people have to demand for decommissioning of the Ithai barrage.

Convergent Recommendations of the Ithai Villagers on Ithai Barrage : Villagers have some convergent recommendations, the adoption of which they believe will improve the situation, how the Ithai Barrage should be functioning if it has to sustain for the further sake of resource mobilisation and development of the people;
o Retaining walls in upstream and downstream to prevent soil erosion and land loss.
o NHPC should adopt regular flow maintenance; with everyday schedule timing of opening the shutter gates, precautioning the downstream villagers to reduce unprecedented loss.
o LDA as catalyst in worsening the adverse impacts of the Ithai Barrage. Accountability and transparency from the state’s side.
o NHPC must lend clear ear to the peoples’ voice, the disrespect of which is regarded as complete disrespect of the people’s right.
o Proper co-ordination and jurisdictional protocol between the state’s chief functionary of NHPC and the chief officials of NHPC at Delhi. Relayed information delayed immediate response rendering to heavy loss of public lives and properties during emergencies.
o Held NHPC directly responsible for all the losses or hardships, let them take up mitigation measures directly; not through LDA or other state authority. Direct co-ordination between the NHPC and affected community.
o If exploitation of the state resource is to be continued, taking into consideration, sustainable development, let the Ithai Barrage be decommissioned at the earliest.

Divergent Recommendations : A long stretch of about 26 km (appox) are the downstream villagers, bearing the severe burnt of the adversities through the decades, out of which Laikhong is the immediate downstream village. Ever since the Ithai barrage has been installed, downstream villagers’ pursuit of life has been dammed. The unwarranted sudden release of water has whimsically spread havoc to the downstream villages repeatedly.

Flash floods due to the unwarranted release of water many personal belongings such as boats, oars, fishing equipment etc, are frequently swept away several times, spelling as curse to the poor downstream villagers multiplying the magnitude of hardships.

Vegetable farms, wetland agricultural fields, livestock even human lives are under pressure of risk of flood and drought related disasters. Lives of women and children have been prolonged exposed to the plight of vulnerability. Loss of livelihood, health issues, risk of life, fear psychosis of sweeping away at any point of time have been reeling high amongst the downstream villagers. Neither NHPC nor the Government has done anything so far, except opening flood relief camps during flood situations. One young man from the downstream village remarked;

“Ever since the day we come to our senses, we have been striving with the adversities of the Ithai Barrage. We electrify our homes, purchasing it paying per units, for which we have to sacrifice our land, livelihood and put into risk our lives. We lose our livelihood, so ever remain backward, all because of this barrage. There are hundreds like me. We have no hope for the future. Many time we do pray making a wish, a strong earthquake hit my state, the barrage wreaks and wash away. Thousands will lose their lives in such catastrophe, however, it will relief from future resource expropriation; for our future generations”

The remark was their recommendation, their view out of real life experiences; like anecdotal accounts.

* Mamta Lukram wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an independent researcher on development, environment and gender studies
This article was webcasted on September 10, 2017.

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