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Review Of The MoU On Tipaimukh Dam

A protest against the Tipaimukh Dam in the Northeast state of Manipur. Image Credit: International Rivers.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) made on the April 23, 2010 amongst the government of Manipur (GoM), the Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) Limited and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) Limited, for the construction of Tipaimukh Dam, was signed by the three parties on 28th April 2010 in New Delhi. The MoU, as it appears in the document and in the absence of Detailed Plan of Action, does not convey its clear meaning and interpretation to the common readers.

At para-4 of the preamble of the MoU, a rosy picture was drawn by stating that ‘˜The project has been conceived as a multipurpose storage project with the main objectives of hydropower development and flood moderation at its downstream regime. Besides, the project will deliver a large number of socio-economic benefits to the people living in and around the project.’ How can one expect a project aiming to generate hydroelectric power to further generate wealth for the big corporate and agencies (including the financiers) deliver large number of socio-economic benefits to the people living in and around the project? Good road? Of course, delivery of good, black-topped road is the duty of the government to deliver it to its people and not for exchange with hydropower project. Is the project going to deliver local market for the local products or some free power to set up factories and industries? Talk is cheap and transit economy is of the past. Perhaps, the expectation is more than that ‘“ political, socio-economic safeguard, constitutionally delivered.

The trickiest method of land grabbing is purchase of land and project sites by powerful corporates, conglomerates, joint venture companies and agencies. They are thought to be instruments of building infrastructures, developing areas where government departments failed. With this notion, they are given free hand which result in exploitation of the common people, especially people below poverty line. In the case of the Tipaimukh Dam project, profits will be shared amongst conglomerate of three parties namely; NHPC, SJVN, GoM and their shareholders, financiers who will be receiving back their principle with interest and the Government’s coffer. There is nothing left or kept aside for the indigenous tribal people who will bear the brunt of the project’s destructive impacts. The hydropower project is not a developmental project; it’s an exploitation project aiming at the extermination of the indigenous tribal people and their heritage, culture and tradition, language, identity, land and resources, etc.

Based on the MoU data, estimated project cost is Rs. 8138.79 crores, including Net Project Value (NPV) to the tune of Rs. 1970.94 crores. Inclusion of NPV in the total project cost is flimsy that could be another policy of cheating prospecting shareholders. Excluding the NPV amount, the total estimated cost with the inclusion of security (internal and external), NH-53 diversion and flood moderation costs, is Rs. 7112.70 crores. Security cost alone is Rs. 356.18 crores. The Joint Venture Company (JVC) will have to make up the expense on security with the profits of sale of power in the years to come, which is not guaranteed. The question is who will become a stakeholder where there is no guarantee for security? It is not surprising when the MoU assures and reassures security which nobody can guarantee. The international financiers are more sensitive as they cannot afford to write-off. Money once pumped into the project will start counting interest day by day and stalling the project work mid-way will drive away shareholders. The JVC need to rethink before leaping blindly and should not simply venture on their romantic journey to power sale and profits and so on. Perhaps, they are aware of this better than anybody. Maybe they are still open to receive one crucial advice. What about working together with the people in the area, grant the Hmar people in the project area in Manipur ‘“ a special Sixth Schedule provision status as enshrined in the Constitution of India?

This may guarantee everything, including present security and future security. Rs. 356.18 crores earmarked for security will no longer be required. On the other hand, Rs. 356.18 crores will be sufficient to run a special Autonomous District Council for at least 5 years at the initial stage. This process will build mutual understanding and trust as survival and progress is the main objective for the indigenous tribal inhabitants of these hills. This may not be the end, or just the beginning. The corridor created with this can be utilized in the future Look East policy expansion. It is give and take. True, sustaining business is give and take.

The MoU sparingly highlights about financial charges of Rs. 757.26 crores. The financial heads of the institution(s) that are keen to kick start the project should think three times before fully committing to the loaning of seed money to JVC. The future of the people of the Hmar Hills is in the hands of these financiers. Financing construction of Dams for mere profits is inhuman. Impact-based study should be the guiding principle of financing dam construction. The money financed for construction of Tipaimukh Dam will be termed as Blood Money or Blood Loan just as we know Blood Diamond ‘“ diamonds for killing people or loan, capital and assets for killing indigenous peoples. The security promises of the MoU do not guarantee security for the capital engaged in the project. Financing institutions and prospecting shareholders are advised not to commit themselves in this thoughtless hydropower project.

The MoU does not indicate estimated amount of compensation, rehabilitation of the people and the land itself as it is also silent about the immense destruction it is going to cause. This attitude itself shows how lightly the authorities concerned view the plight of the indigenous tribal inhabitants.

Allocation of free power under Article-III (b) of the MoU is a mockery. How come, the government of Manipur as one of the signatories could agree to share of free power on the basis of area of submergence? Only a corrupt, failed and bonehead government could have committed this blunder. The two state governments of Manipur and Mizoram are willing to part forever with irretrievable flora and fauna, land and natural beauties for the sake of receiving insignificant free power. This is also a clear indication that the two States follows a communal policy where the objective is not to develop areas inhabited by the minorities, but to annihilate them in the name of developmental project.

Article-IV (a) speaks of ‘˜revenue receipts on account of sale of timber, royalty on river bed materials, etc. arising of the submergence of areas by the project shall accrue to government of Manipur’; (b) says about ‘˜rights of fisheries in respect of the ponds created by the project shall vest with local people while that of navigation, harnessing of tourism potential, etc. with the state government’¦’, and (c) ‘˜implementation by GoM of the other schemes to be executed upstream and downstream as also in the vicinity of the project,’ This article gives GoM (the majority community in Manipur ‘“ the Meiteis) the rights to operate freely in the hill areas. The wordings are vague and dubious, that can be interpreted in many ways. The Meiteis, majority plain people of Manipur, can make an inroad into the hills and set up their own settlements on the pretext of implementing the schemes. The Meiteis who have been ousted by the Loktak Project, deprived of land, and offshoot of population explosion in and around Imphal valley, are now eying for settlement in the hills. The wide river valley going to be exposed by the scanty flow of water along the downstream can become the resettlement areas of the Meiteis who are running the government of Manipur. Otherwise, if the GoM is so eager to develop the Hmar Hills, it should have started a long time ago.

Article-V (a) seems to incorporate the provision for recruitment of 50% Grade-C staff and 40% Grade-D staff from outside the state of Manipur. And without doubt, the remaining 50% Grade-C and 60% Grade-D will be for the Meiteis. The combined influx of outsiders and insiders (Meiteis), accompanied by their families, added by job and fortune seekers from the plain (Assam, Bihar, Bengal and Bangladesh) will start the assimilation process in the hills. To ensure their security and support the permanent stay of these outsiders, all the areas occupied by them will be declared as ‘˜Prohibited Area’ by invoking Article-VIII (b) of the MoU. Later they will be given ‘˜permanent colonies’ as per Article-VIII (c) of the MoU.

On what basis and by the application of which act, rule, and regulation the government of Manipur is transferring land for project site, permanent structures, and permanent colonies? Permission for mortgage is shocking! Is not the hill areas supposed to be protected from encroachment by outsiders?  As regards Resettlement & Rehabilitation under article-VII of the MoU, are the displaced people on the project site being removed to a far-off place? Is the JVC going to seek public opinion for resettlement areas? This is a tremendous exploitation!

The JVC’s promise for development of Barak Falls as high-class tourist resort will not compensate the annihilation of flora and fauna, the rare species of orchids, ferns, herbs of all kinds, wild animals, insects and their habitats, irretrievable lands and river courses, human habitats and heritage, land, culture, people and history of the Hmar Hills. A Government should first protect its people from internal and external forces, govern and uplift them.

*The opinion is written by Elf Hmar

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