Perturbed ecological balance through corporate plundering of Manipur

Samarjit Kambam
Incessant rain, not heavy downpour. That also for approximately 24 hours only and many areas of the valley are affected with water level of many rivers rising, overflowing of water from Chakpi river flooding Sugnu, Wapokpi and many other areas of Kakching, Keirak, Moirang, Naapat of Kumbi A/C and many other areas with paddy fields inundated and waist deep water especially in Sugnu and Wapokpi areas. What if there happens to be continuous heavy downpour for 3 or 4 days? The situation that’s bound to take place is really hard to imagine. These kind of scenarios hardly happened in the preceding years. But in this year 2017, we have seen a marked increase in flood, water logging, inundation in almost all valley areas of Manipur. Reminds me of the waterlogging and flood like situation in Mumbai wherein only one day of downpour during the last week of August led to stoppage of normal activities of the residents as water reaches upto the level of knee to waist. The result was the lack of proper planning with the water nowhere to go. The situation in Manipur is quite tantamount to that as the natural flow of water has been perturbed. The deforestation in the hills also further add to the woes as the sediments and silts carried by the water from the hill ranges fill up the rivers and lakes.A few months back, the situation in the valley due to flood was so cataclysmic that the state government had to declare the situation a state calamity. It doesn’t require rocket science to fathom why there is such an imbroglio in the valley areas of the state whenever rainfall occurs for a few days. The state government may blame it on Cyclone Mora. But the impact of Cyclone Mora was minimal, not such a great force to reckon with. There was neither heavy storm nor extraordinary downpour for days on end during the beginning of monsoon. There were years in the past which recorded heavier rainfall than the present year without leading to flood, water logging and the likes as is happening now. I mean to say that this year’s rainfall was not heavy enough to get most of the valley areas flooded. This shows that something is wrong with the ecological balance of Manipur with the pathetic sewerage and drainage system in the valley further adding to the woes and it can be rightly said that the flood problem is man-made only. It is a scientifically proven fact as well as a fact experienced by ourselves that water flows from a higher level to a lower level. The topography of Manipur is such that the southern side of the valley is lower than the northern side. As a result water of the rivers in the state flow from the northern side to the southern areas of the valley with Loktak Lake as its destination. It is a logical conclusion that if the water that flows from the northern side gets blocked at the southern side, then there’s definitely bound to have floods, water logging and inundation at the vicinity.Many experts have voiced their opinions frequently regarding this topic and it is a foregone conclusion that the Ithai Barrage is the main culprit for the prevailing logjam as it is doing more harm than good leading to submergence of inhabited and agricultural areas as well as displacement of people in terms of thousands. It is a welcome step from the part of the Hon’ble Governor Dr Najma Heptullah for her announcement that she will pursue the state government for decommissioning of Ithai Barrage. Manipur is known as the Sports Hub of India. It is also known as the Hydro-Electric Hub of north eastern region but at the cost of colossal damage and threats to lives and loss of livelihood of many residing in the state. Manipur has substantial hydro power potential of about 2000 MW, which is sufficient not only to meet the local requirement for domestic and industrial uses but leaves surplus for marketing outside. As of now, many ventures on hydro-electric projects are taken up by the state government in connivance with NHPC. Mention may be made of Loktak Down Stream Project, Tamenglong for utilising tail water of existing Loktak HE Project supplemented by inflow of Leimatak river to produce 66 MW of power. However, Environmental clearance is yet to be obtained from the Ministry of Forest and Environment, Govt of India with the consent of the people at the backburner. Another is Tipaimuk Hydro-electric Project, located near Manipur-Mizoram border 500m downstream of the confluence of the river Barak with Tuivai in Churachandpur district of Manipur with estimated power generation of 434.44 MW. This project is being taken up under joint venture mode among the NHPC, SJVNL & Government of Manipur with 69%, 26% & 5% equity share participation respectively. Here again, the consent of the common people is ignored. The Government of Manipur also welcomes private participation in the following projects viz, (a) Nungleiband HE-Project which is proposed to be taken up near Nungleiband village in Tamenglong district with capacity of 70 MW. (b) Irang HE-Project located near Taobam village on NH-53 in Tamenglong district with an installed capacity of 60 MW. Balanced geological investigation works are yet to be taken up by GSI, Shillong. (c) Tuivai HE-Project located near Deilkhai village in Thanlon Sub-Division of Churachandpur district with an estimated capacity of 51 MW. (d) Maklang – Tuyungbi HE Project located at the confluence of rivers Maklang and Tuyungbi near Khonglo village under Kasom Khullen sub-division of Ukhrul district and envisages an installed capacity of 90 MW. (e) Pabram HE Project located near Tamenglong Khunjao in Tamenglong district. It is a storage scheme and aims to utilise the inflow of Barak river. The proposed power house shall be having an installed capacity of 190 MW. Investigation work is yet to be started. (f) Khongnem Chakha Project  which envisages construction of a 52m high concrete gravity dam and 1.5 Km long head race tunnel of 3.5m diameter. The power house shall be having an installed capacity of 67 MW. Survey and Investigation of the project is yet to be started.It is a wonder that the two lifelines of Manipur viz NH2 and NH 3 are still in a pitiable state, not fit to be considered national highways, whereas the state govt is on the other hand too hasty to build mega dams, mega power houses, viz a viz. The previous government in Manipur hastily formulated the Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy in 2012. The Act was quietly introduced with limited consultation and discussion even within the Manipur Assembly where it was passed. The policy fits perfectly in India’s larger definition of Manipur and other parts of India’s North East as power house of India and to generate more than 60,000 Mega Watt of electricity.Let me recount about my visit to Tura, Meghalaya a few years back. I stayed at a hotel for 3 days. There the power supply was 24×7. When I asked the Manager of the hotel from where the power comes from, to my utter surprise he replied that the power comes from Manipur only. It was during the peak time when Manipur was reeling under acute power shortage and supply was on roaster basis with one whole day without power and was made available on the next day that also only for a few hours.It is a known fact that the Loktak Hydro Electric Power Project under the aegis of NEEPCO was built in 1983 by National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and to provide lift irrigation to an area of 57,000 acres in the Manipur valley that produces power of 105 MW which is surplus for the state of Manipur. However, the irony is that most of the power is being supplied to other North Eastern Regions and the very state that produces power is reeling under power shortage as the state government has only 33% stake in Loktak HE Power Project. It will be a boon for the people if the state government is able to repay the amount involved in the 67% stakes of NHPC. But the state govt is not opulent enough to do so and NHPC also wants to maintain the status quo as lots of profit is being accrued by the corporation by selling the power to other north eastern states. As long as the remaining amount of 67% stake remains unpaid by the state govt, NHPC will be on its wild spree of exploiting the region creating natural imbalance. Since the initial stage of establishment of Loktak Hydro Electric Project, the required official procedures had not been carried out properly. When building dams, or hydro electric projects, the consent of the people were ignored. The arbitration, the violations of all applicable legislations, the devastation of ecosystems, the divisions and confusions created among affected communities, the lack of accountability of corporate bodies involved in the  projects, militarisation and related human rights violations are just a few of the impacts. Now, Manipur Electricity Department is already a ‘Corporation’ and the power supply and distribution is already privatised.Of all the major factors, the Ithai Barrage can be taken as the main reason for the recent deluge and water logging in various valley areas of Manipur. On the flip side, the State Government is making preparations to frame a policy of its own to facilitate private participation and investment in the sector and is committed to provide an attractive and investment friendly atmosphere. The Government has given top priority in generation sector to develop hydro power potential as one of the major industries. Here, it is pertinent to mention that the denizens of the region are not consulted. So the state govt and NHPC lacks regulation, transparency and accountably on their part. The NHPC although a government enterprise is just like a corporate body trying to make the best use hydro-electric projects in Manipur. The state government seems to give a free hand to NHPC. As for NHPC, their ultimate goal is to derive maximum monetary gains from various Hydro Electric projects in Manipur without taking into account the livelihood of the people and loss of land due to submergence by water. In fact, it is a kind of corporate plunderism where the people have to pay the price. The Loktak Hydro-Electric Power Project commissioned three decades back has reached electricity to thousands, but robbed thousand others of their livelihood. The Loktak lake which has to have water to the optimum, often causes flash flood in the agricultural land on its periphery, turning them into swamps unfit for cultivation. The construction of Ithai barrage and maintaining constant water level at full reservoir level (FRL) has led to changes in hydrological regime thereby affecting ecological processes and functions of the wetland, inundation of agricultural lands and displacement of people from flooded lands and loss of fish population and diversity.The State government estimates that the Ithai barrage on Manipur river, constructed in 1979 as a part of the power project, has submerged 20,000 hectares of cultivable land while unofficial estimates peg the figure at as high as 83,000 hectares. The only option for the thousands of poor farmers living around the lake, spread over 230 sq km area is to switch over to fishing in the swamps, but that means huge additional investment. The situation is worsening by the day as heavy siltation has raised the river bed making the lake shallower and increasing inundation on the edge of the lake.To address all the issues raised on the health of Loktak lake, the Government of Manipur has set up the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) under the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 with the objective to provide administration, control, protection, improvement, conservation and development of the natural environment of the Loktak Lake. Ironically, the Loktak Development Authority in the name of development and maintenance of Loktak Lake in the recent past unleased a reign of terror and robbed many people of their livelihood whose lives depend on fishing. The LDA deployed Manipur Police and unleashed widespread arson and destruction of floating huts over Phumdis, a floating vegetation mass, in Manipur since 15 November 2011 despite stiff opposition from affected families, a fall-out of the controversial Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006. Such acts of LDA defies UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The arsoning and destruction of floating huts and livelihood of the indigenous people dwelling in Loktak Lake constitute a serious violation of the “right to life”, “right to adequate housing” as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Nearly 1147 floating huts have already been burnt in the arsoning and destruction of floating huts by the Loktak Development Authority. These floating huts were used by the indigenous Meitei people for fishing and also for refuge of landless people who were earlier displaced by the Ithai Barrage of the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, which has inundated nearly 83,000 hectares of prime agricultural land since its commissioning in 1984. No compensation or rehabilitation packages have been carried out by the state government so far for the victims. Previously, the Loktak lake and its vicinity had a rich biodiversity with habitat heterogeneity comprising of many species of aquatic macrophytes of emergent, submergent, free-floating and rooted floating leaf types. But in recent years many rare varieties of flora have faced the music of declining trend of vegetation and are on the verge of extinction. Besides, many species of waterbirds, wetland associated birds and migratory waterfowls are also on the decline. Many species of animals are also not spared. Blockage of entry route of varieties of fish towards Loktak lake from Chindwin river of Burma to the course of Manipur river towards Imphal river for breeding in the adjoining lakes and streams of Manipur valley has also been hampered leading to decrease in number of fish.With the phumdis becoming thinner at Keibul Lamjao National Park, the hoofs of the limbs of Sangai get stuck in the marsh and results in their drowning. The acts of LDA has led to decrease in population of a number of economic plants resulting in starvation conditions for the endangered Sangai thereby threatening its very survival. Livelihood of people dependent on the sale of edible fruit and rhizome of lotus plant products has suffered due to steep decline in the growth of these plant species. Today, Loktak Lake is at the highest level of eutrophication and the only brow-antlered deer is at the verge of extinction. It is high time for the state govt to realise that the welfare of community at the vicinity be given paramount importance before implementing any Mega Projects. As democratic decision making for development, the communities need to be at the centre stage of decision making for meaningful development not through militarisation related development. As Manipur has great potential for Micro hydel power projects at various remote areas, the state govt, instead of opting for Mega power projects, Micro hydel power projects will suffice for the power needs of Manipur as sustainable form of energy. It is also time to opt for and promote alternative energy sources such as solar energy. The promotion of alternative energy should ensure that the full provisions outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 and the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams in 2000 are fully complied too.If the process of focusing on corporate led development persists without taking into account the participation and consent of the community, we will be witnessing more floods, water logging and inundation in the coming years and manifold increase in loss of livelihood and misery of the people.(The writer can be reached at [email protected])


One thought on “Perturbed ecological balance through corporate plundering of Manipur

  1. Soibam Iboyaima Singh

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    This article written by Samarjit Kambam is very interesting to read containing brief comprehensive detail of ecological balance and coming up hydro-electric projects in the state. Tipaimukh project which is mega project of the state will have installed capacity 1500 MW (6 x 250 MW), but this was written as 434.44M MW. Suggested for correction please.
    Regarding cleansing of Loktak lake is very essential, regarding the matter LDA should take up congenial work to make deeper and frequent removal water hyacinth which is great major problem for shallowness of the lake. If Loktak project was not built, this lake might have disappeared.

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