Dams as a death trap in Manipur


Christina Lalremdik
The recent incident that occured on the fateful day of 27th April, 2019 at Mapithel dam where two brothers and one lady drowned when their boat capsized due to a storm, has sparked the interest of the public as well as high officials of the state. Drowning of a person or cattle at the reservoirs constructed across the rivers of the state has been a common occurrence ever since the initial construction of dams. The recent happening has shed some light on different angles of destructiveness brought upon by the so called multi-purpose projects. Besides the submergence of vast number of land as well as factors like change in climatic conditions, soil fertility and many other numerous consequences constantly encountered by the displaced communities, increase in loss of lives has become a serious issue. The occurrence of death at the Maipthel dam, the Loktak Lake and Khuga dam has become more frequent ever since the transformation of the dam area as a picnic spot or other recreational activities. The locals of the depicted dam areas have lost innumerable assets and are always on verge of losing their precious lives as there is no proper management of the huge barrier. Today, not only the residents are in danger of their lives, many tourists who visited the dam sites to explore and enjoy themselves are also constantly risking their lives due to improper maintenance of the site. People from far flung places and city dwellers would often visit these sites to spend their leisure times with families and friends. Taking these as an opportunity, the residents of the dam areas are forced to construct make shift wooden raft and boats, and unauthorized boats made of barrels and woods powered by a generator to tour the visitors around the vast artificially constructed lake. This form of livelihood has become a major income generator for the locals. However, these boats are merely propelled by a power generator with no proper installation of equipment and safety measures so the tourists and visitors’ lives  are always at risk while enjoying these boat rides. 
According to newspaper reports, approximately twenty (20) persons have drowned at the Khuga dam in Churachandpur District. The latest incident occurred when a man identified as KaiminsangHaokip, 28, who came to see Khuga Dam for the first time drowned at the reservoir. At least seventeen (17) people, including the recent drowning of a sand mining labourer namedThangjam Kunje, 42, along the banks of Thoubal River near Yairipok Leirongthel Pitra, have died at the Mapithel dam.
Three persons have also drowned at Loktak Lake namely R Sangreibou, 18, son of R Poumangbou of Kuilong village, who accidentally died trying to save a friend from being swept away by the strong water current, a 21-year old rifleman Bablu Hussain Mazumdar of 33 Assam Rifles who had drowned while taking a bath, and Lalrempui, a 19 year old girl from Mizoram who fell off the makeshift boat. 
There have also been several cases of drowning at the Singda Dam. The most recent case occured on 2nd January, 2019 when a youth, identified as Thounaojam Bidyasagar (25) s/o Achoubi of Moidongpok Mamang Leikai, lost his life while swimming at the dam.
The Khoupum dam, located at Tamenglong district also causes many deaths. A seven-year old school boy identified as Happyson Dangmei who is the son of Johna Dangmei of Namkaolong Part-II of Khuopum Tamenglong, while returning home from school slipped and fell into the dam on 2nd August 2016. The local residents had lamented that the death could’ve been prevented if there was a proper fencing surrounding the dam.
In addition to these, there has also been reports of drowning of cattle and other livestock from time to time. Such incidents had always gone unheard by the Government and public. In the wake of the latest incident that took the lives of three people in the Mapithel dam, a lot of concerns have been raised by the public. The Chief Minister had also instantly issued an order to ban using of unauthorized boats.
The outcome of the dams contradicted the initial purpose its construction. The people living across the upstream and downstream of the mentioned dams are living a nightmarish life due to the ultimate destruction brought about by the huge unstaining reservoir beyond their expectation.  The livelihood activities of such communities have been forcefully stopped and the traditional views of dams as an important source of social and economic growth have been challenged.
The impact of dams is no longer limited to submergence of agriculture land, forest and other livelihood sources. Loss of lives in the Dam reservoir has become an absurd reality. Nearly fifty (50) precious lives were already lost in dam reservoirs. Dam reservoirs itself are a death trap and now constitute a major impact of hydropower projects in Manipur. Many more lives will be lost in the dam reservoirs of Manipur even as the performance of these myriad dams remains questioned.
A thorough inspection of the ground reality of the damage caused by dam is necessary. The Government and all development stakeholders need to acknowledge the impact of dam reservoirs on human lives as a major and one of the significant impacts of any dam construction. Communities affected or to be affected by Mega dams need to be sensitized as how dam reservoirs will impact their very survival itself. Continuous negligence of management will result in increased number of life loss and more unprecedented events that are far more destructive than ever in the history of the state will arise if proper attention is not given to these dams. 
It is high time that the Government explore the plausibility of modifying the failed dams as a proper means of alternative livelihood for the dam affected people with a strong surveillance and to consolidate management strategies which will benefit both the residents as well as the managing authorities. 
Blaming the communities for lacking authorization and safety measures is simply irrelevant as the dam proponents and the government need to basically understand the impacts of dams and its reservoirs on human rights. Unsustainable mega dam projects not only unleash harm to the environment and people, but also prove to be a major death trap for the people as well.
The writer is based in Khawpuibung Village, Churachandpur and can be reached at [email protected]