EPW    Letters to Editor March 31, 2001

Havoc of Tipaimukh High Dam Project by Aram Pamei

Havoc of Tipaimukh High Dam Project

The Naga Women Union, Manipur, would like to appeal to all like-minded people to intervene and stop the signing of memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the government of Manipur and the North-Eastern Electrical Power Corporation (NEEPCO) concerning the proposed Tipaimukh rock-filled high dam. There has been no other more dreaded state-sponsored human rights abuse than the Tipaimukh high dam on Ahu (Barak) river located about 500 metres downstream of the confluence of the Tuivai and Ahu (Barak) rivers on the Manipur-Mizoram border. The proposed 162.80 metres high dam, whose primary objective is to prevent frequent occurrences of flood in the Cachar plain of Assam, will result in permanent submergence of 275.50 sq kms of land surface in Manipur. This is against the National Land Use Policy. The Manipur people’s constitutional rights were circumvented by secret approval of the project given during the period of central rule in Manipur, according to a statement given on the floor of the Manipur state assembly by the then minister of irrigation and flood control, government of Manipur, L Chandramani Singh. The government of Manipur is at present attempting to sign the MoU with NEEPCO without the participation of the people, particularly the affected people of Tamenglong district.

The main sources of livelihood of the people are agriculture and horticulture. But with the construction of the Tipaimukh high dam more than 67 villages will be deprived of their source of livelihood. Out of the 67 villages, 16 will be completely submerged, whereas almost the entire lowland of the rest of the villages will be submerged by the dam along the banks of the three major river courses of Manipur – the Ahu (Barak), the Alang (Irang) and Makhu (Makru) river systems which run through the length of Tamenglong district of Manipur. Besides, it is feared that many more villages may be affected by the water level of the reservoirs during the rainy seasons. Thus the villages of Tamenglong district will face a constant threat of submergence.

As a result of such massive submergence and displacement, the economic life of the people with a heavy dependence on the surrounding forests will be jeopardised. Over 15,000 people will be the direct victims of the dam and will be rendered landless and homeless. They will be deprived of their ancestral rights to their land and forest without any alternative source of livelihood. They will be robbed of their natural heritage – their access to natural resources, their land and forests which constitute the mainstay of any tribal economy. The implementation of the Tipaimukh high dam will destroy all potential of the Ahu (Barak) catchment area forever. The dam will mean virtually the total destruction of the world of the Zeliangrong people. The project will submerge altogether 60 kms of National Highway No 53, the only alternative lifeline to NH-39 (the Imphal–Dimapur road) at three different points with two major bridges.

The Zeliangrong people who live in these areas, like any other tribal people, do not lead an individualised, commodity-governed life, but live in a well knit web of community life. Their ancestral emotional bonds to their land, the mother-earth, constitute their cultural and psychological frame of mind and they cannot be compromised or negotiated. The submergence of the Ahu (Barak) waterfalls, the biggest and the most beautiful natural gift in Manipur, will destroy an important aspect of their heritage – the innumerable myths and legends woven around the waterfalls, which are an inalienable part of their bank of memories, inherited through centuries. The high watermark of the dam will also destroy five most important lakes located just above the Ahu waterfall where the magical sword of Jadonang, the national hero of the Nagas, is believed to be hidden. All these priceless and inalienable parts of their cultural heritage cannot be left to mindless destruction by the dam project authorities.

The long stretch of the reservoir of the 162.80 metres high dam will further divide the people in terms of geo-administrative units, thereby making them politically vulnerable to outside influence and domination. The implementation of the project and its consequent displacement and destruction pose a grave threat to the people’s vibrant democratic system of consensual decision-making regarding their lives.

We are concerned over the way the Tipaimukh high dam project authorities are out to play with and devastate the land and forests and the fabric of the lives of the Zeliangrong as well as the Hmar people. The Brahmaputra Board, Guwahati, the Central Water Commission, New Delhi, the North-Eastern Council, Shillong, and the North-Eastern Electrical Power Corporation, Shillong are all party to this plan of virtual genocide of the tribal people in the north-east. This is clearly discernible from their secretive ways of planning and implementation, their holding back every bit of information, their rejection of the local people’s participation and their total disregard for the tribal people’s national and cultural heritage.

From our own visit and observation as well as the reports available to us, it is absolutely clear that the Tipaimukh high dam project site is located on a major seismic zone No V characterised by earthquakes of magnitude 7 or more on the Richter scale and which has experienced more than five such earthquakes. The most recent earthquake that took place on April 5, 1999 measured 5 on the Richter scale. The catastrophic 1984 Silchar earthquake was well within the Surma basin, Nungma thrust, Ahu (Barak)-Makhu (Makru) thrust, etc. The fact that the dam rests on a fault line which is occupied by the river (Ahu) itself makes it prone to reactivation any time, causing vertical lateral displacement along the pre-existing faults and thrusts. This suggests that tremendous damages cannot be ruled out. A rock-filled dam upto a height of 162.80 metres has not yet been attempted anywhere. Hence the dam’s structural design in the geologically unstable area is questionable and the project authorities must be held directly responsible for engineering such natural calamities.

The earthquake at Uttarkashi hit the conscience of certain environmentally-committed engineers who immediately organised the National Convention of Environmental Engineers at Mangalore on October 28-29, 1991. This convention passed a number of important resolutions two of which are as follows:

(1) “Environmental Impact Appraisal of all major developmental projects such as industries, power plants and river projects should be made mandatory”.
(2) “Environmental Impact Appraisal reports submitted by proponents of projects should be made public and public debate invited in the concerned regions”.

Manipur also falls in one of the genetic hot spot zones of the world where rare biodiversity resources are found. The project will submerge the exotic and rare flora and fauna and rich gene pools. Instead of conducting an up to date survey, the project authorities simply refer to the early botanical survey record of the region (Flora of British India, 1872-1897) and maintain no record of plant gathering and animal hunting with reference to Tipaimukh project.

In view of the above, the Naga Women Union, Manipur would like to appeal all the like-minded individuals, groups and organisations to please send airmail letters/telegrams/telexes/faxes/express/e-mails addressing the following issues:

(1) The policy to control frequent flooding of the Cachar plain at the cost of the traditional dwellers of Tamenglong district, which will effect a permanent submergence of 275.50 sq km of land surface or more along the Barak basins is against the National Policy of Land Use.
(2) The resolution of the National Convention of Environmental Engineers, Mangalore, 1991 that “that Environmental Impact Appraisal of all major projects should be made mandatory” which was supported by the statement of the president, K R Narayanan, made on the eve of the Republic Day “that the livelihood and unique culture of the tribals should be protected when development projects are undertaken in areas inhabited by them”.
(3) Meaningful investigations into the flora and fauna of the area, the lifestyles and the socio-cultural and economic heritage of the people to be displaced and/or affected be undertaken.
(4) All reports be made public and public debate on the issues involved be invited.
(5) The proposed signing of the MoU between the government of Manipur and NEEPCO be stopped immediately until all feasibility reports are made available and all investigations in respect of the social, economic, cultural, geological, environmental and ecological impact on the people and the areas are carried out, completed and discussed in full knowledge, cooperation and participation of the local people, especially the Zeliangrong and the Hmar people whose lives are at stake.

Aram Pamei
Secretary, Naga Women’s Union, Manipur, Imphal

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