NHPC's Ithai Barrage for Loktak Lift Irrigation: Beautiful Promise ?

Mamta Lukram *

Public consultation on Loktak project and Ithai barrage held
Public consultation on Loktak project and Ithai barrage held :: Pix - TSE

The Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR), Government of Manipur, published the report, ‘Brief Report on Major Development Projects taken up by Irrigation and Flood Control Department’ (IFCD), on Wednesday, 28th June, 2017, highlighting the IFCD’s commitment for development of i) Assured irrigation in the state by construction of Major & Medium Irrigation & Multipurpose projects and ii) Management of flood, also creating potentials for water supply and hydrogenation from the Irrigation Projects.

According to the report, the state has about 2,30,000 ha. of net cultivable area, where currently fiive projects namely Loktak Lift Irrigation Project, Sekmai Barrage Project and Singda Multipurpose Project have been completed and irrigation benefits have accrued to the state.

However, the larger implication of the report depicts that Loktak Lift Irrigation possess the highest command area 17400 ha with least performance 2150 ha, while Khoupum dam project is a complete failed project. As verified from an RTI response filed by Anthony Tonkai Haokip & D Janminthang Haokip, on 7th March, 2017, the Khoupum Dam’s provision for supplying daily quantum of irrigation water is 3715 cum/day, however the dam has failed/stopped supplying water since 2003-04. Such overall findings decode the failure of hydro projects engrossed with unaccountability in the state.

NHPC’s Loktak Hydro Electric Power Project and its adversities: The Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, started the construction of the Loktak Multipurpose Project in 1971 and was commissioned by the Government of India in 1983, the project execution of which was handed over to the National Hydro Electric Power Corporation (NHPC). The Ithai Dam or Barrage, was installed downstream of the Manipur River, for water level regulation, with primary objective of water storage for hydropower generation of 105 MW and providing lift irrigation to 24,000 hectares of land.

Nevertheless, the succeeding chapters of this glorified mega project is screwed with bizarre when media reflections filled the news racks of the state, regarding the non-existence of the Memorandum of understanding or Agreement (MOU) on Loktak Project between the Government of Manipur and the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC), being mentioned to be confirmed by an RTI response filed by one, Joy Haobijam of Thanga of Manipur (Yumnam, Sangai Express, 2017).

The rationale sandwiched between the enhanced objectives of the project and void MOU, self-negates the vision envisioned by this mega development project. The project has been the sheer object of criticism since its inception for its failure to endorse the rights of the indigenous people. The adversities afflicted by commissioning of the Loktak Project in Manipur has been sequentially critique cropped with evidences.

Research findings reveal that the planners failed to analyse the complex fragile ecosystem of the land. Late did the planners realise that the lake’s depth wasn’t sufficient to generate hydroelectricity. So, they have to install Ithai Barrage further down the Imphal river, to maintain a high-water level. This level maintenance was the most important reason for the inundating more than twice than the proposed area to irrigate.

The inundation deprived about 10, 000 people of their livelihood and about 20 aquatic species have disappeared. The Barrage is described of plundering the whole wetland ecology which sustains more than 1 million people. Ithai Barrage is described to have rendered 25,000 fishers folk jobless. And apprehension is made that the barrage will bring to the verge of extinction of the lake, (Singh & Moirangleima, 2012).

The Loktak Lift Irrigation: Beautiful Promise?

The Loktak Lift Irrigation (LLI), is the second main component of the Loktak Multipurpose Project. It was started in 1972 and completed in 1989 with a project cost of 28.79 crores. The objective of the project is to create an irrigation potential of 24000 ha in Bishnupur and Imphal West Districts by lifting 600 cusecs of water from the canal of Loktak Hydro Electric Project. It comprises of three phases; Pump House Nos. 1,2, and 3 to feed the Imphal Main Canal, Imphal Low Level Canal, Imphal High Level Canal, Imphal High Level Canal, Moirang Low Level Canal irrigating. The project is targeted to expand a surplus area upto 40000 ha.

However, the drifting performance from the anticipated outcome of the project evolves self-introspecting queries on performance review. A flashback study of the reports published by the Government of Manipur would be the right vindication in analysing the underperforming trends of the said project. The Draft Report by Planning Department, government of Manipur, January, 2008, made a review of the Tenth Plan and annual plan (2007-08) confirming the declining performance upto 6000 ha only, by the end of the 8th plan. The performance report of the same by 9th plan was unavailable. The latest report of June, 2017, reveals the declining irrigational activities from the 12600 ha. Common Command Area (CCA) to 2150 ha. only.

Media report of the Pump House No. 1 made operational in 2012, after along gap of three years, since 2009 depicts the story of the dysfunctional aspect of the lift canal. The Loumi Lup in-charge and former Minister, N Mangi, in January 2013, alleged that the Loktak Lift Irrigation project has failed to supply water to Imphal Low Canal as well as Moirang Low Canal. Officials of the Command Area Development and Water Management (CAD&WM), including the Executive Engineer O. Tikendra, Executive Engineer Th. Dilip, Executive Engineer K Biton Kabui and Executive Officer N Jugolchandra, in 2016, accepted that the major projects like Loktak Lift irrigation has failed to supply irrigation water.

The sole explanation of the drastic performance decline as the lack of maintenance fund, for which assistance packages has been sought from the central government, seems illogical. Wasting several acres of productive land for the prolonged underperforming irrigational objective, in dream of double or triple cropping metamorphoses ‘a promise so beautiful but an action not so nice.’

Conclusion: The performance review of the Loktak Lift Irrigation Project validates that the project is underperforming. Statistical accounts reveals realities beyond numerical expressions. The fallacious fallout of the project is just not the dysfunctional aspect of the canal, but land loss of the vast productive agricultural field acquired for the construction of the abandoned canal, at crores of public expenses, plundering the food sovereignty of the state is the concern.

Traces of the abandoned canals constructed run along agricultural fields like the careless scratches over the canvas. In a visit physically assessing the portions of the Loktak Lift Irrigation Phase 1, the Imphal Main Canal, which is 10 km long covering the villages of Toupokpi, Upokpi, Potsangbam, Nachou, Kwaksiphai, Khoijuman, Toubul and Ngaikhong Khullen along the Ngakchroupokpi, it was found lying defunct. One Nongmaithem Rakesh Singh, a resident of the Ngakchroupokpi village, shared how the canal has been dysfunctional since the last 20 years back, and recently locals heard that the canals will be repaired and for which initiatives are in the pipeline.

The Hindu, in 2011, reported that instead of maximising the agricultural yields through double or triple cropping, the project often caused flash floods in the agricultural land, reducing them into non-arable swamps. In Mayang Imphal area, 5,000 hectares of arable land has been submerged permanently, rendering them unfit for paddy cultivation. Annual flood frequency has increased due to the heavy siltation. Vast tracts of prime agricultural land have been permanently submerged on different places located at the periphery of the lake, in turn affecting the state’s food sovereignty. Affected people were made to fete the loss on their own. The submergence uprooted the livelihood of more than 10,000 people.

The submergence of more than 80,000 acres of agricultural land in the state, accounting to an annual loss of 300 crore rupees and 10,000 (approx) crores since 1983 onwards, dumbfounded with the promises of efficient irrigation facilities, which scantily wrap up into a compromise of irrigating 2150 ha only, is absurd. Claims and refutations will continue in failure to apprise the adversities afflicted by the Loktak Project. Immediate positive intervention must have been the stich in time before the public cry for the demand of decommissioning NHPC’s Ithai Barrage got shriller.

* Mamta Lukram this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on November 04, 2017.

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