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Saturday, August 8, 2009

[ALOCHONA] Say No To Tipaimukh Dam

Say No To Tipaimukh Dam

Aram Pamei, India

The Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project is one of the most contested developmental issues in Manipur. While the project proponent, the North Eastern Electric Power Cooperation (NEEPCO), a government of India undertaking, hailed the project as bearing immense potentials and economic benefits to the people of Manipur and beyond, several issues and challenges remains unresolved, primarily the project proponents failing to respond to many of the legitimate concerns expressed by the project affected villagers living in the upstream and downstream portion of the Barak River. Trans-boundary issues raised by those in Bangladesh also have remained unresolved.

Aram Pamei,
Citizens Concern for Dams and Development (CCDD,)
Manipur, India

The paper was presented in a seminar titled Tipaimukh Mega Dam Project: Looking into the International River Laws, Environmental & Human Security Perspective held on July 28th2009 at BRAC INN Auditorium, Dhaka. Organized by the Centre for Human Rights, Development & Human Security (CHRDHS)

9228.56 sq. km (i.e 77%) out of 12,232 sq. km of Churachandpur, Temenglong and Senapati districts of Manipur will be sacrificed in the alter of Tipaimukh Mega Dam. Only 3003.44 sq. km of land will be left for these three districts of Manipur

The Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project is one of the most contested developmental issues in Manipur. While the project proponent, the North Eastern Electric Power Cooperation (NEEPCO), a government of India undertaking, hailed the project as bearing immense potentials and economic benefits to the people of Manipur and beyond, several issues and challenges remains unresolved, primarily the project proponents failing to respond to many of the legitimate concerns expressed by the project affected villagers living in the upstream and downstream portion of the Barak River. Trans-boundary issues raised by those in Bangladesh also have remained unresolved.
A serious challenge with the initiation and subsequent introduction of developmental projects in Manipur is the failure of the state authorities and project authorities to recognize the inherent rights of the indigenous peoples over their land and resources and subsequent their mandatory right to be consulted and their approval taken for any initiatives affecting their land, rivers and other resources. The project proponents has often failed to recognize that the livelihood and survival, in both physical and spiritual terms, of the indigenous peoples of Manipur revolves around the sustainable use and dependence on their natural resources and that any forced extinguishment of such interrelationship will only led to impoverishment and perennial hardships to them. This non recognition coupled with serious dearth and absence of developmental vision and people and environmentally friendly policies on sustainable use and management of natural resources and norms of accountability in the state has already led to widespread devastation of ecosystems, displacement, impoverishment and social and political unrest, as in the case of Mapithel Dam and Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Power Project. And the problems multiples when the project affected peoples are again denied justice as for instance, the National Hydroelectric Power Cooperation (NHPC) remains irresponsible till today for the devastations and loss of livelihood caused by its Loktak Project.

Within these realities of destruction and impoverishment and amidst state’s failure to resolve developmental related challenges (Loktak Project, Mapithel Dam as for instance) and serious lack of accountability of the project authorities, the Tipaimukh Dam project has been conceived for introduction in the State. All possible implications, due to loss of land, of culture, of way of life and the irreparable destructions to forest, loss of biodiversity, flora â€" fauna, demographic impact due to migrations of nonâ€"locals, impact of militarization etc and the project benefits to the people etc remains unaddressed.

Possible Impacts of Tipaimukh Dam
The affected peoples, environmentalists, concerned intellectuals and scientists have already projected the possible implications of the construction of Tipaimukh Dam.. However, the Government and the project authority, NEEPCO has still failed to address the impending challenges and multifaceted impacts posed by the construction of the dam.

The site selected for Tipaimukh project at the confluence point of Tuivai River and Barak River is one of the most active in the entire world, recording at least two major earthquakes of 8+ in the Richter Scale during the past 50 years. The proposed site falls on a 'fault line' potentially active and possible epicenter for major earthquakes. Several earthquakes over magnitude 5-7 on recorded within a radius of 6 km to 100 km of Tipaimukh in the past 150 years and the epicenter of the last earthquake in 1957, with a magnitude of 8 lies at approximately 80 km from the dam site in an east-northeast direction.

The historic Old Cachar Road, popularly known as Tongjei Maril and traditional waterways along the Barak will be disconnected from the state capital and the upper Barak ‘forever’. The people use the river extensively for transportation as road connectivity is poor. They carry bamboo and ginger through the Tuivai river to Barak and then all the way to Lakhimpur in Lower Assam. A 20 km. stretch of the existing New Cachar Road (NH-53), including two major bridges over the Barak and Makru rivers will be submerged.

A large number of people, mostly Zeliangrong and Hmar indigenous peoples, will be displaced permanently .. Official figures state that 1,461 Hmar families will be directly displaced due to the project, but the number of villages to be affected is yet to be independently verified (the 1984 report said 31 villages, in 1998 the official number fell to 15 and the 2000 report of NEEPCO records only 8 villages). The dam will submerge areas of about 311 sq. km covering 90 villages with 1,310 families, including 27,242 hectares of forest and cultivable land and posing serious threat to the rich biodiversity, flora and fauna of the region. The forested hills are the habitat of rare and endangered species of reptiles and mammals, including pythons, gibbons, leopards and deer. The region is rich in orchids, medicinal and herbal plants.

The benefit from the Tipaimukh Dam remains uncertain with the state envisaged to receive only 5% of the total power output of the project, which even falls below 40 MW at the envisaged generating capacity of the project at 350 â€" 450 MW. The question emerges as to why the people of Manipur should sacrifice such enormous land rich in biodiversity for so little benefit. The power again will only be used to electrify only the elite groups of Manipur, the people deprived of power. Despite Loktak Project with an installed capacity of 105 MW of power, people of Manipur are victimized with load shedding and complete blackouts till today. The long term demographic impact will be enormous with the laborers and the workers manning the projects and the Indian military guarding the project will be mostly from outside the state.

The Government of Manipur and NEEPCO conducted two Public Hearings on Tipaimukh Dam on 17th November and 22 November at Churachandpur and Tamenglong District respectively despite peoples’ call for revocation of the Memorandum of Understanding on Tipaimukh Dam signed between NEEPCO and the Governor in Council during Presidents Rule in Manipur in 2001. The hearings flouted all democratic processes and undermined accountability. The denial of participation of affected villagers while entertaining handpicked villagers in the two hearings also constitutes an attempt to drive a wedge among the people of Manipur to create disunity, misunderstanding and conflict.

The project authorities stage managed and instigated back door affirmative presentations of 13 villagers for Tipaimukh at Tamenglong as against the stance against the project by more than 90 percent of the people of Tamenglong District on 22 November 2006. The first public hearing on Tipaimukh at Darlawn Community Hall, Darlawn, Mizoram on 2 December 2004 was severely criticized for its lack of transparency on the part of project proponent and failure to provide project documents, including Detailed Project Report, Environment Impact Assessment and Environment Management Plan.

Persisting violations before Tipaimukh Dam Construction
The way to construction of Tipaimukh Dam has been with numerous instances of violations of human rights, environmental and sustainable developmental standards even before the commencement of the dam construction. The affected peoples both in the upstream and downstream of the Barak River has long called upon the Government and the project authorities for a fair decision making on Tipaimukh Dam construction based on human rights and sustainable development standards. Despite numerous representations and meetings with concerned authorities reiterating these call and respect of their inherent rights over their land and resources and to consider the enormous scale of possible impact of the project, the project authorities insist on proceeding with dam construction, already with visible violations.

In violations of India’s own environmental rules and developmental standards, the power Minister of India laid foundation stone for Tipaimukh Dam on December 2006 despite peoples objections. Earlier, in defiance of the call of the affected peoples to refrain from laying foundation stone, the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Manmohon Singh, publicly declared to lay the foundation stone. Again, the project authority, NEEPCO, in violations of all developmental norms and in disregard of peoples call for widespread consultation and their consent taken with due provision of information on the project, had called for International bid from International construction companies for construction of Tipaimukh Dam.

Again, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Manipur and the project authority was signed on 9 January 2003 even as the affected peoples both in the upstream and downstream portion of Barak River called for a wide spread consultation on Tipaimukh Dam based on provision of information on the project. This undemocratic move from the project authorities and the Government of India is further consolidated when the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary unit of the Indian Army, operating in Manipur for counter Insurgency operations, came out publicly that AR will provide security for Tipaimukh Dam.

The two public hearings held at Churachandpur and Tamenglong on 17th November and 22 November 2006 respectively have in 2006 were fraught with manipulations, the project proponent and the Government bribing villagers to make false submissions without provisions of information, inciting misunderstanding and possible conflict among the communities of Manipur. Affected peoples had already rejected the two public hearings as the Public Hearing process is a weak mechanism with no space to entertain the multifaceted grievances of affected peoples and norms of accountability seriously missing out.

Disregarding Voices against Tipaimukh High Dam
Both the Central and State authorities and the project proponent failed to respond to repeated calls, memorandums and other representations against the Tipaimukh High Dam. The submissions by various civil society groups, human rights organizations, village authorities etc on 19 March 2003 to North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO), through the minister, Power, Government of Manipur, objecting the construction of Tipaimukh HEP in response to call for submission under Section 29 of the Electricity (Supply) Act. The village authorities includes Rongdai (Bolongdai) Village Authority, Taijijang Village Authority, Khoupum Village Authority, Sibilong Village Authority, Puilon (Kambiron) Village Authority, Bwanruangh (Taodaijang) Village Authority, Longjon Village Authority, Muktina Village Authority, Tongtao Village Authority, Nungba Area Village Authority, Chramram Village Authority, Kekru Village Authority, Oinamlong Village Authority, Bamgaijang Village Authority, Sempang Village Authority, Tamenglong Village Council, Punglam (Gwangram) Village Authority, Namtiram Village Authority, Duigailong Village Authority, Chingkao Village Authority, Vanchengphai Village Authority, Thiulon Village Authority. Other organizations submitting objections and concerns over the projects includes the Citizens’ Concern for Dams and Development (CCDD), Committee Against Tipaimukh Dam (CATD), Naga Women’s Union (NWUM), Centre for Organization Research and Education, Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NHPMR), Hmar Students Association (HAS), United Naga Council and the All Naga Student’s Association, Manipur (ANSAM). The main issues raised includes loss of rich ancestral land and its natural resources, flora and fauna, the main source of livelihood can never by compensated by money and that peaceful possession of land by the people over many generations must not be disturbed and that the project is a form of imposed and unwelcome development from the government, giving people not required.

Various organizations in Mizoram consistently demanded the Mizoram government and NEEPCO for withdrawal of their petition for diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes from the Ministry of Environment & Forest to pave way for implementation of Tipaimukh Hydro-electricity (multi-purpose) project. The organizations also maintained that the consent of the people in the affected areas of the project has not been sought while applying for the forest clearance and that the 1500MW project will affect 1618 hectare of forest inside Mizoram. On 11 July 2005, the Aizawl-based Centre for Environment Protection (CEP) has strongly demanded of the Mizoram government and NEEPCO for the withdrawal of their petition for diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes from the Ministry of Environment & Forest to pave way for implementation of the controversial Tipaimukh Hydro-electricity (multi-purpose) project.

Concerns expressed by affected villagers in the downstream portion of Barak River, mostly in Bangladesh, remained unheard. On March 9, 2005, the National Committee for Resisting India’s River Aggression, Dhaka, Bangladesh, launched a protest march towards Jakiganj in Sylhet from Dhaka to protest against the construction of a dam at Tipaimukh on the river Barak, the water source of Surma, Kushiara and Meghna rivers. An International Tipaimukh Conference at Dhaka in December 2005 also strongly objected the construction of Tipaimukh High Dam, seriously viewing the absence of consultation and participatory impact assessment in both the upstream and the downstream portion of Barak River. Numerous representations have been submitted to the Prime Minister, Union Power Ministry, Chief Minister of Manipur and to project authorities, North Eastern Electric Power Corporation.

Our Demand
NEEPCO and the Government of Manipur must cancel Tipaimukh High Dam and to initiate a comprehensive process for through a just and democratic decision making process whereby an energy policy and requirement, both short and long term needs, are addressed. Tipaimukh Dam has to be scrapped and will not be acceptable in any form.

Issued in Public Interest by Concerned Groups

Perspectives on defined Merits:
Power: Notwithstanding the fact that the project proponents claims power generation as one main benefits of the project, no one in Manipur knows accurately how much power will Manipur get as percentage of free power keeps changing 11% to 8% to 5% from the firm generation of 400 MW, hardly 25 MW as compared to more than 90% of power for North East Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) as the media reportage of power benefits for Manipur keeps changing regularly. However, it remain uncertain if the people of Churachandpur and Tamenglong will get any power from this meager free allowance for their big sacrifice of their land and resources. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation’s big promise of providing free and surplus power to the state of Manipur after the commissioning of Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project had remained a farce with the State reeling in unending load shedding. The interior areas of Manipur primarily reel without any electricity for decades even after commissioning of Loktak Project. The big question is the number of mega watts to be generated from Tipaimukh dam project is huge but the actual power quantum that the state of Manipur will receive is meager as against the sacrifice of their land and resources. The Tipaimukh Dam is a purely profit driven project for NEEPCO and not for the people of Manipur. NEEPCO officials continues to reel in corruption and earning hefty salaries at the cost of the project affected peoples. (cite the crisis of NEEPCO, misappropriation of NEEPCO officials, CBI’s crackdown). The CBI raised several the residences of several top officials of NEEPCO, including SC Sharma, CMD, NEEPCO, PK Deka, present GM (Finance), Venkatesh and Director (Finance), MR Ghosh in January 2008 over issues of misappropriation of funds and fraudulent contracts in NEEPCO’s projects (Shillong Times, 21 January 2008). This is just unjust and unfair, a big deception to the people of Manipur in the name of development.
Economic viability : Sushil Kumar Shinde, the Union Power Minister of India has stated on 12 May 2006 on the floor of the last session of the parliament that the Central Electricity Authority of India had already expressed that the Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project is not economically viable . Given that the project cost has been revised again in accordance with September 2008 standard, the cost of the project has been skyrocketed once again. It is also pertinent to mention here that with the receipt of the environmental clearance for taking the project in October last year, 2008, the project cost has further been updated at September 2008 price level. The updated cost (excluding the components for flood moderation, external security and diversion of national highway, but including internal security and NPV), works out to Rs 8138.79 cores. The first year tariff and levelised tariff works out to Rs 4.65 and Rs. 4.03 per unit respectively. The submergence of prime forest and agricultural land in Churachandpur and Tamenglong districts of Manipur will again be a big economic disaster for the people of these two districts who rely on their forest and land for their economic sustenance.
Addition on Defined demerits: The environmental clearance of the Ministry of the Environment and Forest to commence construction of Tipaimukh Multipurpose Project is despite the fact that the downstream impact assessment is still yet to complete. And questions looms large on the conscience of the EAC of the MOEF as to how a project is conceived without undertaking a comprehensive impact assessment covering both upstream and downstream portion of the river. Similar adhoc, exclusive and non-transparent approach in development decision making is also visible with the case of the Lower Subansiri project where the downstream impact assessment of the project is undertaken only after various civil societies in Assam raised the issues. If not for the voices from Assam, the Lower Subansiri project would have been proceeded without undertaking downstream impact assessment. The Govt of India , NEEPCO and officials of the MOEF are lucid clear that any mega development initiatives foremost require a comprehensive process respectful of the rights of peoples, the need for elaborate participatory impact assessment, both upstream and downstream impacts and other multifaceted impacts. The selective and exclusive impact assessment of NEEPCO and NHPC in both Lower Subansiri Project and Tipaimukh dam project is a sinister effort to deceive the indigenous peoples of the region.
Questions over any decision over transboundary rivers vis a vis indigenous peoples rights. Question still looms large as to whether any particular country has exclusive rights to decide over transboundary rivers such as Barak River in exclusion of indigenous peoples rights. The issue of access and use of transboundary rivers is still an international debated Issues and the Government of India must not complicate the issue with the construction of Tipaimukh Dam. Indigenous peoples who has been using these waters have rights over any decision making process over the use of their waters in accordance with international human rights standards, primarily the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples have the right to free prior and informed consent and the right to define and develop the way how they feel their land and resources should be developed in accordance with the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, 2007.
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