The Holy Grail of Khuga Dam : Promises vs Plight

Paojakhup Guite *

 Khuga Dam, a multi-purpose project located in south of Churachandpur town , Manipur :: August 21 2016
Khuga Dam, a multi-purpose project located in south of Churachandpur in August 2016 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

Time and again, a fear psychosis surfaces over the structures of Khuga Dam with this year's heavy monsoon. Zoumunnuam village is a case in point in the most recent flood induced by the dam. The entire village was waterlogged to almost a house-deep. Every concerned individuals and civil societies doled out help both in cash and kind. But, assistance from the Government side is yet to be heard.

The Khuga Multi-Purpose Hydroelectric Project, also known as Khuga Dam is located near Mata village, some 10 kilometres away from Churachandpur town and is one of the 38 projects that had been put forth by the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) in 1980. The projects had got clearance and were meant to bring about techno-economic viability of irrigation, drinking water, electricity and flood control as per a report from South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).

Geographically, the contour of nearby town areas is such that the turn of the Khuga river around it was so steep. Therefore, the town and vicinity areas were prone to flood and inundation of lands during monsoon season. To help the locals from this natural catastrophe, Churachandpur town was earmarked for the construction of a multi-purpose dam downstream the Khuga River. The dam has a height of 38 metres from ground level and a width of 238 metres.

The multi-purpose driven hydroelectric project of Khuga Dam serves us a misnomer. As per data of SANDRP, 7.5 MW of hydropower will be generated; 15,000 hectares of land will be irrigated and up to 10 million gallons of drinking (MGD) water per day will be provided to communities in Churachandpur town and its vicinity of the dam like Bishnupur district.

Started in 1983, construction of the dam discontinued for almost two decades partly due to the ethnic violence. The construction resumed in 2002 by which time the construction cost was revised from time to time from original 15 crores of INR in 1980 to 433 crores of INR in 2012. On completion, it was inaugurated on 12 November, 2010 by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the then president of the Indian National Congress. Ever since, the dam has been lying untapped and defunct till date.

Collateral Damages

As much as the promises so are the plights meted out by the dam to both biotic and abiotic ecosystems. It, rather than functioning, apparently serves us more of unintended damages than that of intended benefits and promises. In other words, enough volumes of water are stored in the reservoir which are languishing in disuse.

The issue in question is that of lack of canal system, and as a result the catchment areas of the reservoir are found wanting during an excessive monsoon, that the water has done severe damages to the environment. This leads to submergence of vast tracts of lands such as agricultural lands, forests, wetlands and a number of villages. This has incurred great deal of cost on the surrounding environment.

The implementing body, the Irrigation and Flood Control Department (IFCD), Government of Manipur should own responsibility for these damages. The Department has been renamed as Water Resources Department. Without environment clearance over 40 hectares in the Dampi forests have been damaged by the overflowing water from the reservoir.

Over 22 villages have severely been affected. The traditional means of livelihood of the indigenous tribals in the construction belt have been put to topsy-turvy. The forests, agricultural lands, the Khuga river and wetlands in Khuga valley are sources of their living and other economic activities. It even caused displacement of villages such as Sehken village, T Kotlien village, Changlian village, Belbing village and Geltamjang village to name a few. The villagers are forced to shift their bases to nearby town and villages.

The chief of downstream village called M Semoul village has always been averse to the dam authorities for their substandard quality in canal construction. He questioned the purpose of the dam: What use is a dam when it cannot provide water to the people ?

According to a response to one Mr. Haokip's RTI Application in August 2016 by the IFCD, nearly 250 hectares of land including homestead land, agricultural land and forest land were acquired for Khuga Dam with due process of law under LAAR Act, 2013.

Over 30 human lives have been lost in the dam. The latest drowning case was reported in January this year and the dead body was identified as V. Suanbiaklal aged 28, from Pearsonmun village in Churachandpur district. Hence, the Khuga Hydroelectric dam looks like a death trap in Manipur.

These hardships inflicted upon the indigenous tribals of Churachandpur district is a gross violation of International human rights provisions envisaged in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007. Responsibility has to be borne by the State Government or the Centre.

Unintended Failures

All the three intended primary objectives of irrigation, electricity and drinking have met with failures. Agricultural farmers are faced with an irrigation ire. Unfortunately, the purposes and promises of the dam do more harm than good. The prominent irrigation issues due to lack of proper maintenance of the canal system. The sub-standard canals break when the water is released from the reservoir. Hardly any 25 kilometres downstream of the right side canal is functional while the remaining parts remain dry. Like drinking and electricity purposes, agricultural objectives have come to naught.

The Khuga Dam Right Side Canal Farmers Association (KDRSCFA) had to vent out their frustrations over insufficient supply of water to their farmlands. The Association was formed by farmers living in Misao Lhahvom village and its vicinity villages of Churachandpur district.

According to the Association, the right side canal should ideally serve over 900 hectares of land. But, hardly 300 hectares are served and had witnessed a breach in the canal repeatedly in the past. They had approached the concerned department, but to no avail citing lack of fund ! The farmers themselves collected a Rs. 1000 per household and some pledged to contribute the value of selling their food grains, with little assistance from the District Administration.

The right side canal famers protested in 2018 against the non-provision of water in their farmlands. They witnessed many breaches in the canal: the first one on 16th March, 2009 in a portion of the canal between Lingsiphai and Tangmual, leaving a side-opening of 40 ft., and another one on 18th June, 2016 at Moulbem village.

In July 2019 Chairman of KDRSCFA, Seikhopao Misao warned the State CM, IFCD Minister and the CE of the department of a hunger strike, "So, we have no other options left but to stage an indefinite hunger strike", adding that the need to call for such measures was due to the lackadaisical and apathetic attitudes of the Government. After having done in their own capacity they came to realise that the problem was beyond their capability, hence required Government intervention.

Worst is that barely 4 months after its inauguration, the left canal experienced a severe breach on 8th December, 2010 and again on 9th February, 2011 at Kawnpui area and in 2014. The eastern canal also was shattered during a trial run of about 3.1 km from the dam site on 9th July, 2008. The left canal is said to be totally non-functional.

Thus, the target of 15,000 hectares of land irrigation still remains a pipe dream. Electricity is one of the principal public utilities. The electricity woes of the people of the district remain unsolved until today even while a great deal of hope was pinned on Khuga Dam to address the issue. The installed quantum of water is sufficient enough to generate a target of 7.5 MW of hydroelectricity (SANDRP).

Hydroelectricity generation plant is installed by RN Sinha and Co. while the dam, canals and spillway were designed and constructed by NPCC. As of today, not a single unit of electricity has been generated. Neither any powerhouse for generating electricity exists, nor any machinery installed except for that of a tunnel at the mouth of which has been blocked.

Media reported that generators and the turbines to generate electricity were already auctioned and there is no investigation to ascertain these facts. IFCD had confirmed in 2016 that revenue generated from the dam since its commissioning is simply nil.

Churachandpur is infamous of its water scarcity during dry season. It has had a series of dire situations related to drinking water. To provide quality drinking water is one of sole purposes of the multi-purpose hydroelectric project of Khuga Dam. The project administration claims that it provides 1.2 million gallons per day (MGD) of water to the residents who have in turn contested strongly the claim of the Project.

A water treatment plant is constructed on a hill-top close to the dam. The plant draws water from the left canal and treat it for drinking purposes. The water treatment plant cannot function now at an optimum level, and quality water for drinking is yet to see the light of day. The machineries of the plant are lacking state-of-the-art technology.

While the project serves neither of other two purposes (agriculture and electricity) and nor does drinking purpose, therefore need is not felt for constructing the dam. Water could have been drawn from the undisturbed Khuga River directly through whatever means, be it traditional method that gives no threat to lives of any kind.

Taking advantage of the malfunction of water supply, private players are booming in investing on drinking water in the town and vicinity, the likes of which are ESTEE WATER, PUPU-TE WATER, etc. to name few. If the Government could play a role in providing drinking water at a subsidized rate, competition in pricing of water among private investors would have been high.

At least the left canal has to be refurbished, failing which pumping of water from it won't work out. Moreover, the water treatment plant will not function until and unless water is drawn into the plant. The low hanging fruit would be to make the left canal function effectively so that failure of water treatment plant can be overcome. The functioning canal would at best carry required quantity to each household of the target beneficiaries.

"Wind of Change"

Unanimity in political will from the concerned 3 MLAs-Shri Paolienlal Haokip of Saikot A/C, Shri LM Khaute of Chura-chandpur A/C and Shri Chinlunthang of Singnat A/C has come to the fore. Spearheaded by the Saikot MLA, the three legislators inspected the dam in presence of Water Resources Minister, Shri Awangbow Newmai on May 10. The multi-purpose Khuga Dam is affecting farmers in particular and the public in general of the three Constituencies.

Saikot MLA Pu Paolienlal Haokip took a noble initiative in inviting the Minister. The two concerned MLAs were also receptive of the initiative, that they all together had joined the inspection of the dam with the Water Resources Minister. This is the latest development taken so far for restoration of the dilapidated structure of the dam esp. like spillway and irrigation canals.

With the coming of the Minister also comes a "wind of change", the pet slogan of the sitting Saikot MLA. The slogan was conceptualised in the electioneering of the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly election held earlier this year. During his visit, the Minister was accompanied by department officials including Chief Engineer Robindro Sharma, Additional CE Remmei Alimmei, SE (KPC) Rohit Ahanthem, EE B Govind Sharma, EE Md Tafsir Alam and C Sangluaia. He inspected various sites of dam like spillway and irrigation canal.

They also assessed the irrigation canal at Bohlui area where the river bank had collapsed some years back and a makeshift pipeline was laid to pave way for supply of water for irrigation to nearby farmlands. Awangbow visited to inspect some portions of the dam which remained defunct and repair the same so that people of Churachandpur get water from the dam.

There are some technical problems which local engineers could not solve and experts from outside are required to plug it. To repair it, a DPR has been prepared and an expert firm from Mumbai has studied and given a preliminary report. A whooping Rs 115 crore have been borrowed from World Bank. It is believed that with this amount of money all the structural irregularities would be solved.

Apart from this, Pu Paolienal Haokip has chalked out an ambitious plan of a pipeline system rather than the canal system. Due to the contrasting nature of the contour of the area, a canal cannot be dug out in a desired way. This is capital-intensive. The meticulous design of Pu Haokip includes extension of a pipeline to carry sufficient water for agriculture till Saihenjang village of the constituency proper.

The land contour lies sloping from this village, from where a canal of desired ones can be easily dug out to carry water till Twikuol area. Mention may be made of paddy fields which lie uncultivated last year in the area due to scanty rainfall. The Constituency MLA is so much concerned of this unfortunate incident. These are the most touted changes that are likely "blowing like a breeze" from the waters of Khuga Dam in days ahead.

The stakeholder communities of the Khuga Multi-Purpose Hydroelectric Project are looking forward to positive developments happening sooner or later. The State Government has also shown its interest and concern for the long neglected irrigation facilities in Churachandpur district. Restoration of the dam will accrue significant revenues and agricultural produces to the State. It will lead to cultural developments as well.

The dam has a great potential as a tourist hub. Constructing a proper Approach Road may be done to attract more tourists. The Tourism Department could also work on Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode for tourism development.

Loktak Lake is not far from the dam. Therefore, Khuga Dam and Loktak Lake have a potential of drawing tourists. Lastly, but not the least, it is advisable to provide accommodation quarters to all employees of the dam from engineer to peons in the Churachandpur town only.

* Paojakhup Guite wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is pursuing an MA in Media Studies at the Central University of Hyderabad.
Currently, he is undergoing a media internship with Imphal Review of Arts and Politics.
He may be contacted at guitepaojakhup9(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 12 2022 .

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