TODAY -

Livelihood Disaster in Mapithel Region

Jajo Themson *

 Chadong Village now turn into lake after commissioning of Mapithel Dam :: 25 June 2015
Chadong Village turn into lake after commissioning of Mapithel Dam in June 2015 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam



While attempt is made with the Mapithel dam of Thoubal Multipurpose Project to harness the target benefit of power @ 7.5 MW, Drinking water supply to Imphal city @ 10-12 Million Gallon Daily (MGD), Irrigation of 33,449 ha of land to Thoubal district and Flood control, the affected villagers sacrificed around 2000 hectares of land and forest areas and further many un-surveyed areas have also been adversely affected. Moreover, approximately 15 km range of Yangwui Kong/Thoubal River is vanished without compensation claimed.

Submergence of capital asset such as wetland agricultural field, river areas, home-stead portions and low-lying forest directly led to end of agriculture practice, halted access to river and collapse of farm based economic activities. This in turn resonated counter-negative impacts on livelihood; villager's employment, income generation, economy, food sovereignty; day to day life sustenance and living standard of the affected communities in the post dam period.

Among all the loss and damages caused, loss of livelihood means of the affected indigenous communities happened to be the worst phenomenon where people are pushed towards the vicious circle of "Joblessness, Income less and pauperism" in-stead of better off life as envisaged before the dam. This is the reason why Mapithel dam project constitutes a disaster for the affected people as far as livelihood perspective is concerned.

Alternative to agriculture, important economic activity such as cattle rearing becomes non-feasible in the affected region as grazing fields are gone under dam water. As such, due to non availability of space, raising of cows, buffalo, coats, sheep etc. are practically not possible. Moreover, another main agro-based economic activity like piggery also not pragmatic due to insufficiency of feeds for the pigs since there is no agricultural production.

About 15% of the affected people attempt to build up their alternative livelihood by net fishing and cafe farming in the reservoir. However, un-stability featured in fishing as many a times there were no catching at all depending on the fluctuation of the water body. Still, the rest 85% of affected populations are jobless.

Further, in the post dam era, the affected villagers tried to earn little income by giving boat service to the tourists who visit in the reservoir. But unfortunately boat services were also declared unauthorized and were banned by the Chief Minister of the state Mr. N. Biren Singh in 2019. Even social crisis, pandemic and other factors severely affect tourism plans making the same not a beneficial activity.

Still some small numbers of affected women become vegetable vendor at the nearest market, Yaingangpokpi. There is no certainty as how effective and how long will they feed their families with their everyday's meager earning by vending leafy vegetables which are quite unreliable and unpredictable too.

Some of the villagers tried to plant paddy and other leafy vegetables in the low lying areas during the lean season and when dam water recedes but all are diluted every year.

Even though agreement was inked in the Memorandum of Agreed Terms and Conditions (MoATC) of 1993 between state Govt. and affected land owners to provide jobs, not a single Govt. post was provided to the affected villagers. Besides this, Dysentery mode of payment of land compensation to the land owners killed the plans of acquiring alternative land and means of survival.

Even the latest agreement of December, 2020, which agreed provision of soft loan to the affected people for building up alternative livelihood means too was not materialized till date.

The affected community people are forced to take a U-turn towards traditional method of jhum cultivation in search of alternative livelihood targeting the remaining forest areas in the eastern side of the reservoir. This too happened to be very unsuitable being farm work across the reservoir is a triple time burden for the villagers.

Like narrated above, land and resource donors for Mapithel dam are pushed into the corridor of vicious circle willingly or unwillingly. They are bound to start their survival from the square one. In the nutshell, affected villagers are in complete dilemma on how to restructure their livelihood sources which were damaged by the dam. They have nowhere to go except concentrating to the remaining forest areas which will be in return a big factor for environment deterioration in the region.

The Mapithel dam affected people have been expecting benefits and sustainable living from the project; a hope of inclusive development, development justice and positive change. They had eminent hopes from the project on two occasions.

First was a belief on the lofty promises of handsome land compensation and resettlement & Rehabilitation packages, maximum developmental programs and jobs reservation for the affected people. The second and the last hope was institution of Expert Review Committee (ERC) on 18th January, 2008.

During the exhaustive efforts of experts and Govt. departmental heads under the banner of ERC spanning from 2008 till 2011, realities of the coming negative impacts on the affected people due to the dam project were minutely spelled out.

On the table of the ERC Meeting, RK. Nayansana Devi, Director of Agriculture, Manipur placed its report specifically in the matter of future survival of the affected villagers. It recommended that "State Govt. should introduce suitable scheme/project. Dr. Ksh. Jhaljit Singh, HOD of Economics, Manipur University recommended that Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) program should not be just restoration of their pre-location standards of living as the latter will live life worse off than before.

S. Birendra Singh, Functional Manager (Cr) for Director, Commerce & Industries, Manipur advised the department to set up types of cottage / micro-industries at the village affected by the dam for getting self employment, earning income and assist resettlement of the villagers/farmers without investment. Th. Debendra Kumar Singh, Joint Director, Veterinary Department, Ukhrul recommended raising of poultry, Piggery and Goatery for rehabilitation and earning livelihood of the affected villages.

Dr. M. Rohinikumar Singh, Director of Research, Central Agriculture University (CAU), Imphal recommended different model of farming in order to build up livelihood with good income generation. From the Autonomous District Council, Ukhrul, Ningam Chamroy, CEO, ADC/Executive Director DRDA, Ukhrul, it was ruled out that majority of the affected villagers are marginal agriculturists and their livelihoods are entirely dependent on their lands to be submerged. As such proper planning and development of sustainable livelihood alternative apart from settlement areas and dwelling houses for the affected villagers are paramount in the R&R program.

S.B. Singh, Senior Scientist, for Joint Director, Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), Lamphelpat, Manipur Centre, in its physical verification stated that livelihood sources of the villagers would be isolated from the inhabited area by the water body. As such stress was made on development of alternative sustainable livelihood thus, suggested provision of budget for purchase of land for landless villagers.

K. Sani Mao, Surveyor of Works to Chief Engineer, Public Works Department (P.W.D), Manipur strongly recommended that the dam project is intended to improve the lives of the people as such, Job reservation for the affected people @ 5% in class I & II post and 10% in grade III & IV was inevitable.

K. Ngachan, Director, Horticulture & Soil Conservation, Manipur stated that being wetland cultivation would be non feasible in the post dam period, different horticulture programs are listed out for the affected area villages.

K. Saratkumar Singh, Director of Fisheries Department, Manipur spelled out that depending upon the topographical feature and location of the areas of reservoir, there are different schemes suited in different areas such as Pen culture, Cage Culture and Fishing with Boat and Nets with the main objectives of generating more employment to uplift the socio-economic condition of the affected families of the project area.

However, to the gross astonishment and dismay of the affected people, all those recommendations of the field experts and HODs were willfully sidelined and kept at cold storage. The same were completely abandoned without any reflection in the R&R program. Presumption of the field experts during the ERC process are all unveiled in the affected upstream region ever since 10 January 2015 when the Yangwui Kong/Thoubal River was blocked for commissioning.

The Mapithel dam project literally incited more number of landless people, livelihood disrupted, increased joblessness, generated number of income-less people, degraded economy, enhanced number of pauperism, land donors lost food sovereignty and living standard have been brought down to genesis.

It is believed that such disasters would not have been happened if the recommendations of the field experts are dully incorporated in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement programs of the project affected people. Development Induced Livelihood Disaster (DILD) characterized the lives of the Mapithel affected villages in the post dam era.

Conclusion

Globally, it is rampant unjust kind of development programs where projects are targeted to land and resources of indigenous communities without benefits meant for them victimizing them through generations. The devastation caused in the livelihood of the affected people of Mapithel dam project cannot be mended by themselves without special attention from state Govt.

Consequences of unfair and in-adequate compensations, lack of serious impacts assessment and corresponding preventive measures, non-implementation of the National RR policy and ignore of the experts recommendations virtually resulted to a great man-made calamity in Mapithel dam affected region today that undermined the sustainable, descent and dignified lives and living standard of the affected communities.

Mapithel dam becomes one vivid chapter in the history of unscrupulous and unaccountable kind of development intervention. This project indeed bears a clear testimony of undue victimization to the affected communities rather than improving their living standard. Such kind of development undertakings would be a big stumbling block in the future plans of mega developmental projects in the state.

It is mandatory the project developers take a serious perspective view of mega project other than just target of project installation. Seeing the example of Mapithel dam, indigenous people would be compelled to oppose any big project like dams in the future.


* Jajo Themson wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at thmsontezonge(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 28 2024.



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