Mapithel dam commissioning plan: A stare on rationality

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

The Mapithel dam of Thoubal Multipurpose Project is one of the oldest and most controversial mega dam development projects of Manipur which has attained over three decades in the construction phase. The project proponent, Irrigation and Flood Control Department (IFCD) Govt. of Manipur repeatedly furnished various reasons behind non-completion of the Mapithel dam project in such a long years.

Some of the reasons are true in the pragmatic field. However, it is undeniable fact that the affected indigenous communities have been relentlessly objecting the Mapithel dam project for undermining their rights and the same is encircled with various infirmities and multifaceted violations of procedures, rules & norms, laws and national & International guiding principles that virtually obstructed the smooth and speedy work of the dam construction. Besides this, lack of serious concern and sincere deal on the part of the project authority might be yet another major factor that hampered the construction works.

The Mapithel dam imbroglio has been characterized by wide cleavages among the project developers, subject experts, interventions from across Continental, global apex organizations like the UN and the communities affected by the dam in so far as execution of the dam project is concerned since its inception way back in 1980ís. There have been several instances of push & pull among the mentioned different level groups.

Whereas, the affected indigenous communities have been struggling unceasingly to assert their rights over their land, forest, river and right to life and survival in association with various Right defending organizations, the project authorities too have been incessantly targeting for inauguration/commissioning the Mapithel dam project.

Series of targets were set for completion of the Mapithel dam project. The 1st was-August 1987, 2nd-October 1994, 3rd-March 2002, 4th-March 2007, 5th -March 2013, 6th-31st March 2015, 7th -September 22, 2016, 8th – year ending of 2016, 9th – 31st March 2017 and the latest one, the 10th was announced on 1st April 2017. However, it is preposterous to commission the Mapithel dam project as it is muffled with dimensional and multifaceted infirmities that cannot be taken for lame excuses for the issue is fission in nature which give far reaching implications and irreparable damages.

Question of rationality in Mapithel Commissioning plan: The Mapithel dam construction was started in the late 1980ís without Free & Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of the affected communities. The whole process of conceptual framework, investigation, submission of feasibility report and inception of the dam construction were done without any informing to the villagers.

Stiff opposition was carried out by the affected villagers in mid 1980ís against forced construction without any consultation and knowledge given to the affecting communities. From the genesis point till this stage, construction of Mapithel dam has been one of the anchors of endless violations in the mega dam development projects in the state of Manipur.

Blocking of the Yangwui Kong/Thoubal River to facilitate commissioning of the dam project was happened without conducting Detailed Impacts Assessment (DIA) covering socio-economy, cultural, livelihood source, health, environment & ecology and precautionary measures therewith. Unwarranted dimensional submergence of residential area, wet paddy field, houses, churches, school buildings, community hall, homestead areas, low lying forest, animal grazing field and means of transportation had given untold life hardship to the affected villagers leading to incredible worsening of their living standard.

The massive inundation unleashed adverse impacts on the livelihood and survival of villagers loosing food sovereignty in the upstream portion. At the same time, community people living in the downstream villages suffer from shortage of water, curtailing livelihood such as fishing, agriculture and seasonal collection of sand and stone from the River.

Absence of proper comprehensive Rehabilitation & Resettlement (R&R) Policy program is yet another serious violation in the process of Mapithel dam project. Implementation of R&R in case of Mapithel dam outlines a clear testimony of dysenteric peace-meal, unsystematic, inefficient, insincere and random approaches. This aspect is one of the most serious concerns the project authority needs special emphasis as further survival security of the affected people depended on it.

The ensuing manner of R&R program conveys a clear message of denial of better living standard to the project affected people and is a violation of the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur in 2010. It is remarkable that, the Order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) dated 28/10/2015 barred lowering/closure of the gates of Maheshwar Dam in Madhya Pradesh for causing submergence of the area without the R & R being completed.

Besides this, absence of cost-benefit analysis is still another vivid area of irrationality in the development undertakings in Mapithel dam. While the IFCD, Govt. of Manipur is trying to harness 7.5 MW of electric power, safe drinking water supply to Imphal city and Irrigation water to Thoubal district from Mapithel dam project, it has caused unfathomed hardships and irreparable damages to the affecting people who involuntarily sacrificed their invaluable ancestral assets such as land, forest @above 2000 hectares, homes, farms, animal grazing field, river and its resources.

The affected villagers incurred heavy loss every year in terms of many crores of rupees in economic value. Loss amount @20 crores on average are recorded in each of the affected villages, which cumulatively lost at least 400-450 crores of rupees since 2015, the year when the Yangwui Kong/Thoubal River was blocked. Moreover, devastation in terms of environment & ecology should not be excluded as we talk about loss & damages in anyway.

As per the conditions required in Section 2 of the FCA, 1980 and set up rules & guidelines, it is mandatory for the User Agency/the project proponent to acquire Forest & Environment Clearances on diversion of 595 hec of forest for the Mapithel dam project. It was a surprising thing that the project proponent, IFCD Govt. of Manipur failed to comply the act for more than 30 years. Diversion of forest was already taken place long years back before mandatory clearances were even sought in respect of Mapithel dam.

Violations of Forest acts and Environmental laws were confirmed only in August 2013 when a case was filed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Principal Bench, Delhi. Notably, the 240 MW Silent Valley Hydro-Electric Project (SVHEP) in Kerala was abandoned in 1983 by the Prime Minister of India after a careful study of the detailed environment impacts assessment report concerning the submergence of forest @8.3 sq km.

The IFCD, Govt. of Manipur even fails to frame up rights safeguard policy in respect of the affected tribal communities over their land, forest, river and resources etc. The affected people of Mapithel dam have been demanding every now and then to frame up safeguard policies; however nothing of such is inculcated as mandatory till now. This exposed a flagrant violation which undermines the legal framework of India enshrined in the Article 338A.

Notably, the construction of Amazon Dam was halted by the Brazilian Indigenous Group on dated 18/7/2017 in Demand of Rights. Likewise, the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Mapithel dam gave special emphasized on safeguarding rights of the indigenous communities.

The Mapithel dam project is still entangled with fraught, manipulation and corruptions. Interestingly, the existing numbers of population and household of some villages were manipulated by inclusion of many fictitious names which never exist in the Census and Electoral rolls of entire districts of Manipur. Report of swindling huge amount of public money in the name of RR program execution have been widely publicized in the news papers.

It is a real factor that prolongs period in the project construction uncovers elements of corruption. The question of corruption and cost overrun was happened in Yacyreta dam in Argentina. It is also noteworthy that, the cost of the project since its inception has been escalated several times. As per the final Undertaking done between state of Manipur and Central Govt., on 12/09/2012, it is the state Govt. to bear the cost overrun in case of failing to complete Mapithel dam project by 31st March 2015.

Water leakages through back wall of the dam and occurrence of multiple earth fissures at Louphong & Maphou Kuki in the recent time manifested lack of quality maintenance in the Mapithel dam construction. The immediate down-stream villagers decried of possible dam wreckage introspecting the way the laborers randomly filled up the dam. Seeing the substandard quality control during the construction and the subsequent cases of the water leakages, down-stream people remarked that Wreckage to the dam reservoir will bring catastrophe to entire downstream region. Both the incidents of water leakages and earth cracks & fissures induced high possibility of dam collapse at any point of time.

Still another factor of recent incident of massive siltation of mud and sand of about 1 km sketch of Mapithel dam reservoir from Shangkai to Thoyee village even substantiates to the possible impotency of the Mapithel project. The ever first incident of massive siltation appeared in just 21 months time vindicated quality of the dam reservoir. If the current trend of speedy heap up of mud & sand continues, subsequent extending down till the dam main site will be so sure.

Conclusion: Considering pros and cons in the Mapithel dam construction in the light of the above cardinal points, the commissioning plan of the project highlights a broad and stark irrationality. It in fact is creating a history of the state of coercive action contrary to mandatory rules, guiding principles, laws, undermining the rights of its own citizen and in violation of universally applicable norms.

The same will also be placed in the public domain if only the Mapithel dam project is commissioned as the pursuing manner. Besides violation chapter of rules, norm, guidelines, laws and national and international principles, there is another angle of irrationality in commissioning of Mapithel dam, as it follows the same footsteps of the previous failed dams such as Khoupum, Singda and Khuga dam which were left abandoned after commissioning them.

It is envisaged that, it is by far better renovate and resuscitate such marooned dam projects so that they harness the targeted benefits for the public rather than commissioning Mapithel dam like Mapithel which is only aggrandizing the testimony of project futility in the history of mega dams and development interventions in the state of Manipur.

* Jajo Themson wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on September 26, 2017.

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