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Failed Dams In Manipur? Any Lessons Learnt

Singda Dam

Singda Dam: The Place where the highest mud dam in India is built. (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Two parallel absurd realities fast unfold in Manipur. The efficacy of several commissioned mega dams Khuga dam, the Khoupum dam and the Singda dam and even the 105 MW Loktak project is increasing exposed, as evident by wide reporting on their non functioning of their vital components, of regular breach of canals and dams lying idle and defunct since decommissioning. Small scale farmers, fishing communities in and around Loktak wetlands will willfully testify the unfulfilled promises and the underperformance of the 105 MW Loktak HEP project in Manipur.

In another reality, notwithstanding the exposition of efficacy and tacit underperformance of commissioned mega dams, there’s concerted and aggressive move of the Government of Manipur to construct series of mega dams all across the Rivers of Manipur under the Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy, 2012, even initiating series of global tenders inviting multinational corporations and full preparations of Memorandum of Understandings with these giant profit mongering corporations.

The recent announcement to initiate investigations into corruption and misappropriation of allocations for Khuga dam construction comes amidst recent reports of breach of Khuga dam canals, inundating agriculture land which it intends to irrigate. The JAC on the Khuga Dam Project recently apprised the Prime Minister of India on the irregularities and misappropriation of funds to the tune of Indian Rupees (INR) 1.5 billion involved in Khuga dam construction and appealed for his direct intervention to investigate such misappropriations. The Khuga dam project, earlier approved by the Planning Commission at the estimated cost of INR 15 Crores in 1980 with work started in 1983 suffers inordinate delay and the project cost escalated to INR 434.65 Crores by October 3, 2011.

The Khuga dam, which intends to generate 1.5 MW and provide irrigation to 15,000 hectares of agricultural land in Churachandpur District, has long failed to generate single unit of power. As a result no irrigation and water supply has been provided to denizens of Churachandpur Town. No one has ever heard of the power generation since the project commissioning in 2010. Rather, impacts of the Khuga dam are increasingly evident, with drying up and increased pollution of Khuga River, desertification of Churachandpur Town is becoming an obvious reality. If such assertions are proven true, it will reveal a very dangerous and alarming aspect of mega dams’ construction in Manipur. This will also subject these mega dams to questions its rationality and viability of its intent and purpose. Absence of conducting detailed impact assessment, both upstream and downstream, improper surveys on feasibility of catchment areas for planned power generating capacity and land related conflicts due to inadequate consultation with communities marked the Khuga dam construction.

Another contentious mega dam in Manipur, quite similar to the underperformance of Khuga dam is the Singda dam in adjoining area of Imphal West and Senapati District of Manipur. Its 750 KW power generating unit lies rusted in the immediate vicinity of the Singda Dam, failing to generate a single unit of power since its commissioning. The Singda Dam, commissioned in 1995 and located about 20 km northwest of Imphal, is a multipurpose Project intended to provide drinking water, irrigation and also for the generation of 750 Kilowatt of electricity. In 1975, the Government of Manipur already acquired 517 acres from Ireng and Kadangband village for the project, which includes prime agriculture land for the construction of canal and water supply.

The Singda dam is also widely criticized for its failure of irrigation project. Besides plans to irrigation of the agricultural fields in Kadangband, Chirang, Phumlou, Sanjenbam, Lairensajik, Phayang, Lamsang in Imphal West District, the project also aimed to supply water to greater Imphal. However, the water supply aspect records underperforming trend. The proposed eviction plan to develop Singda dam by the Government of Manipur in 2012 is opposed by communities settled in the periphery of the dam, especially in Ireng and Kadangband Villages. The proposed eviction will now affect nearly 220 members of the communities residing in and around Singda New Bazaar, viz. the Kharam, the Vaiphei, Rongmei (Ireng Nagas) and the Meiteis. A participatory review to rectify the underperformance of the Singda dam and to end causing further inconvenience to residents around Singda dam is still lacking despite wide reporting on flaws and underperformance of the dam.

The Khoupum dam in Tamenglong District is also laden with unique features of lying defunct since commissioning of the project. The Khoupum dam project was inaugurated by the then Chief Minister, Yangmasho Shaiza on July 26, 1978 and the Khoupum dam canal project was commissioned by the then Chief Minister, Rishang Keishing in the year 1982-83. The Khoupum Area Farmer’s Welfare Association fervently draws the attention of the Government of Manipur in July 2014 towards the plight and sufferings of the farmers of the Khoupum area due to failure and non-functioning nature of Khoupum dam project. The Khoupum dam was constructed with a view to provide irrigational facilities to the farmers covering an area of 750 hectare of arable land encompassing more than 30 villages of the Khoupum area. Ever since the commissioning of the dam, the dam remains defunct. The farmers of the Khoupum area for whose benefit the dam was constructed now become the worst sufferers due to the failure of the dam. When the dam was commissioned, the farmers of the area were elated with the hope that they would be able to take up double cropping farming with the irrigational facilities from the Khoupum dam canal project. But all hopes of indigenous farmers have been shattered by the failure of the Khoupum dam canal project.

The Loktak Project intends to provide lift irrigation to more than 80,000 acres of agriculture land but rather led to undermining food security of Manipur by submerging and destroying vast tract of agriculture land. The Mapithel dam construction will also destroy the livelihood of several indigenous communities by submerging their agriculture land, forest land, fishing areas and also areas which they used for sand and stone collection. Such projects also destroyed the rich flora and fauna and biodiversity. Manipur today lost several endemic fish varieties and also its edible plants and medicinal species. The construction of such mega dams also involved widespread human rights violations of indigenous communities affected. The Khuga dam construction also involves arbitrary killing of three people and injuring of 25 people by the Indian Reserve Battalion and Border Security Forces in December 2005 for demanding just rehabilitation and resettlement.

A serious question which emanates from an introspection of underperforming dams in Manipur is why Manipur should waste public money in the first place for much mammoth structures that failed to serve its purposes, but rather devastate peoples land, lives and future and that inflicted unnecessary conflict and uncertainties among indigenous communities. Why should people be compelled to sacrifice their land for a development that will entail loss and devastation for them?

Amidst all such stories and realities of failures and underperforming of mega dams, as exposed and highlighted by the media, what should be the lessons learnt? Is the Government taking seriously of such realities and the message within? Why is there no investigation of such reportages to prove the veracity of such reportages and to effect necessary rectification measures? Are there no lessons learnt from such dam failures? One wonders why the Government of Manipur insists only on building more dams despite failures and non performance of its previous mega dams. Any responsible and people oriented State, which believes in democratic process will be sensitive to peoples’ complaints of fraught and violations by communities harmed by such destructive development onslaught.

One needs to ponder who benefits out of mega dams, the contractors, the politicians, dam builders, equipment suppliers or is it the people. Why should indigenous peoples of Manipur sacrifice their land, forest and other survival sources for such large scale projects, which only benefit the contractors, the politicians, the engineers and the suppliers? Such contradictory and destructive development only constitutes a fraught development process. The Manipur Hydroelectric Policy, 2012 is only aimed to further serve the corporate interest to maximize profits from the exploitation and destruction of peoples land and resources.

The Government of Manipur should conduct a detailed investigation on the failure and under performance of several mega dams of Manipur, primarily with respect to Khuga dam, the Khoupum Dam and the Singda dam. Such investigation should also cover the social, cultural, health and environmental impacts. A special assessment of the arbitration of human rights based approach to development and other advances on development standards should also be considered. The holistic assessment of the performance and underperformance of mega dams with due participation of all affected communities and the larger people of Manipur through an open and transparent process should precede before pursuing any further mega dams in Manipur. There should be a review of the 105 Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project and its multifaceted impacts.

The review should also assess the applicability and adherence to the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, 2000 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007. The implementation of the Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy, 2012 will simply be irrational and impractical without conducting a review of failed and underperforming dams in Manipur. Any development process or plans to build colossal dams in Manipur without conducting a detailed review of the failed dams will simply be suicidal for indigenous communities.

The Government’s exclusionary move and decision to promote mega dams all over Manipur without consulting the indigenous communities is a violation of indigenous peoples’ rights as outlined by UN Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples. The community has not been provided the necessary information on the proposed plans. This exposed the lack of transparency and accountability of the government in its plan for dam building spree in Manipur. Furthermore, the government seems to be ignorant that the land acquisition will further impoverish and marginalized the poor and more importantly violate of the rights of indigenous people.

One wonders in Manipur why development stakeholders failed to analyze the performance and impact of large hydro projects before promoting more of them? Lack of proper repair and maintenance, lack of attempts at power optimization, lack or insincere attempts at catchment area treatment to reduce siltation, flawed appraisals and surveys before dam construction, exclusive decision-making and governance mechanisms due to which non feasible dam projects are initiated are some of the key reasons that led to dam underperformance in Manipur. Lessons learnt through analysis make for better decisions for the future. Involvement of communities’ right from inception to implementation to monitoring can contribute in minimizing social and ecological impacts.

So long as the rationale of the new proposed mega dams is not to ensure sustainable and equitable development with due participation of affected communities in decision making and seeking alternatives and further due recognition of their rights over their land, and to address the social and environment impacts created by such mega dam, one will only construe that the proposed mega dams plan in Manipur under the Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy 2012 will be just another sham exercises to rigidify the malpractices, nepotism and manipulations and to further entrench the practice of rampant corruption in Manipur in the guise of development and to cause further inconvenience to the people of Manipur.

*The article is written by Jiten Yumnam.

*The writer can be reached at mangangmacha@gmail.com

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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