Dialogue April-June, 2012, Volume 13 No. 4
Mega Dams, Environment and History in North-East India
The article takes on a historical perspective of the implementation of mega-dams in Northeast India, with a particular reference to the Tipaimukh mega-hydel project. Development Planning processes emphasize on the optimum utilization of water resource, by harnessing its potentialities through different projects. Multi-purpose projects, in general, are usually conceived with a broad range of useful objectives like hydropower generation, irrigation, industry, drinking water supply, urban and rural, environmental improvements and navigation, and as such have broad social, economic, environmental and ecological implications. Hence they get embedded in controversies, such as ‘Big versus Small’, and raises problems that challenge the planners, policy-makers and institutional procedures on one hand, while on the other, they bring with them avalanches of change affecting environment and ecology and sometimes even at the cost of the effacement of local history and cultural heritage! The indigenous tribes were threatened that historical and sacred sites like Rounglevaisuo and Thiledam would be submerged. The objective of the article is to give a brief overview of the environmental and ecological impact in the region and outside, and also analyze its impact on the traditional history of the local tribes from a historical perspective.
The Multi-purpose Tipaimukh Project is one such project in the northeast, the dam axis of which is located in the confluence of the Tuivai and Barak rivers; (latitude 24*14’ N, longitude 93*1.3’E), with the right bank in Manipur and the left bank, in Mizoram. The narrow projection of the Vangai Range on the right bank between the two rivers offers scope for the off-take of diversion and power tunnels as well as providing spillway arrangements. The project envisages a production of 1500 MW, through the construction of 162.8m high rockfill dam, which will intercept a catchment area of 12, 758 sq. Km, with a submergence area 286.20 sq.km in Manipur and 17 sq.km in Mizoram. [Environmental Report:2006: 01] Projects of such magnitude thus involves not only more states than one and more tribes than one, but also, considering its geographical location, it involves the neighbouring countries of Burma and Bangladesh as well. A complete study of the environmental and ecological impact of such a major project would not be possible within the confines of this paper.
The need for a project of such dimension arose out of the fact there had been recurrent floods in the Barak Valley causing ravages, human sufferings and miseries. Regulation of floods by means of a suitable storage reservoir was mooted as early as 1929-30, when severe floods occurred in the narrow valley of South Assam. In order to find a long-term solution to prevent such havocs and also to harness the benefit in totality, detailed investigations for a multi-purpose reservoir were taken up by the Central Water Commission (CWC), since 1954 for selecting a suitable site for integrated development, comprehending hydropower generation, flood moderation, irrigation, navigation etc. Three sites were investigated for storage reservoir, but had to be abandoned due to poor foundation condition, heavy submergence etc. However after continuous investigations, the CWC in 1974 identified Tipaimukh site as "the most advantageous site that conforms to all technico-social-economical issues"[Ibid:1-2], and the project was assigned to the Brahmaputra Board, which in 1999, handed it to the North Eastern Electrical Power Corporation ( NEEPCO), and finally to National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC), a decade later. Yumnam stated that the power Minister of India, Sushil Kumar Shinde laid the foundation stone for Tipaimukh Dam on 15 December 2006 and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of the Govt of India accords environmental clearance on 24 October 2008, much against the objection of the people and despite the fact that the downstream impact assessment of the project in Assam and Bangladesh is still pending. There were five public hearings held from the year 2004 to 2008. Moreover, he stated "… the Govt of India floated international tenders inviting bids for construction of the project. Largely the Govt of India rely on militarization of dam site area and suppression of voices for fair decision making process and sustainable development to pursue construction of the dam".[Yumnam: 2009]
The assessment of the environmental and ecological impact of the catchment area was made by a multi-disciplinary team consisting of water- resource engineer, geologist, seismologist, soil scientists, forestry and wildlife experts, agronomist and socio-economist, constituted by the Agricultural Finance Corporation. The data for socio-economic study have been collected on the basis of random sampling on selected villages and households, taking care that they represent all sections of the inhabitants. Local NGOs and technically qualified field supervisors were engaged. Care had been taken to reduce adverse impacts through proper design and planning and it is expected that a planned Catchment Area Treatment would bring more socio-economic benefits than the present status. Settlement in the catchment area, consisting of 915 villages, in the form of hamlets or roadside villages, is rural-based except for a few urban centers. Mostly jhum cultivation is practiced except in a few areas where terracing is done. As most of the area is hilly rugged terrain, the people have to go for cultivation on the slopes by clearing natural vegetation. Major crops grown are paddy, maize, millets etc .As agro-climatic condition and soil characteristics are conducive for horticulture, different horticultural crops, mainly orange, pineapple, Yongchak, banana, papaya, sugarcane etc. are grown.
Jhumming or shifting cultivation in the catchment area, though considered as a way of life for the tribal people, is regarded as one of the major factors responsible for disturbing the eco-system by the denudation of forest wealth of the region and accelerating soil erosion. The system of slash and burn cultivation, believed to have originated in the Neolithic period around 7000BC, is still continuing unabated. The average jhum cycle is short, just 3-5 years, which does not help land and vegetation to recover sufficiently. Moreover, the act of burning the dried plant materials and also partly for hunting wild animals, sometimes develop into crown fire and cause severe damage to vegetation. It is said that about 40% of forests in Manipur are regularly affected by fire. Subsequently areas under current and abandoned jhum, are being converted into terrace cultivation areas or settled cultivation which with the techniques of watershed development, would improve yield rate of crops on one hand and check soil erosion on the other. This is itself is a major destruction of traditional economy, despite its serious and obvious bearing on ecological conservation.
The problem of deforestation would be supplemented by a policy of afforestation or reforestation and while a sizeable area of reserved forest would be submerged, the Project authorities would pay what is known as Compensatory Afforestation, so as to maintain the ecological balance. The vast expanse of the water body, besides envisaging power generation and control of floods , expansion of tourism, communication, development of fisheries, cottage industries and irrigation of permanent terraced land for scientific cultivation as a substitute for the harmful Jhum cultivation, have been considered. The large body of water is expected to lower the local temperature, and make the otherwise hot and humid climate in summer, more pleasant. As regards its impact on the flora, it has been found that though the vegetation of the area is generally varied and botanically interesting, the number of threatened and endangered species are very few and similar forests are found rather widely in other areas of the northeast. Its impact on the preservation of faunal Resources with its rich variety of wild birds, animals, reptiles etc is remarkable as much had been lost in the past, since hunting is a traditional sport of the inhabitants. Public awareness has been created and emphasis has been laid on effective implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which came into force in both the states, and at the same time, use of explosives would be rigidly controlled and kept to the minimum. The affected animals would be allowed to migrate to ample terrain of similar climate, vegetation etc. in Mizoram, Manipur or Nagaland. Moreover it is expected that the water surface would in fact attract migratory birds. No wildlife sanctuaries or elephant migration routes are reported in the submergence area. The construction of the dam and the reservoir would obviously bring change in the extent and quality of water, and coupled with the washing down of soil nutrients from the catchment area, it is expected that it would set in rapid expansion of fish fauna and hence the possibilities of reservoir fishery on a large scale is anticipated. [Ibid 51- 164].
In conformity with the principles of the Rio Declaration* the project has taken into consideration, environmental protection as an integral part of the developmental process and also the reduction and elimination of unsustainable patterns of production and promotion of appropriate demographic policies to achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people. Such a policy requires the primary need for increasing public awareness of the broad socio-economic and environmental implications, and hence encourage the media, education authorities and non-governmental organizations to provide public inputs A well-informed public and clearly defined channels for public participation provide the best assurance that the project will take into account the broad spectrum of public values [Das: 1992:01]. This resulted in the submission of twelve memoranda from various cross-sections of the society [Memoranda: 2006]. The last named memorandum of the Village Authorities Association, Chiefs’ Association, Vangai Range, Hmar Inpui, Tipaimukh Region, Tipaimukh Dam Affected People’s Association, was submitted to the Prime Minister of India on his visit to Parbung on 2 Dec. 2006.
An analysis of the various memoranda of the affected people reveals that their concerns centred round issues like employment opportunity, compensation and rehabilitation, resettlement, FCI Godown, Customary laws, Workers’ colonies, Tourist Lodge, Representation, National Highway-150, Fishing Rights and Special Economic Package. As far as Employment Opportunity is concerned, they have demanded the modification of the word "local" into "Actually Affected People" in matters relating to Employment Opportunities in the construction of the dam and its allied works and to provide at least one job for every family of the displaced people. They have demanded to raise the compensation amount for the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of the displaced persons to Rs. 1 lakh from the recommended amount of Rs. 30,000/-, a matter to be settled before the commissioning of the Dam. They also demanded the construction of two FCI Godowns, one at Sibapurikhal (Vangai Range) and the other at Pherzawl, at the new ADC headquarters and also to ensure direct supply of foodgrains from the FCI godown in Silchar, Assam, and also the establishment of two Workers’ Colonies within Manipur State, viz. one within Vangai Range and the other within Tipaimukh Sub-division, ie. Hmar area, along with a Tourist Lodge or Circuit House at the dam site.
Other demands included the inclusion of representatives of the Affected People’s Association, a registered society, in any decision-making body in certain matters relating to appointments, sanctioning of Relief and Rehabilitation, Compensation and any matter that concerns the welfare of the affected people. They also revealed their interest in the immediate broadening of National Highway No. 150 that passes through the area of the Affected people. They demanded Fishing Rights as an alternative means of livelihood and the Special Economic Package, promised by the Prime Minister, which includes agriculture, horticulture and two centers of Kendra Vidyalaya within Tipaimukh Sub- division.
Such issues point to a realization of the affected people for a better standard of living on one hand, and the lack of understanding of the effacement of their history that the project would bring about, and the broader issues of environment and ecology. Their interest in the preservation of their culture and tradition is found only in two of their demands, viz. on the issue of resettlement and customary laws. They demanded that orders should be issued for the displaced persons to resettle themselves at Khawbawn, the local name for Assam Reserved Forest, Cachar, which is in fact the ancestral home of the actual affected people, viz. the Hmar community and its subsequent attachment to the Mizoram State [Ibid.] It is important to note here is that, as Walter Fernandes had pointed out, the laws on land acquisition usually recognize individual ownership of land, with disregard to the collective ownership system prevalent among different indigenous groups. Hence ‘at the time of acquisition, the indigenous people very often remain outside the statistical domain and do not share the benefits offered by the Government for the Internally Displaced Persons’ [Fernandes: Report: 2006], as victims of the dam. The preservation of customary Laws was another demand that showed their consciousness of their tradition and culture. They demanded the preservation of the sanctity of the Customary Laws of the affected people and for this more autonomy should be given to the Village Councils locally known as Village Authorities. Accordingly workers of the project should be subjected to such administrative system, viz. the Village Authority. The representatives of the various memoranda appears to be attracted more by the short-term and immediate material benefits, rather than the preservation of their history and culture.
A more serious reflection is found in Joseph Hmar’s "Rounglevaisuo endangered"[Hmar: 2006]. He explains that Rounglevaisuo ie. the Tipaimukh site is of great historical and sacred importance to the indigenous tribes, namely, the Hmars tribe and the Unau-Suipuis, including the ‘kindred tribes of the Hmar’ like the Hrangkhawls and Darlongs of Tripura, the Bietes of Meghalaya, the Sakecheps of Assam and the Komrem tribes of Manipur. It is at Rounglevaisuo, Hmar explains," that the kindred tribes parted ways after centuries of traveling in central and Southeast Asia. After their separation, the tribes began to evolve their own separate identities. Thus it is a place to which they are spiritually and historically connected. The Unau-Suipui tribes left the place to the Hmar to treasure and preserve for all generations to come…Further upstream is the sacred river island of the Hmar. .. called Thiledam which means `death and life’ in Hmar. In the Hmar religious belief, the island is the place where the soul of all human beings has to go first as soon as they die. From this island, the soul proceeds either to paradise or hell or comes back to the earth to be reborn." [Ibid.]
Based on an understanding of such myths, legends, beliefs and sentiments of local history, it needs to be pointed out here, that while the Environmental Assessment Report stated that ‘there are no sites and monuments of historical, cultural or religious significance in the area to be affected by submergence’, the place itself bears historical, cultural and religious significance. Moreover, the symbiotic relation between forests and the tribes would be snapped; forests are an integral part of their lives. Forests not only provide shelter to the tribes but are also sources for food and house-building materials. Certain trees are considered as totemic objects which are venerated. Some clan names are associated with trees and so are magico-religious beliefs, folklores, myths and legends. The alienation of the tribes from their forests is bound to make a serious impact on their values, attitudes and genres de vie or lifestyles. Moreover, the local people have pointed out that the historical route which links Manipur to the outside world, the Tongei Maril runs through the submergence area. Even the legendary Barak waterfalls and the ‘Atengba pats’ now known as the Zeilet lake of Kabui will be submerged. Thus they would be deprived and alienated from their ancestral heritage and culture. Joseph Hmar foresees that the project would bring about pressure on the land and its people, which would threaten their culture, more particularly their dialect [ Ibid]. In Hmar’s statement one finds a definite note of apprehension and threat of an effacement of their cultural heritage.
The Hmar Peoples Convention-Democratic (HPC-D) described the proposed Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project as "a war imposed on the indigenous Hmar people and other communities who share the rivers." The river referred to here are the Tuiruong and Tuivai. Lalthutlung Hmar, the HPC-D "northern command" leader described these river thus: "The … rivers are central to the existence and survival of the indigenous Hmar people, who are fragmented by five state boundaries – Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya. Although the divisive state boundaries made our people politically insignificant in their respective State, the rivers weaved our people together through thick and thin. We shall never sacrifice them; never in the name of development; never in any elusive name. Our rich culture, tradition, history, language and memory flow in these rivers." He stated that the rivers that nursed and fed their ancestors ‘shall continue to flow for all the generations to come. We cannot allow the rivers to be disturbed. We are obligated to see that no outsiders, their forces and might will dam, destroy or disturb the natural flow of the rivers of life. Whoever steps in shall do so at their own risk. They shall pay for their own action," He said: " the rivers did not flow to be dammed and "our land and forest did not stand to be submerged; our people did not live to be uprooted and displaced". There can be no compensation for the loss and cost to be paid by the people…We shall not allow the inheritor of these resources, the Hmar people, to be murdered by the same rivers that has given them life through the ages," and appealed to the visiting parliamentary delegates from Bangladesh for their strong support for "collective good". The "northern command" leader of the outfit further declared that HPC (D) was responsible for destroying NEEPCO’s drilling machine in the year 2008. "We hope everyone read our message loud and clear. We shall ever be committed to resist the destructive forces that go against the will of our people." [HPC-D]
There has been a systematic, yet slow and gradual diachronic breakdown of traditional institutions as well. This has been put forth by local belief as well as by the growing intelligentsia of the region, as represented by the student leader, Joseph Hmar. Hmar argues that inspite of the many changes to their culture, economy, socio-religious and political life, brought about largely by external factors, the indigenous people were able to keep their tradition alive. Initially, these changes were welcomed by the people but they have now realized that the changes were actually detrimental to their very existence. Of the many changes that have taken place, he points out that one of the most important is ‘the disruption of the traditional self-governing village administration’ through the process of abolition of the chieftainship with the introduction of Manipur Village Authority Act in 1956. In the traditional system, the village administration consisted of the chief, the village elders or councillors, the priest, and the youth of the village who functioned as the ‘commanders’ and the ‘messengers’. By this Act, revenue administration was vested in a new village authority with members elected directly by the people on the basis of adult franchise and very soon conflict arose between the new and the traditional administrative bodies. He describes the system thus: "In the traditional set up, the chief was only a nominal head real powers were in the hands of the councillors, priests and youth commanders, without whom the village’s socio-cultural and religious life cannot function. They were completely sidelined in the new set up. Thus a completely independent village administration was destroyed because the government failed to study or really understand the traditional administration of the tribal village".[ Hmar: 2009]
Hmar looks at the introduction of trade and money economy by shrewd businessmen from the Cachar plains has yet another negative impact on the local people disrupting the traditional subsistence economy based on barter. The new economy saw an increase in wealth and the subsequent growth of villages on both sides of the river and with it an economic differentiation among the people . He stated, "Most importantly, monetary debt, which was almost unknown before, became rampant. The introduction of trade, politics, wealth and power had the effect of ruining the happiness and well-being of large sections of the people". He mentions other factors such as Christianity, assimilation into the Mizo culture and armed ethnic conflict as impacting the society. He fears that in recent years, on account of the Tipaimukh project, the influx of outsiders have not only increased but will be permanently settling in the area. "Missionaries, traders, politicians, soldiers, labourers, etc. all came in small numbers and never stayed long. But if the government goes ahead with the proposed dam, thousands of outsiders of different races and creeds will move in to our land and the tribe will be exposed to changes never seen before: a new culture, economy and politics. Heavy pressures will be exerted on our land and forest and even more on the people. Our culture and traditions will be the first casualty, as it has always been the government policy to assimilate tribal cultures and traditions into the mainstream. The next casualty will be our language as the outsiders will not understand the local language and local people pick up alien languages very fast. In such a situation, other languages will gradually replace the Hmar language as the main medium of communication in our heartland, leading to the eventual extinction of the language. With our culture, language, land and forest under so much pressure and the keen involvement of government and corporate sectors in the project, it is only natural to be suspicious of everything and everybody. It becomes hard to believe that the project is actually being implemented in the best interests of the people of the state"[ Ibid].
While the indigenous people saw a wave of historical and cultural destruction, the project authorities made a socio-economic survey in the catchment area on the living conditions of the area . It reported that the residential houses area mostly kutcha or thatched, while some are semi-pucca, locally called the Assam Type. Very few houses are made of concrete. About one-tenth of the households live in a single room, while a majority of the households have two to three rooms. Sanitary facilities are not good . Some households have service-latrines while most of the households use the open field or some other make-shift arrangements for sanitary purposes and only one-fifth of the households have electricity supply. Tank and pond are the major sources of collecting drinking water. Other sources are rivers, streams, well, piped water and tubewells in some areas. The high rate of water-borne diseases indicates that the quality of drinking water is not hygienic enough. It is expected that the canals would be good sources of drinking water. A random sample survey indicated that about 25% of the population live below Poverty Line (BPL) in the catchment area. [Socio-Economic Survey:2006]
So it is expected that while a destabilization of traditional economy is already taking place; Ecological conservation requires jhum to be substituted by terrace cultivation and hunting as a traditional sport and as a source for food discouraged for the preservation of wildlife. Moreover, a section of the population entered into trade with the neighbouring states, and the development programme, of providing medical and educational facilities for example, to be implemented by the Project authorities is expected to elevate their socio-economic status. While there would be a temporary influx of outsiders employed by the contractors for the skilled jobs, the more enterprising of the local population are likely to benefit from considerable amount of investment in the project and its allied activities. The prospects of future tourism development and availability of cheap power may give an incentive to development of rural cottage industries and result in a boom in the local village economy. The afforestation programme will not only help in the improvement of the local environment but also enrich the forest resources and provide employment to the local people. Most important of all, a small committee comprising of the District Magistrate/Deputy Commissioner, Divisional Forest Officer and the Project Chief would regularly monitor the implementation of the environmental guidelines. In Manipur and Mizoram, since the 1980s, it has been strongly felt and programmes implemented to discourage jhum and in its place introduced permanent cultivation through integrated approach, to restore the ecology and protect the environment. The net result of rehabilitation of shifting cultivators or jhumias will be availability of more land for other developmental activities and restoration of natural vegetation. In degraded village forests. The scheme envisages rehabilitation of all 70,000 families under various trades. In this scheme, several Government departments are coordinated by the Rural development wherein jhumias are provided with various options for an occupation, namely, forestry, agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, fishery, cottage industry etc. [Environmental Report. Ibid. :76-80]
The destruction of the traditional subsistence village economy giving way to new job opportunities, have brought about intra-tribal conflicts, which so far have not been addressed. The tribes/kabuis of Tamenglong district believe that they would be losers in the game and deprived of not only their valuable agricultural land which would be submerged but at the same time they will not get the benefits that the Hmar tribes in the Tipaimukh area would enjoy. Again, it is that while the Hmars of the Manipur bank owe their allegiance to the state of Manipur, the Hmars of the other side owe their allegiance to Mizoram and hence, inter-state-conflicts arise out of the vested interests. [Interview: 2005]. Opposition to the Tipaimukh project in Manipur since 1970s was in fact, backed by militant groups, who are in armed conflict with the Indian armed forces operating under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 for full secession of Manipur since 1949. So for these groups, who are sustaining a national liberation movement, the project proposal is looked upon as another means of exploitation of the natural resources of the state by the "Indian Government".
Added to these intra-tribal and inter-state conflicts is also the question of the trans-boundary water conflict over its use and management, with Bangladesh. Fig.2. shows a schematic location of the Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project. Bangladesh’s opposition to the implementation of the project took the form of massive rallies, protest meetings, strikes and other forms of protest and has come to the limelight of the media and politics. Jiten Yumnam states that the debate on Tipaimukh Dam started with the first international Conference on Tipaimukh Dam in December 2005 and it had resolved against the project. Bangladesh based their argument on the fact that severe water shortage and multifaceted impacts after commissioning of Farakka Barrage over the Ganges River by India was a bitter experience. Opposition of Bangladesh was centered round environmental degradation, economic crisis and hydrological drought. To quote Yumnam," The damming of Barak River, seriously limiting free flowing Surma and Kushyara rivers will disrupt agriculture, irrigation, drinking water supply, navigation etc and reduce recharge of ground water during lean season, affecting all dug wells and shallow tube wells. Bangladesh gets 7 to 8 percent of its total water from the Barak River. The Surma-Kushyara with its maze of numerous tributaries and distributaries support agriculture, irrigation navigation, drinking water supply, fisheries, wildlife in the entire Sylhet division and in peripheral areas of Dhaka division and industries like fertilizer, electricity, gas. The dam would also leave millions jobless with the drying up of the two rivers. Millions of people are dependent on hundreds of water bodies, fed by the Barak, in the Sylhet region for fishing, agriculture and allied activities. The Barak-Surma-Kushyara is an international river with Bangladesh as a lower riparian country having rights over any decision over River"[Yumnam:2009]. Hafizuddin Ahmed Vice President of Bangladesh National Party described the construction of Tipaimukh dam as a ‘death-trap for Bangladesh’ as a whole.[Ibid.]
In an interview with the project authorities of NEEPCO, it was stated that in the original Detailed Report Project (DPR) of Tipaimukh Project, there was a proposal of low height secondary dams on the Barak river near Phulertol, to catch the lean water discharge during winter to provide irrigation to the adjoining agricultural land in Assam.
This was vehemently objected by the Bangladesh Government on the ground that the dry weater discharge of scanty water will be reduced drastically in Bangladesh. As a result the irrigation aspect was removed from the multipurpose project. Moreover, in addition to the hydroelectric aspect of the project, another aspevct was also considered to reduce the flood havoc in the downstream Barak Valley. However, Bangladesh Government raised the issue that although the Barak rive causes flood in Bangladesh also, vast terrain is also made fertile including the river bank slopes where thousands of poor peasant undergo cultivation as their means of livelihood. These peasants who are dependent on marginal cultivation will be adversely affected. Bangladesh Government brought up these issues in the international platform also. [Interview NEEPCO: 2007]
Yumnam states that the Indian Govt’s response to Bangladesh concerns has long been marked by a state of denial and pointed out how the Indian High Commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakrabarty’s statement that nothing could prevent India from constructing the Tipaimukh Dam as there are no existing international laws in support of it and that Bangladesh’s concerns are based on ignorance on 21 June 2009 at Dhaka provoked ‘an intense resentment in Bangladesh’ . The Government of Bangladesh believe that the statement was totally" erroneous in view of the status of the 1996 Indo-Bangladesh Ganges Water Treaty and the applicability of the 1997 UN Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses". Yumnam further writes that Bangladesh experts argue that though it is not yet binding as an "international treaty" law, there is every reason to validate the point in question that ‘the Convention, being adopted by a vote of 103 – 3 in the UN General Assembly, is applicable as "evidence of international customary law" to Tipaimukh dam or any such project on shared rivers. The 1997 Convention put heavy emphasis on comprehensive cooperation for equitable utilization of any trans-boundary watercourse, no-harm to all the co-basin states, and adequate protection of the watercourse itself’ [Ibid]. At a discussion on ‘Engaging South Asia: Obama’s South Asia Policy,’ held in Dhaka, James F Moriarty, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, urged the government of Bangladesh to discuss the Tipaimukh dam issue with India. This was followed by a discussion between the Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh at the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summit, July 2009 in Egypt. The issue has now moved, as stated by Yumnam, ‘from the confines of Manipur Assembly discussion to the British and Bangladesh parliamentary debates to the deliberations of several United Nations human rights forums’. [Ibid]
Hence in the final analysis from a historical perspective, the implementation of mega -dams of such magnitude is dangerous in the sense that they bring with them avalanches of change in numerous spheres – socio-economic and cultural lives of the people on one hand, and affecting environment and ecology on the other vis-a vis tall promises of better economic opportunities, and as such higher standards of living or genre de vie, at the cost of losing local historical and cultural sites. The destabilization of the traditional subsistence economy with regard to preservation of wildlife and ecological conservation implies that the culture of these people who would be affected by the construction of the dam, is already undergoing a transitional phase, to modernity and development. However, they have a right to their land and if they strongly feel that their alienation from it would mean the loss of their cultural heritage, it should be preserved.
Opinion is gaining ground all over the world that small projects were often but not always, preferable to big ones; A big project may not be bad just because it is big, but it does involve greater risk factors. The criteria for judging acceptability should be the sustainability of the project. In India, the conventional alternatives to hydropower are diesel, coal or natural gas. Natural gas reserves are few. Considering India’s coal reserves and the fact that it imports petroleum, coal would rank with diesel but would rank below oil since it produces a lot of carbon-dioxide. Thermal plants using coal used to be highly polluting, but modern technologies have helped in reducing the pollution level to a large extent [Comparative Study: nd]. The Thermal-Gas Plant at Kathalguri is an example.
Several non-conventional alternatives to hydropower, like nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, thermal are fast emerging. In India a hydel-thermal mix of 60:40 have been recommended by the planners. However, the efficiency level of hydro-projects are very high and regarded as the most eco-friendly, economical and available alternative and it conforms to the concept of sustainable development to a large extent.[ Ibid]. The destruction of the traditional subsistence village economy giving way to new job opportunities, have brought about intra-tribal conflicts, which so far have not been addressed. The tribes/kabuis of Tamenglong district believe that they would be losers in the game and deprived of not only their valuable agricultural land which would be submerged but at the same time they will not get the benefits that the Hmar tribes in the Tipaimukh area would enjoy. Again, it is that while the Hmars of the Manipur bank owe their allegiance to the state of Manipur, the Hmars of the other side owe their allegiance to Mizoram and hence, inter-state-conflicts arise out of the vested interests Nevertheless, beneath it all remains one basic question as to whether the history of a particular tribe or tribes should be wiped out in the name of development and progress.
Notes and References:
·Agricultural Finance Corporation Limited, Northern Regional Office, (HQ. Mumbai), Comprehensive Environmental Studies on Tipaimukh Hydro-Electric(Multi-Purpose) Project, Final Report, Environmental Impact Assessment, Vol.1, New Delhi, Jan. 2004. *The Earth Summit 1992, the biggest ever summit on Environmental Protection and sustainable development at Rio-de-Janeiro, Brazil, proclaimed 27 principles on Environmental protection.
· Deepak Kumar Das, Environmental Impact of Inter-Basin Water Transfer Projects, Some Evidence from Canada, Day and Quinn, 1992.
· Memorandum dated 30.11.06 from The ITIs Contract Employees Welfare Association, Imphal
· All Manipur Ladies Advocates Association, Manipur (2.12.06)
· Moreh College Teachers’ Association, Moreh (nd)
· Indian National Trade Union Congress, Manipur Branch (30.11.06)
· Village Authority’s Association, Tipaimukh Sub-division (nd)
· Thiwa Women Association, Senapati District, Manipur (1.12.06)
· All the Balshree Awardees of Manipur (2.12.06)
· The Old Cachar Road (Tongjeimanin) Chingmee Tamee Devt Committee, Bishnupur (1.2.06)
· All Manipur Inter-State Bus Association, Imphal (2.12.06)
· The Association of Premier State College Seniors, Manipur (1.12.06)
· College of Medical Sciences Society, Bishnupur (29.11.06)
· Village Authorities Association, Chiefs’ Association, Vangai Range, Hmar Inpui, Tipaimukh Region, Tipaimukh Dam Affected People’s Association ( 2.12.06).
· Subhram Rajkhowa, Internally Displaced Persons, pdf.nd.
· Joseph Hmar, President of the Hmar Students’ Union., Rounglevaisuo Endangered, in Manipur-Tipaimukh, manipuronline.com, pdf.nd,nealliance.net/wp-content/uploads/.../NE-Dams.-Ecologist-Vol-11-No1.pdf., date of access, 2007
· The Hmar Peoples Convention-Democratic (HPCD), indigenouspeoplesissues.com, date of access, 05.06.11
· Joseph Hmar Rounglevaisuo endangered . www.northeastvigil.in/specials/the-dams-issue/ecologist-2003/470.html, date of access:01.06.11
· Jiten Yumnam, Transboundary water conflicts and Tipaimukh Dam, icrindia.org/?p=412, 2009, date of access, 30.05.11
· Interview with Project Authorities, NEEPCO, 2007 Guwahati, Assam.
· Agro-Economic and Socio-Economic Survey of Tipaimukh Project, Vol II, Population Projection, Migration and Resettlement Pattern, National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi, 2006.
· Walter Fernandes in Report of the Workshop on the Internally Displaced Peoples in India’s Northeast, Nagaland, 2006
· A Comparative Study of Hydroelectric Projects in Canada and India, carried out by the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute under its Media Fellowships Programme, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, nd. Sustainable development is defined as " development that meets the needs of the present without jeopardizing the ability of the future generations to meet their needs."