Questions over commissioning Mapithel Dam

Jajo Themson
It’s good news for public of Manipur that the long chronic Mapithel dam of Thoubal Multipurpose Project has been officially inaugurated on 27th December, 2020 Sunday. The same was achieved after long exhaustive efforts of the concerned Department IFCD, now Water Resource Department (WRD), Govt. of Manipur to commission the project. The official inauguration program was conducted at Hapta Kangjeibung, Imphal Manipur in the presence of Shri Amit Shah, Union Home Minister and Dr Jitendra Singh, Union Minister of State for DoNER-Independent Charge.
With the Mapithel dam project the project aims to harness three units of power @2.5 MW with gross generation plan of 7.5 MW, drinking water supply @10 MGD to Imphal city and irrigation command @ 33,449 hectares in Thoubal district. Remarkably, it has taken 40 long years of construction, investment made @ over Rs. 1387.85 crore as per latest project cost escalation and final investment clearance from the Niti Aayog, Govt. of India, dated 12th September, 2012, the project caused loss of above 2000 hectares of prime agricultural land, forest, river, homestead areas, ancestral homes and grazing fields in the upstream area. Besides this, ecosystem and natural environment of the region were either drastically changed or lost. Principal livelihood sources of above 12,000 populace in the upstream and thousands in the downstream region had been sacrificed for the project willingly or unwilling.
Series of successive targets were set for completion of the Mapithel dam project. The 1st commissioning target was-August 1987, the 2nd was-October 1994, the 3rd was-March 2002, the 4th was-March 2007, the 5th was -March 2013, the 6th was-31st March 2015, the 7th was -September 22, 2016, the 8th was – year ending of 2016, the 9th was – 31st March 2017, the 10th was announced on 1st April 2017 and the 11th one was in March, 2018.
Shall we call inauguration of Mapithel dam, success of the project ? Literally, it is a pronouncement of hay-day for general public that a mega development project has been commissioned. It manifests harvest is at hand. Consequently, public have high expectation to enjoy the decades long awaited fruit of the project. However, there is a big question to be answered. The apparent question is “Is the Mapithel dam project really functioning and harnessing its targeted goals benefitting the public?”  Or, is it following the same old stories of immature projects inauguration while no benefit generated ? In a very remarkable way, all the key components of the Mapithel dam project still remain incomplete.
Hydro-power generation plan
One of the main components of the Mapithel dam Project is to install a power house for generating 3 Units of 2.5 MW each of power installed capacity @ 7.5 MW. The actual position of installation of hydro-power generating part is at the initial stage till now. The turbine construction portion is hampered by continuous water logging from leakages at the immediate back wall of the dam. This may take either at least some more years or inability to construct as the portion is considerably hindered by water leakages. As per reply of the Chief Engineer, IFCD, Manipur on 22nd June 2017, state Govt. is yet to consult to the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) when Irrigation and water supply components will be completed.
Irrigation component
Water supply for irrigation is another key component of the Mapithel dam project. The project is targeted to irrigate 33,449 hectares of irrigation potential area in Thoubal district. However, it was surprising to learn that no remarkable progress of Irrigation canal could be seen during a field visit in May 2017, while the report of the Chief Engineer, IFCD dated 22nd June 2017 claimed to have done 99% seem misinforming. The proposed Heirok branch canal of Thoubal Left Main canal through prime agricultural land is strongly opposed by the people of Heirok. Villagers are condemning they don’t agree with the Government’s proposal for land acquisition to construct the 100 ft wide canal. Moreover, existence of original targeted irrigation potential area in Thoubal district 40 years back is questionable.
Water Supply component
Supply of drinking water is another major component of the dam. As reported by the staffs of Hyderabad based Company -Coastal Projects Limited, construction of tunnel drill takes one and half year to cover 1185 meters out of 2280 meters since December, 2015. The remaining 1095 meters i.e 49% is likely to take at least another 17/18 months on tunnel drilling. Moreover, there has been unofficial report that there is severe problem of inability of water to reach the transit reservoir at Chingkheiching from Laikoiching. Thus, it is highly questionable as to whether safe drinking water will reach Imphal city or not as per the status updated by the Chief Engineer, IFCD, Manipur on 22nd June 2017 to complete Water Supply Plan within 4 months.
Poor dam quality
Questions have also been raised on the quality of the construction of the dam. Tumukhong villagers disclosed that laborers randomly filled up the dam with whatever rocks, woods, stones etc. found nearby. Water leakages through 6 major portions were detected at the immediate back wall of the dam since 2015. The leakages mainly happened at the turbine installing area, Spillway portion and some others at the higher level of the back wall. Addl. Chief Engineer, IFCD in an interview on 10th May 2017 clarified that leakages in the dam is risky if the water seepages become murky with mud. It is undeniable that Mapithel dam is at risk.
Development of multiple earth fissures
Multiple earth fissures and cracks have developed at Maphou/Phayang, Senapati district and Louphong village in Kamjong district. More dreadful situation is several cracks at Maphou Kuki village which was newly resettled.  The most serious case with this incident at Maphou Kuki is either due to cutting of the foot of the mountain on spillway construction and approach road which led to the mountain’s inability to withstand repeated quakes caused due to numerous bomb explosion in the tunnel drilling just at the southern foot of the village or water seepage into rocks beneath the mount, observing high possibility of sliding down the whole mount which can lead to dam collapse. It is highly suspected if the project will be useful in the long run.
Failed CAT Plan
As per the EIA report of the IFCD, Manipur, prepared by the Hydro-Bio-Tech Design Engineers in 2006, there has been side by side of forest areas suffering critical damage due to a plethora of reasons where soil erosion has attained serious proportion. On top of this, no action steps have ever been initiated under Catchment Area Treatment (CAT) plan according to the Forest Department in February 2016 which still remains the same. The pertinent question here is, “Will the Mapithel dam water reservoir sustain water without regulating the Catchment areas ? The same reminds one of the condition of Singda dam which drastically reduced its expected life span as well as factor of its failure accredited to unprotected catchment areas.
Absence of Holistic Impacts Assessment (HIA)
Blocking of the Yangwui Kong/Thoubal River was done without conducting Holistic/Detailed Impacts Assessment (DIA) covering socio-economy, cultural, livelihood, health, environment & ecology and precautionary measures therewith. Unwarranted dimensional submergence of residential area, wet paddy field, houses, Churches, school buildings, community hall, homestead areas, low lying forest, animal grazing field and means of transportation had given untold hardship to the affected villagers leading to incredible worsening of their living standard.
Forest Clearance unresolved
Mapithel dam is still marred with acquiring mandatory Forest Clearance from the Central Ministry of Environment and Forest-Climate Change (MoEFCC). Issue of forest diversion @ 595 hectares in respect of Mpithel dam is yet to be resolved. The National Green Tribunal (NGT), Eastern Bench, Kolkata passed final judgment on 6 December, 2017 in favor of the affected villagers, directing the State respondents to comply with the necessary conditions contained in the Forest Rights (Recognition of Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Right) Act, 2006. Instead of carrying out the order, the State respondents filed an appeal before the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the early part of 2018. (To be contd)