Post submergence impacts of Mapithel dam: Upstream perspective

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

Introduction: The 66 meters high and 1074 meters long Mapithel dam/Thoubal Multipurpose project, a mud filled dam is constructed at Maphou/Phayang across the Yangwui kong/Thoubal River. The project relies on the water resource of the said River which is originated from Shiroi Hills and other major tributary from Hoome that joined at Lamlang Gate village in Ukhrul district and flows through the Thoubal district via Mapithel valley before joining the Imphal River at Irong Ichil.

The Apeesii (The local name of Mt. Mapithel in Chadong dialect) valley is located in Ukhrul district, situated at the north-eastern part of Imphal city, the capital of Manipur. The Apeesii valley range is gifted with uncorrupted natural environment, fertile land, rich natural resources and varied kinds of flora and fauna, lichens and different seasonal fruit and food items that sustained the life of the people living in the region.

Economically, the communities were self sufficient through the power of rich land, river, forest and bountiful resources they were bestowed upon. It is one of the best regions in Ukhrul district where permanent wet rice cultivation is possible. The valley was sometimes known by the tasty food, sticky rice production.

The Mapithel valley was also glorified by the Yangwui Kong, one of the longest rivers of Manipur which flows through the middle of the valley. Thousands of populace in the valley range depended the river in terms of food, livelihood and socio-cultural friendly since their forefathers. It even acts as a unifying factor for all communities settling in the Apeesii valley range. Thus, Yangwui Kong/Thoubal River can be described as a living mother for different communities through generations in the region until it was blocked in 2015.

It was once a Serene Valley where there was peaceful co-existence and cordial inter & intra-villages relationship with full of mutual trust, love and respect among them. There were no tussles between hill and valley communities in this valley. There has been no direct negative influence of external environment to this region. The beautiful Mapithel valley possesses different characteristic features of both hill and valley. Abundant land, river & forest, their resources and fair natural and social environment of the valley region made the indigenous communities deeply rooted and cherished their cultural identities in the land over generations.

Details of post submergence impacts: The enchanting, bountiful and fertile Apeesii valley was totally transformed into a strange world when it was turned into a mighty ocean ever since the Yangwui Kong was blocked to substantiate commissioning of the Mapithel dam. It has led to dilution of hundreds of residential homes, graveyards, homestead areas, wet agricultural land, forest, river and animal grazing fields which virtually made the beautiful scene of Mapithel valley into a complete new sphere.

Once economically self sufficient economic lives of the people settling in the Apeesii valley has come to faced a disastrous life now. Marginalization, disruptive livelihood, economic degradation, loss of food sovereignty and mass pauperism become the main features in the Mapithel valley as direct impacts of Mapithel dam in the post submergence era. More details of impacts can be analyzed in the following areas.

Loss of land & forest: Based on critical case study, different categories of land measuring @above 2000 hectares in the project upstream portion are submerged due to construction of Mapithel dam. Tract of land areas such as wet paddy field, grazing area, homestead field, forest jhum areas, farm yards and low-lying forest have all been diluted.

Hundreds of hectares of wet field, farm and forest areas which were not taken survey, have also been inundated when the dam water rose unwarrantedly without proper demarcation. On average calculation of those permanent loss of moveable & immoveable assets of the villages from Louphong to Shangkai comes out to above 20 crores of Rupees in the rate context of 1990’s. The immediate visible consequence was landmark marginalization of the affected communities.

Loss of river areas: At least 25-30 km sketch of Yangwui Kong/Thoubal River areas belonging to indigenous tribal villages of Nongdam (T) & Phayang/Maphou, Louphong, Chadong, Ramrei, Riha, Thoyee and Shangkai villages were gone beneath the artificial Mapithel dam lake. The utility of the said river to the communities basic to their food, economy and intrinsic customary relationship have been buried. State Govt. doesn’t spell out the River areas as compensatory part. But the same is mandatory as per the Indian constitution.

Displacement and dislocation: Above 500 households of 6-7indigenous villages have been permanently uprooted from their ancestral homes due to the Mapithel dam project. Still some are yet to be displaced. The hurry water aggression in 2015 compelled some villagers of Chadong scattered to different places as they are unable to continue to reside at the original locality which was left in a complete mess and social chaos at the same time. Currently, villagers of Chadong have been segregated into three groups willingly or unwillingly due to compelling situation of inevitable alternative settlement.

Livelihood & economic: Dependence of peoples livelihood on wet field agriculture, low lying forest, home stead farms, river resources etc. have all been banned today, losing their principal sources of livelihood. Water ingression has given a great jolt on economic life of the affected people. Food insufficiency, out-casting food sovereignty in the region, Possible water shortage, Low income, Mass pauperization, living standard are pushed down.

Life burden increased double/triple, Children education support and Health – physical & mental psycho are badly affected. Yearly loss in terms of economic value was recorded to be at least 80-90 crores of Rupees to the Villages from Louphong to Shangkai.

Socio-cultural & religious: The most important cultural festivals of the people are based on agriculture. Agriculture in fact was their culture. But now, their culture is at a critical era of extinction due to loss of agriculture practices. Observance of Luira Phanit (Seed sowing festival), Yarra, Mangkhap phanit, Dharreo and Chumpha phanit virtually lost their significance.

Besides this, the customary rights of ownership over land, forest and river have been lost its ground. Affinity and intrinsic relationships of the villagers with the river and corresponding relativity among the goddesses-river-beds and the owners since their fore-fathers have been shattered too. Uproot of graveyards, dead body remains of long gone relatives belonging to 6/7 villages is one of the saddest event in the community people’s life.

Moreover, another dead blow to the affected tribal communities is shaking the basic principles of Christianity when siblings of same family members were made as genuine couples in the R&R program implementation. Demolishment of graveyards kills the Christian believes of rising up from one’s own graveyard. Sustenance capacity of churches relying on offering of tithes; paddy, cattle & other crops and cash by the community people are drastically reduced hampering their usual functioning.

Rs. 5 crores project of Augmentation of Water Supply Scheme (AWSC) at Riha Loutei and its surrounding 7 villages was made futile by the Mapithel dam water reservoir. The oxygen valve that was installed in the middle of the Thoubal River before dam water rose failed ultra-vire of repairing it when every space was occupied by water body in second half of 2015.

Unveiling poor quality of the dam: Water leakages through 6 major portions were detected at the immediate back wall of the dam since 2015. The leakages were mainly happened at the turbine installing area, Spillway portion and some others at the higher level of the back wall.

The substandard quality maintenance during the construction was witnessed by the villagers when the dam leakages occurred. Occurrence of multiple earth fissures at Louphong & Maphou Kuki villages manifested yet another post submergence impacts of the Mapithel dam construction.

Change of climatic conditions: Drastic change of long epoch of undisturbed climatic condition of the Mapithel valley has been experienced today. Difference in temperature in the pre-dam and post submergence era is observed. The settlers in the upstream portion experienced eminent increases of temperature in the area as the heat of the sun directly reflects them being the low-lying areas occupied by the water body.

Counter-productive impacts: Aftermath of marginalization and loss of principal economic activities of the affected villagers, more pressure on the remaining forest and excessive concentration on few high land areas were taken place. This situation induced high possibility of fast depletion of forest resources in the region.

Massive forest tree cut down at Chadong and Riha villages were witnessed to eke out their day to day sustenance. In yet another clear instance of changing pattern of economic activities, cultivation of contraband ganja/Marriauna and poppy farming are appeared in finding alternative survival means. Inability to give proper support to children education, degrading health care, uncertainty of drinking water supply etc. are yet another negative impacts in the post submergence era.

Comment & conclusion: Taking the post submergence impacts into account, the permanent loss & damages caused and yearly losses are huge like discussed above. While state Govt. is looking for harnessing meager benefit from the Mapithel dam, the affected villagers have faced unfathomed suffering and still the same has inter-generational implications.

The saddest and the most unfortunate aspect in the Mapithel dam project is lack of conducting detailed impacts assessment and carry out cost-benefit analysis. Scaling of target benefit to be harnessed by the dam project and loss and damages due to the project intervention is very much mandatory for serious assessment.

Irreparable permanent devastation of thousands of wet cultivable land, forest, river, homestead farms, animal grazing field and scrap of environment & ecology coupled with counter- productive impacts indispensably calls for minute calculation. Moreover, disruption caused to livelihood source, the aged old social fabric, loss of cultural ethos and diminishing life standard of the affecting people are to be taken into account on impacts assessment.

Otherwise, the affected communities would become victim through-out generations beyond repair in the name of welfare program. The same will in turn happen to be the most abominated word and actions to the affected communities which will compel them construe the dam projects as anti-people programs ultimately.

* Jajo Themson this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 11, 2017.

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