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Open Debate On Tipaimukh Dam

In a democratic state like ours, everyone has the liberty of expressing his or her views on any issue concerning the State and its people. However, no one has the liberty to mislead and confuse the public by spreading wrong information, feeding unverified facts and figures. We appreciate the concern shown by members of the Citizens Concerned for Dams & Development, Action Against Tipaimukh Dam and Zeliangrong Naga Union, Hmar Students Union and few other Anti-Dam lobbyists. Everyone in Manipur is a stake-holder in any developmental project to be taken up by the Government and everyone is equally concerned to the merits and demerits of such projects. It is imperative to know the accurate information before jumping into any bandwagon of anti-dam or pro-dam lobbies.

The so called ‘Open Debate’ sponsored by the anti-dam lobbyists few weeks ago was nothing but anti-dam outbursts with concocted facts, absurd hypothetical theories to mislead and misinform the common people who has no access to the technical details and expert opinions. There was nothing open about the debate and not a single speaker has pointed out about the positive aspects of the proposed project which has the annual generating capacity of 3895.14 GWH of power, which is worth more than Rs.1168.5 crores per year at Rs. 3/- per unit and provide job opportunities to our people, facilitate inland water transportation in 375 Km long waterways in our underdeveloped and least accessible region, and has the potential of developing reservoir fishery etc. We are bound to respect the scholars and experts as long as they give their views accurately on their subject without any adulteration or bias. When scholars start claiming their authority in every subject with partisan statements, it is the time to remind them what they know in their own subjects may even be inadequate.

Hydropower projects are multi-dimensional projects involving varied fields like hydrology, civil and electrical engineering, geology, seismology, environment and ecology etc. Without in-depth studies in these fields, no mega project like Tipaimukh multipurpose project could proceed. At least 47 such expert teams have studied the upstream and the downstream of the proposed Dam Site in the last 30 years for the preparation of the Detailed Project Report.

The team from the Central Water Commission spent more than 10 years measuring the flow of the Barak River at different points to study the hydrology of the River. So many other teams did their investigations. I met some of these teams and members myself during reconnaissance of the region in 1983 and three month long the Barak Expedition in 1985. If our own Manipuri experts consider the views expressed by these expert teams totally wrong, and they have their own investigations carried out, anyone would be ready to welcome their correct investigation reports. Perhaps all investigations may not be 100% correct. But you cannot completely reject all. Merely lecturing innocent people the hypothetical conclusions arrived at by reading World Commission on Dams and views of those with preconceived ideas to oppose anything that the Government of India or Government of Manipur decide for the welfare and larger interests of the country will certainly have much larger negative impacts on our people, worse than the ecological and social impacts of this project.

Our people need to know the unadulterated facts and should not be emotionally provoked by the irrational views and theories propounded by some self-acclaimed experts. I am not an expert and have no pretensions to claim as such. As a rational being, I may at least be considered to posses the ability to disseminate information collected from various experts and identify the fake experts from the real experts and give my views. I can tell at least, what is black, what is grey and what is white after having seen with my own eyes. No expert can force people to believe what is black as white because he wants others to believe that way.

Let us examine some of the irrational outbursts of our learned experts who have so many imaginary fears projected to the common people. Let us take one by one some of the gross misinformation campaigns undertaken by the anti-dam experts. We will not indulge in responding to some of ridiculous outbursts, which do not deserve for discussion in public.

Antecedents & present status of the project

It is ridiculous to reject a developmental project on the ground that Tipaimukh Dam Project was muted more than 90 years ago but has not been implemented so far. Moreover, Tipaimukh Dam was never conceived 90 years ago. The fact is that Central Water and Power Commission conceived the idea of harnessing the Barak to moderate flood ravages in Surma Valley by investigating three possible sites at Naraindhar, Mainadhar and Bhubandhar between 1954 to 1965. However, these sites were rejected by the Government of India mainly due to large-scale submergence of cultivable land in Cachar District for which the project was conceived & dams at these sites do not contribute much in flood moderation. The actual investigation works of the Tipaimukh project started by CWC in 1977, which was later, handed over to Brahmaputra Board. It was only in 1988 that Brahmaputra Board submitted its report to take up the project in two phases of flood moderation and later for power generation. The project was revised in 1994 but Manipur Government opposed the Dam and the Project was kept in abeyance. It was only in 1998 that Manipur Government expressed its willingness for execution of the project as a hydroelectric project.

Some people are trying to paint the history of this Project as an intrigue of the Central Government towards the people of Manipur by telling people that, the issue is 90 years old and rejected many times earlier and should be rejected now. The logic that a concept once rejected due to lack of understanding should be rejected forever is not understandable.

Another absurd and irrational presumption is the conspiracy theory about the renaming of flood control to power project and handing over from Brahmaputra Board to NEEPCO. Anti Dam people are saying that the Central Government manipulated the flood moderation dam by renaming it as Power Project and handing over to NEEPCO. Everyone knows that Brahmaputra Board is basically responsible for Flood Control and not for Power Generation. It is natural for NEEPCO or NHPC to take over the project, as the priority is now power generation and flood control being the secondary benefit.

Power Generation

Repeatedly, the anti dam lobbyists are telling lies about the Power Generation of 1500 MW and Firm Power of 404.44 MW. They are telling people that this project will generate only about 405 MW and Manipur will get only 43 MW of free power. Yes, during lean season the minimum power expected (Firm Power) is only 404.44 MW as per the Earlier DPR. However, when the reservoir is full, the project is designed to generate 1500 MW. During monsoon period from June to October, there is no reason why it should not generate 1500 MW. The question of under-performance as well as over-performance of hydroelectric projects cannot be ruled out as the natural forces are totally unpredictable and it is the application of thumb rule to arrive at such conclusions. I also agree with the anti-dam experts on one point that the Annual Power Generation is too low considering the large catchments area, large storage area (reservoir 311 sq kms in Manipur & Mizoram) and heavy rainfall in the catchments area.

The power load factor is only 29% in the pre-sent design. The project seems to be designed with more emphasis on flood moderation with subsidiary benefit for power generation. If required Government of Manipur should intervene and ask CEA or NEEPCO to redesign the Dam to harness 100% of the annual run-off without affecting flood moderation design. Why should NEEPCO have 136 meters height as head for the two intake power tunnels? Is it not possible to increase the head (height of the mouth of intake power tunnel to the turbine) to the optimum? Is the project compromising power generation for flood control? Is not it possible to have two or three sets of power tunnels at different heights to optimize power generation? Any gain in extra power generation will benefit everyone and those who are opposing the project may even agree to the dam if the power generation is increased.

Leaving aside Installed Power Generation (1500 MW) and Firm Power (404 MW), which are the two extremes of power generation of the Hydro-electric Power projects, we are more interested in Annual Power Generation of the Project, which is worked out to around 3895 GWH. The present design of the project with around 29% load factor is the reason for economic non-viability of the project and Manipur should object to it. Even thermal power projects are not below 58% load factor and most of the hydroelectric projects are designed around 60% load factor. With such a low load factor, Manipur and Mizoram get less than they deserve. There is a requirement to examine the power generation design of the project. It should be designed with the primary objective of optimum power generation with the subsidiary benefit in flood moderation. Manipur and Mizoram should not submerge their large territory if not complementary benefits are given to them with the optimum power generation.

Submersion

Wild charges are made about the submersion area in Manipur. In the recent so called ‘˜OPEN DEBATE’ which was more or less wild allegations by the anti dam protesters to sabotage the project, certain speakers have claimed that one third of Manipur is being submerged. At 180 meters Max Flood Level, area to be submerged in Manipur is 293.56 sq km. Since the maximum reservoir level to be maintained at 175 meters to ensure adequate power generation as well as flood moderation at downstream, the submersion area is around 273 sq kms in Manipur. Out of total area of 22,327 sq km of Manipur, it will be 1.31 % of the total area of the state and cannot be one third of Manipur. During lean season, the Reservoir level will be reduced to around 136 meters and the submerged area will be much lesser and may be around 170 sq Km only which is less than 1% of the total area of the state. Thus, 170 sq Km will be permanently submerged and the area above that will be submerged from time to time depending on the rainfall as well as the manner of the operation of the dam. Some experts’ contention that 15 meters above the submerged area will also become un-usable because of capillary action of standing water is without any foundation. If that is the case, almost the entire Manipur Valley will become un-usable because of the Loktak Project. The most of areas of Manipur Valley districts of Manipur are below 15 meters above the level of Loktak Lake. We find maximum paddy fields in Manipur within five meters above the level of the lake. No such case has been reported in any of the 4000 large reservoirs constructed in the country. If any such data is available with any scholars, we must forward the same to the Central Water Commission for claiming additional compensation to our state. Some speakers are claiming that more than 7800 sq Kms will be rendered unusable by the Project.

Another question of submersion of Zielad Lakes in Tousem sub division is unimaginable. Zielad Lakes are located above 230 meters above sea level. Even the famous Barak Falls will be visible as it is during lean season as the first waterfall is above 160 meters. Even today, the waterfall and other prominent rock relic are submerged during monsoon period and visible only during lean season. The exposed Rongmei rock relic near Tajijang and Vamgaijang are also seen only during lean season and it will remain visible during lean season even after the construction of the dam. NEEPCO has promised to develop a Tourism Centre for the Barak Falls, Zeilad Lakes and Rongmei historical relic rocks at the project costs. We should request NEEPCO to provide the best facilities in this Tourism centre so that this beautiful waterfall and lakes could attract world-class tourists.

Wild charges are also made about the submersion of orange orchards of Tamenglong District. Oranges are grown mainly in and around Tamei, Tousang and Thangal villages, which are far away and much higher places from the proposed reservoir area. I have traveled the entire length of the Barak from Liyai Khunou to Jirimukh and have not seen any orange orchard below 300 meters above sea level. There is no question of Tamenglong Orange Festival affected by the dam. If anybody has seen any orange orchard in the proposed reservoir area, we should compel the project authority to create orange orchards ten times the size of the orchard as compensation.

Decision making process

In the decision making process for the development of any region, we need to focus our considerations at the global, national, regional and local aspects. Merely because some people do not want the dam to be constructed should not decide our future plans. We have the Planning Commission, Central Water Commission, Central Electricity Authority, Central and State Pollution Control Boards, Ministry of Environment and Ecology and finally the elected central and state government to plan and mobilize our natural and human resources and decide implementation of development projects for the welfare and larger interests of the country.

It is impossible to include each and everyone in the decision making process which will only complicate the related issues and result in interminable, unproductive debates. There is public hearing with the directly affected people before the project is implemented, and affected people will be heard. Everyone is not an expert in every field, and views of the best experts on the concerned subject should be considered. If we have any credited experts among the opponents of this project, every rational citizen should be ready to accept his or her views. But, it should not be merely obstructionist theories propagated by developed countries that have maximum number of large dams, and telling others not to construct dams.

Once, we have given the mandate to the elected representatives, it is their responsibility to decide keeping in view the valid findings of the experts and for the greater public interests. I really doubt that each and everyone whose buildings were demolished for the widening of NH-39 from Moirangkhom to Singjamei were happy and willingly agreed to the Government proposal for the greater interests of the people.

I don’t think the Government of Manipur requires the permission of the affected people, or consultation with the relatives or supporters of the building owners. Yes, the Government has to compensate their losses. My sympathy is with them and I appreciate their sacrifice for sake of the State. We must have sympathy for those who are to be directly affected with this Project should demand their adequate compensation and proper rehabilitation. But, if you insist to obtain permission to implement the project from the very people who are to be uprooted by the project and also insist to consult those people who are ever ready to incite such unfortunate project affected people, no developmental project could be implemented trouble free. If everyone is to be involved in the decision making process, even the best developmental projects may not take-off at all. We should understand that in spite of objections, obstructions, interferences by the selfish developed countries and over-enthusiastic NGOs over 160 large dams are commissioned every year in the world and there are more than 45,000 large dams in the world.

All those suggestions given by the World Commission of Dams, the so called right and risks approach, stakeholders participation in decision making are all un-practicable suggestions so that debates on dams become interminable and the cost of decision making becomes costlier to offset the economic viability of any project. USA, with a population of 29 crores, have constructed more than 6375 large dams, have already stockpiled nuclear arsenals and are preaching developing countries the sermons not to develop because dams are harmful to ecology and nuclear programs are threat to world peace.

No intellectual with self-respect should blindly follow such selfish sermons. We cannot say that all large dams are bad because some large dams are ill planned and badly operated elsewhere in the world. Aswan High Dam has changed Egypt from a backward desert country to a developed modern state, Bhakra-Nangal Dams have changed the rural Punjab and Haryana to a highly prosperous States feeding almost half the country through irrigation by this dam and have become highly industrialized States with the electricity provided by this dam. The water of this dam has turned Ganganagar and Bikanir, the two desert districts of Rajasthan green through Indira Gandhi Lift Canal. This dam is nearly half a century old. We should know that, almost all the Asian countries including India and China and developing countries in other continents have rejected the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams. Of course, Japan, a small country having 13 crore population but having more than 2475 large dams, having no other technically feasible water resources project available has gladly endorsed the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams.

If any suggestion for better alternative to Dams to alleviate the poverty of our state, open avenues for employment generation to our ever increasing educated unemployed youths, anyone would be willing to accept such alternative projects. If you have no viable alternative for development, why not accept what is available option. Today, the expectations of the people from the elected governments are very high. Internal threat from our own impoverished deprived and discontent citizens is looming larger than external threat from foreign aggressions. Poverty is the worst enemy for environment and ecology. Because our tribal brothers inhabiting the Barak Basin are extremely poor and they have no other alternative but to resort to Jhooming for survival, unwittingly had to destroy once impenetrable forest into degraded wastelands. Dam or no dam our forests have no future. People will laugh at us if we show the world the conditions of our reserve forests.

You don’t have to go far to see the conditions of our reserve forests. Langol Hills, Nongmaijing Hills are next to Imphal, as the best examples of reserved forests on paper. When our Forest Department cannot protect Langol Hills and Nongmaijing Hills Reserved Forests next to the capital city, you cannot expect to protect Irangmukh and Tolbung Reserve Forests in the remote Barak Basin. Our state is officially losing more than 158 sq Kms of forests every year.

The alternative is to give our brothers in the hills better tools for survival rather than depending entirely on the forests for food and domestic energy requirements. Horticulture, terrace cultivations, cash crop plantations should replace jhooming. But it is only possible when the interior region becomes accessible.

Fortunately, the proposed project will provide 370 kms long waterways connecting five most inaccessible subdivisions of Manipur, namely Tausem, Tamenglong, Nungba, Parbung and Tipaimukh. It will even connect Mizoram. I don’t think anyone can impose complete blockade or bandhs in this waterway.

Seismic considerations

I appreciate the seismic worries of our Manipuri scholars. But I fail to understand why are they silent on the same subject for Turial Project which is under construction in Mizoram only 15 Kms away from Tipaimukh Dam site and what about Loktak Downstream and Tuivai Projects which are also within 50 kms of Tipaimukh Dam axis and waiting their turns. Doyang Project in Nagaland is already commissioned and another Dikhow Project is on the way. There are seven large dams coming up in Arunachal and Ranganadi project already commissioned and Kameng Project under construction. Bangladesh has Kaptai Dam Commissioned in the Chittagong Hills. Sikkim has Teesta Project nearly completed. All these dams are near the edge of tectonic plates as in the case of Tipaimukh Dam. Are all these Dams exempted by almighty nature and only Tipaimukh is the chosen candidate for the tectonic disaster? Have they studied the seismological impacts of 2675 large dams in Japan, the country having a long history of seismic and volcanic disasters? The hypothetical theories of dam-induced earthquakes have not so far been proved scientifically.

Nowadays, we hear less number of earthquakes in Japan probably more than 2,675 large dams have stabilize the tectonic plates in the Pacific Ring of Fire in Japan. You don’t have to stop construction of buildings because earthquakes kill many people. You have to construct buildings, which could withstand the probable intensity of the quake. Seismic parameters should be implemented in the design of the Dam, that is what common people like me can suggests. Seismic worries nearly stopped the Bhakra Nangal Dam, which also is in an area of earthquake zone ‘˜V’, where two tectonic plates meet. But we must have faith in our engineers who have constructed more than 4000 large dams in India and nothing serious has happened so far.

Are all Manipuris are anti-Dam?

The recent Open Debate of the anti-Dam People wanted to paint a wrong picture that all Manipuris are anti-dam. They must understand that there have been so many Memoranda submitted by different groups of people for the speedy implementation of this project. The Senior Citizens for Society, Manipur, Kuki Inpi, KSA and Tipaimukh Dam Demand Committee are some of the few examples.

All these eight villages (five villages already deserted out of 13 villages to be submerged earlier) to be submerged now are also resettled by shifting from other places. It is very common thing among our tribal brothers to abandon villages when it becomes unsustainable, as the surrounding forests could no longer support them. We have first to rehabilitate them from their ignoble existence in small nondescript hamlets, with limited resources, without any basic amenities of life in the form of clean potable water, electricity, roads, health-care, and education. We cannot bring social harmony among ourselves as long as there is economic disparity, equity in the distribution of available resources. Our political leaders, bureaucrats and intellectuals should consult with the tribal chieftains and plan for proper rehabilitation and resettlement. If wisely used, funds earmarked for rehabilitation and resettlement package of this project may be a great help in changing the destiny of the project-affected people.

Economic viability of the Project.

Some critics are advocating that the project should be abandoned because it is no longer economically viable. Yes, the project is no longer economically viable if you consider only the power generation revenue. But consider the inherent and indirect benefits in flood control, inland water transportation, reservoir fishery, employment generation, infrastructural developments like roads, schools, community centers, churches, water supply schemes, electrification of the resettled villages, tourism centre near Barak Falls, exclusive 400 KV transmission line from Tipaimukh to Imphal to be constructed out of the project costs.

The project cannot be considered as economically unviable in larger perspective. As the cost of equipment and construction material has gone up worldwide, the cost of the project is now almost 8000 crores. Power Generation revenue out of 3895 GWH generated annually at Rs. 2/- per KWH will be only Rs.699/- crores. Unless the power tariff is revised above Rs.2/- per KWH, NEEPCO may not be in a position to meet the debt services and recover the cost of the project even in 30 years. However, Cabinet Committee on Investment has recommended sanctioning the project even at a loss for the development of the region. If the project were to be planned only for flood control, it would have no direct revenue at all.

Being a multi-purpose project, it will earn revenue and we must insist to redesign the power generation component of the project to increase the revenue. To offset the losses, in the present design, other Ministries like Water resources, Power, Surface Transport, HRD, Agriculture etc have to contribute to the project for the flood moderation, rural electrification, road construction, fishery development and inland water transportation facilitated by the project. Even, Assam Government should contribute some share as the state will benefit maximum as far as flood moderation is concerned without submerging an inch of her area and shall be reclaiming vast areas of waterlogged lowlands for fishery and agriculture.

You cannot close down universities or hospitals because they are not economically viable. You cannot stop building roads and bridges because they give no revenue. It is public utility services essential for development. Economic viability is for the Central Government to decide and to manage. We must insist to construct the dam even if it is loss-making project. Whether the project is viable or unviable economically, Manipur should get free power, employment in the project, its affected people adequately compensated, resettled and rehabilitated, create new forests four times the size of its submerged forests over and above compensation of the trees to be cut for the reservoir.

We also must compel the project authorities or the Government of India to implement Reservoir Fishery Project to offset the lost of forest resources and to provide alternative livelihood to the affected villagers. The project should be economically viable for Manipur if not for NEEPCO or Central Government. Moreover, we must request NEEPCO to redesign the Dam to ensure that per unit cost of power is less than Rs.2/- and Manipur get at least 500 crores per year as royalty. With such a large storage area, FRL being 180 Metres and large catchments area, heavy rainfall, there must be something wrong in the design to generate more power and increase the annual power generation. Even if it is for flood moderation, we don’t want such inefficient dams and I am ready to join the anti dam people on this issue. 100% of the annual run-off must be harnessed optimum power extracted and there will be no question of economic non-viability of the project.

Further debates

Many projects in our country are victims of unnecessary controversies. The two recently constructed dams of the Narmada and the Tehri had bitter battles between the anti-dam NGOs and Governments resulting in World Bank pulling out from these projects, unending court cases and delays with inherent huge cost overruns. The Narmada Project was to cost 12,000 crores initially and after having spent 29,000 crores it is yet to be fully implemented. This is all unnecessary waste of public money and time which our poor country could ill afford when millions of our population are below poverty line. Except for nuisance value, waste of money and time, anti dam movements ultimately failed everywhere. Medha Patkar backed by Arundhati Roy for the Narmada Dam; Sunderlal Bahuguna for the Tehri Dam tried their best but failed. What they could manage was the nuisance of wasting nearly Rs 20,000 crores of public money and forcing the World Bank to withdraw financing all hydroelectric projects in the country. We can enjoy the luxuries of open debates, participation of all stakeholders in decision making, when we have constructed as many dams as in the USA and other developed western countries and having reached their level of development.

Today, the USA has more than 6700 large dams, have built dams in all technically suitable sites and having no more technically conceivable sites is telling the world that dams are bad and not to construct dams. Naturally no one is listening and all are constructing dams. Brazil has constructed Itaipu Dam (12,000 MW), has harnessed some tributaries of the Amazon and even planning to harness the Amazon. China after having constructed 22,000 large dams is now constructing the Three Gorges Dam to generate 20,000 MW, displacing more than 20 lakh people. As compared to these Mega dams, Tipaimukh dam is a small fry. It is not the Government of the USA or any other countries or global NGOs to tell us what to do for the welfare of our people and we have our own constitutional provisions for decision-making. If someone is not convinced, he or she may appeal to the Supreme Court and have his or her grievances redressed. But, please don’t resort to economic blockades and bandhs, which amount to kicking at the stomach of the poor people.

It is high time to seek the truth with open, transparent and constructive debates rather than trying to sabotage a developmental project by provoking the emotions of innocent people with half truths and ignoring national priorities, plans and policies for the bests interests of the people. Today we need additional 32,000 MW of power to reach 10% growth rate. Load shedding is the common phenomena throughout the country. Ideal ratio of thermal to hydroelectric mix is 40:60 whereas we are presently having 19:74 with the backup from nuclear and wind power. Finally, I appeal to all those who oppose the project to understand the national priority of energy security when the country is emerging to become an economic superpower and trying to achieve 10% growth rate. To day our shortfall in power sector is more than 27,000 MW and this handicap is the major stumbling block to sustain even the present growth rate. Unless we view issues with wider perspectives, our views will remain myopic, self centered and no developmental plans could be implemented.

*** The article is written by Lt Col KA Singh (Retd)

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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