Archive for July 13, 2007

Who Will Benefit From Tipaimukh Dam?

Thangkhanlal Ngaihte
(The Statesman, July 9, 2007)

After much delay, the foundation of the 1500-MW Tipaimukh multipurpose hydel project was laid by Union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on 16 December 2006. Present at the function were Union heavy industries minister Santosh Mohan Dev, Union minister of state in the PMO Prithviraj Chauhan, chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh and a host of high dignitaries. They showed the Centre’s determination to go ahead with the project, ignoring locals’ strong opposition

That day large parts of Manipur observed a bandh in protest against the project. When the ministerial team reached Thangal village in Tamenglong district after a public meeting at Parbung, bandh supporters torched government offices and destroyed public utilities at the Tamenglong district headquarters.

The idea of a dam over the Barak river was mooted as early as in 1954, but the detailed project reports were not ready before 1984. The major twin objectives were generation of power and flood control. In 1995, then chief minister Rishang Keishing opposed the project. Three years later, the Manipur assembly passed a resolution opposing it. Meanwhile, several social and civil organisations were formed, especially in Manipur, to resist the move. The Action Committee against Tipaimukh Project is an umbrella organisation of as many as 29 NGOs, most of which are based in Meitei and Naga areas. It has continued to agitate against the dam, at times calling bandhs.

Outer Manipur MP Mani Cheranemai raised the subject in Parliament. Some Meitei militant groups also said they were opposed to the project and opposition has also come from across the international border. Bangladesh has consistently voiced concern over the proposal. The deltaic country, through which the Barak river passes before entering the Bay of Bengal, is afraid the project will rob it of its share of water in its lower reaches. Negotiations are on between India and Bangladesh to arrive at an amicable settlement.
Apart from street protests, there have been numerous commentaries by supposedly well-informed people who oppose the dam, citing reasons ranging from the seismic factor (there were at least two earthquakes exceeding 7 on the Richter scale over the last 150 years within a 100 km radius of Tipaimukh); that it will threaten the flora and fauna and endangered species like pythons, gibbons, herbal and medicinal plants, tribal land rights; and, of course, that it would submerge as many as 90 villages within a 311 sq-km radius.

Despite all this, the Cenre went ahead. In 1999, the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation was entrusted with executing the project. In 2001, while Manipur was under President’s rule, the state allegedly approved the proposal. In 2003, the Public Investment Board and Central Electricity Authority cleared the project at estimated cost of Rs 5, 163.86 crore — a steep rise from Rs 1,078 crore in 1984 (the latest estimate, as in November 2005 was Rs 5,855.83 crore). In November 2005, NEEPCO floated global tenders and in July 2006, the pre-bid qualification of the tender for the first phase was opened. With the foundation laid on 16 December the ball has been set rolling.

But will it really usher in an era of prosperity for the region, as the government claims it will, or will it be a symbol of dashed hopes, like the much smaller Khuga Dam in Churachandpur? The same was said of the multipurpose 105-MW Loktak hydel project but now not a single day passes without loadshedding and large parts of Manipur going without power for days together.

The main dam is proposed to be built 500 metres downstream from the confluence of the Barak (locally called Tuiluang ) and Tuivai rivers at Tipaimukh which is close to the Manipur-Mizoram border. Most of the submerged areas will be in Manipur — inhabited by the Zeliangrong and Hmar tribes.

While various Naga and Meitei organisations have voiced opposition, the Hmars, who occupy the dam site itself, have maintained a low profile. The Inpui, the apex body of the Hmar tribe, explains. “The Hmar people generally favour the dam. We believe it will bring much needed development to the region, which is still in the primitive stage. If Hmar organisations do not speak up now, it’s probably because of threats from various quarters to those who support the dam and also because they want to project a coordinated response to the issue.” The source also alleged that the high-profile street protests were orchestrated by busy-bodies who did not represent the affected people, and did not know the ground situation and topography of the area.

True, the area may well be the most underdeveloped part of the North-east — there are no motorable roads, no electricity and poverty is acute. The area, at least on the Manipur side, is rugged and unproductive from the farming point of view. While large projects have their demerits and the government’s record in terms of providing rehabilitation and resettlement to the affected people in most big dams is very poor, one major opposition weakness seems to be that it just does not have an alternative, viable model of development.

The government touts the project as the panacea for the region’s ills. Santosh Mohan Dev called 16 December a red letter day for the region and NEEPCO claimed the “power generated will bridge the demand-supply gap for Manipur and other North-east states”, that Manipur would get free power at the rate of five per cent for the first five years (equivalent to Rs 55 crore per year) and this would jump to 10 per cent in the next 10 years and a further 15 per cent in the next 20 years. Mizoram would get one per cent of power. It is said the benefits would amount to around Rs 300 crore a year. But the government has been saying nice things for all its major projects, many of which remain stillborn.

The government is pressing ahead, but there are numerous hindrances ahead. On 22 February 2007, the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee — an expert appraisal panel for river valley and hydroelectric projects under the Ministry of Environment and Forests — deferred clearance for the dam for the second time. Moreover, since the project has became more of an inter-tribe and inter-community political battlefield and less of a purely development issue, it is difficult to foresee how things will work out.

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GIVE PEACE A CHANCE


By Jesse John

July 12, 2007: “.. Oouf.. had I been born in Europe, I could earn money doing what I enjoy most – playing football..” my elder bother once said, out of the blue. He was a good football player and not bad in studies either, but would have preferred to play given the option. We all know how soccer stars are adored in European nations.

People earn their living and live a respectable to very popular status of life by doing what they enjoy doing – playing football, singing etc. That they don’t have to earn a respectable living necessarily through studies only. That was way back in the good old 80s. Today, the situation has improved a lot even in India. People get paid for playing football too.

Why did my brother wish he was born in Europe? Well, that’s a very natural and a decent desire. I don’t find anything wrong or indecent in that. We said so because there is more opportunity in those countries. I too wish I were born in San Francisco or New York, if not in London or Switzerland or Austria. The list can go on. Nearer home, I wish I were born in Bangalore, if not in Delhi or at the least in Shillong. The point here is: do I have a choice? I really don’t have a choice; no, not even Hobson’s. You cannot choose your parents – so goes a saying.

I am a Manipuri, a child of the Sanaleibak. So are you. And you cannot snatch that title from me, howsoever. Each of us is a child of this beautiful land of ours. Let no single group claim this land of ours as only theirs, howsoever major or minor they are. All of us – majority or minority, valley or hills, north or south district, east or west district – collectively constitute Manipur. Therefore, I urge every community to adopt a policy of peaceful co-existence.

Let’s stop the fighting amongst ourselves and give peace a chance. No Indians will come from outside to rebuild our state. We ourselves – the Meeteis, the Kukis and the Nagas, all of us have to collectively take steps in our own way to develop our land. Think for the progress of the state and most importantly, for the future generations of this land. Live and let live. Let us give peace a chance. Hingmin-nase not just in mere words! There is no end to all kinds of forceful domination of one by the other.

If the majority valley people – Meetei group think that Manipur is exclusively theirs and tries to dominate the other minority groups, then they are wrong and that will be very costly for all in the future. If they think that they will go all out to achieve their aim of making Manipur the land of the Meeteis only, as it appears now, then they have to remember that, the other minority groups are not going to relent, because the land equally is ours as the Meeteis think as theirs.

Our forefathers were here since time immemorial. I may not provide you a scroll to support that my land is mine. But the land is mine. That is my stand. With due respect to the missionaries and social scientists of the day, I have to say that one cannot just claim our land just because some European sociologists came 100 or 200 odd years back and wrote their views about the land and left. I have to say this because today, we go by the documentary evidence available, and the oldest one of that.

Our forefathers were here before the arrival of these educated Europeans. They only did not know how to document their history and their side of views. They did not foresee that so much of fighting and hatred will be created someday, in the name of a nationalistic ideology. My forefathers lived peacefully with his Meetei neighbors as well as his Naga neighbors. This is not to mean that the Kukis are clean and sinless. But we always want peaceful co-existence with neighbours.

At the same time, our Naga neighbors would better rethink their dream of Nagalim. How much of hardships had been caused in the name of this. Ethnic cleansing started way back in 1992 and the Kukis were mercilessly mowed down in the name of this. How many orphans have the NSCN(I-M) and its Nagalim philosophy created in the Kuki society? Nagas might think that once the Nagalim dream becomes a reality, things will get better. I have my own doubts.

There are lots of disadvantages foreseen associated with this dream land. If you cannot be at peace with your neighbours in Manipur, it is highly doubtful that you will peacefully co-exist with your neighbors in Nagalim. When you come in contact with the other Nagas –the Aos, the Lothas, the Semas, the Angamis, the Chakhesangs who call the Tangkhuls, rather as Tangkhuls and sometimes kuccha Nagas, which will be a big blow to your contribution to the creation of Nagalim. Adding to this is the administrative inconvenience that is to come when the distance of Kohima is farther from Ukhrul than that of Imphal.
May be you have not learnt Meeteilon so well but it already has served as a convenient lingua-franca. That is still better than to develop a new script for Nagamese in Nagalim. To top it all, Indian government does not seem to be very keen on creation of Nagalim and hurt the sentiment of Meeteis. And in case it (Indian government) does so, the magnitude of the trouble that is to come between the Meeteis and the Nagas is unfathomable. The Meeteis will fight tooth and nail to protect their land, our land, the land of the Nagas on the same sentiment.

So, Let us all live peacefully and give peace a chance. This will pave a way for development. For where there is lack of peace, development halts. Live and let live.

Now, while the majority group with its ( valley) insurgents are scared to point any finger to the Nagas and antagonize them, the same group seems to be having and be given a free hand to play havoc with the lives of the Kukis – be it the interior Parbung episode, the Moreh episode. As a civil citizen of Manipur and a Kuki, I plead the UNLF to immediately stop showing its prowess on the Kukis. Unforgettable events in one’s life have a lasting impression on the person and tend to be counter productive.

When a day comes when the Kukis come together as one and decide to retaliate, it will be another costly eventful episode in the history of Manipur. What I wanted to impress upon the civil society is that, there is no end to this chain reaction of action and reaction. This is Newton’s Third Law – and many will agree with me that Newton’s third law holds true in social attrition too. The action – reaction sequence may take time, but it sure will strike back.

So, let the infightings amongst the children of Manipur stop, henceforth. People are fed up of it. Let us create opportunity for the people and the state. Let us rebuild our state. Let opportunity be there for all – for business, service and industry, which will help generate lots of employment opportunities and ultimately develop the state.

For this, people need peace and initiatives from government and civil organizations – be it NGOs or other government agencies enabling them to grow: definitely not theory of cessation with uncertain future combined with hurdles from the militants/ insurgents who also are very much children of Manipur. Citizens need conducive atmosphere for growth and development.

Let us therefore live peacefully and give peace a chance. This will pave a way for development. For where there is lack of peace, development halts. Live and let live. I would like to end it with the famous quote of our dear Shri Jawaharlal Nehru – “The only alternative to coexistence is co –destruction “.

The writer is an Assistant General Manager in Reserve Bank of India. Opinions expressed are exclusively of the writer.

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