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Tipaimukh Dam: A cul-de-sac

The Government of Manipur, through the Deputy Commissioner, Tamenglong, called a consultative meeting on Tipaimukh Hydro Electric Multipurpose dam on Aug 29, 2002. Invitation was extended to representatives of NEEPCO, the Government of Manipur for the purpose. The invitation was also extended to representatives/leaders of various NGS. Accordingly, the meeting was held at Indoor Hall, Tamenglong and around 50 representatives representing the Zeliangrong Naga Union (ZNU), Zeliangrong Women Union (ZWU), Naga Women Union, Manipur (NWUM), Zeliangrong Agency for Development (ZAD), Zeliangrong Youth Front (ZYF), Zeliangrong Students Union, Manipur (ZSUM), Tipaimukh Dam Affected People’s Committee (TIDAPCOM), etc. attended the same. Shyamsundar, Nodal Officer, Prof Mohendro and Dr Arun Kumar of Manipur University represented the Government of Manipur and Ph Ibomcha, Sr. Manager, A.K. Dam, Deputy General Manager and Gupta, Manager represented NEEPCO.

The experts and the officials representing NEEPCO presented their enlightening views noting the benefits and acceptability of the proposed dam. They also did their best to allay the apprehension of the people in the meeting. But the representatives of the NGS’s could not digest the views of the former. They adamantly aired their apprehensions of far reaching damages which are inevitable or likely to cause to their lands, people, resources, potentials, etc. and thereby passionately registered their opposition to the construction of the proposed dam. The meeting ended on an uncordial note.

It is learnt from certain quarters that the meeting was crucial in the sense that the outcome of the meeting would either seal the fate of the dam on the opposition of the people or help the dam to see light in the near future. If so, has the negative outcome of the last meeting sealed the fate of the dam? Recording the statement of AK Dam, DGM of NEEPCO, Deputy Commissioner who presided over the meeting stated in the proceeding that ‘˜clarification was made that NEEPCO will not execute the project without the full consent of the people’. Perhaps A.K. Dam alluded to it when he saw the participants from the local NGS’ remaining agitated in the interaction meeting. In fact, we felt the pulse of the people that they have obsessed with an unflinching stand against the dam construction. Such anti-dam emotion is likely to result into a resonation of another Narmada Bachao Andolan in this remote corner of India in the near future if concerned authorities are constrained to go ahead with the construction of Tipaimukh dam.

What can be added here which compounded the apprehension of the people is certain amount of opaqueness or inconsistency, whether necessary or not, maintained by the concerned authorities regarding the height of the proposed dam, extent of submergence, NH-53 diversion, etc. These aspects are clearly seen in the latest working paper of the NEEPCO. According to the paper the height of the Dam is 162.80m. A sketch map drawn by NEEPCO also shows the extent of submergence in Manipur particularly in Tamenglong district which is supposed to be affected most in the region. To quote the working paper: Submergence at Maximum Water Level (MWL) of 179.80 m due to the reservoir will be 293.56 sq km in Manipur (Churachandpur and Tamenglong district) and 17.4 sq km in Mizoram (in Aizwal district).

Another great apprehension of the local people of south subdivision of Tamenglong district is the likeliness of NH-53 diversion which shall take a deflection from 120 km from Imphal to join again at Barak point. Any such proposal for diversion from any quarter (be it GREF or NEEPCO) shall be met with the wrath of the public emitting it for many reasons. In this regard, a district level committee has been formed in the wake of such proposal and certain amount of agitating backlash has been smoldering in the region. One of the ambitious objectives of the proposed dam is also clearly stated in the said working paper. It is to check flood havoc in Barak valley in Assam. Can a region be simply put in peril at the expense of other region? Should a development plan disrupt inter-State commity? Disruption is most likely if the dam is constructed bringing ceaseless threat to lands, environment of Manipur.

When Tipaimukh dam issue is the concern of both pro and anti-dam people with their respective perspective in the State of Manipur, it is, for many reasons, primarily the immediate and direct concern of Tamenglong district. But it is seen that the anti-dam movement is not only supported by anti-dam group of people in the State as is evident by the submission of anti-dam memoranda to the heads of the State by some frontal fora like Naga People Movement for Human Rights, (NPMHR), Naga Women Union of Manipur (NWUM), All Naga Students Association of Manipur (Ansam) etc. Prior to that the first two bodies held a consultative meeting on the issue with the people of Tamenglong on Aug 24, 2002 at Tamenglong district headquarters. The meeting struck a cordial tune on an anti-dam platform. So, the opposition base is not now confined only to the region concerned.

The apparent dilemma in the proposed multipurpose Tipaimukh dam seems to be outcome of two divergent approaches to the dam. Novity approach held by concerned authorities and pro-dam individuals is characterized by their strong inclination for the construction of big multipurpose dam. It is posited that gains without necessary losses or destruction are not possible for modern developmental works. So, destruction of existing conditions for development is natural and justified as far as the nature of modern developmental plans like dam construction is concerned. The protagonists of big dam maintained that many development works for a region is possible by building big dams by tapping water resources. This approach usually addresses concerns like great benefits in terms of power generation, flood control, waterways, etc and thereby demands the sacrifice of region-specific interests in favor of the former.

On the other hand, the region-specific-interest approach held by preservationists, would-be-affected people etc. is a stance which registers protest against the proposed dam so that multifarious interests are protected. Their anti-dam ideology is grown around, in the main, the idea that deprivation of rights of others at the expense of socio-economic development will never be accepted. In other words, there is apprehension, which runs high when they perceive large-scale losses of cultivated and cultivable lands, forests, cultural heritages, tourist and power generation potentials etc which ultimately form some of their immediate concerns. They are equally apprehensive of seismic hazards and unfriendly eco-environment in the region when huge body of water is created. Their apprehension is compounded when the authorities concerned do not prioritize public concerns by not conducting a simultaneous survey of the dam and the inevitable losses.

One of the lacunae of novity approach is its apparent ignorance of psychological importance in human situation. So, the attitude that ‘˜Give us your lands, we will develop you’ often finds no takers. It may be advisable that when any prospective region is located for dam or any big establishment posing land-resources damaging nature, the authorities should try to develop the region(s) first through an understanding with the people concerned.

In other words, they must try to ensure minimal losses for maximum gains. This will perhaps ensure public confidence. Good promises are often treated as no implementation. In fact, people believe not the promises but the action of humane touch.

It is discernable that high profit motives necessitated the construction of high multipurpose dam for which human ingenuity is not exhausted to build construction and maintenance technologies. But it is an irony, as another lacuna, that the technocrats and technologists do not equally address themselves to the making of protection technologies, which can protect various interests of the affected people. This dearth of such technologies is evident by the inability to solve various socio-economic problems grown from any proposed dam construction. This urgency is desired to effectuate the objective ‘“ minimal losses for maximum gains. In other words, the urgency may help to reduce the inevitable suppression of region-specific interests caused by any proposed high multipurpose dam construction.

It is also true that there is apprehension persistently present in the region-specific-interest approach stated above. The apprehension gives no room for some rational authority-people interactions. It is often seen that negativism reigns supreme and thereby optimism is by and large absent. The negativism is primarily grown around the assertion of rights. The assertion is further underpinned by the mode of land ownership, which is not uniform. Community land ownership practice now seems to be in vogue after individual land ownership practice is not being actively held in the region. This state of affairs coupled with the assertion for collective community interests induced ideology of anti-dam in the region.

It can be summed up that ideology of and approach to multipurpose dam must be of necessity, address the urgency and concerns of the would-be-affected people by digesting first their socio-economic ground realities and enjoying their cooperation through some prioritized humane services to the people concerned before a spade is swung for dam construction. This approach will ultimately involve the urgency of the use of protection technologies to ensure minimal losses for maximum gains ‘“ less tension arising out of dam construction and more benefit to both the affected and the country. This strategy has not been used and hence the present dilemma in the proposed Tipaimukh dam. There is most likeliness that strong opposition to the dam by the people will persistently continue in the days to come.

* The article is written by By Dr Benjamin Gangmei

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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