Land donors down with hunger : A case story of Mapithel dam

Jajo Themson
Almost all developmental projects are meant for prosperity, better health, enhancing life quality and living standard, well-being of people, better social and economic conditions of various unprivileged groups. Among others, mega developmental projects such as hydropower dam projects are also meant for economic growth and welfare of citizen. In light of this, the Mapithel dam of Thoubal Multipurpose Project at Maphou/Phayang is a prestigious development project of Manipur. With the target to harness power @ 7.5 MW, irrigating to about 33,449 hectares of land, drinking water supply @10 MGD and flood control, it took about 40 years in its construction. Commissioning attempts of the dam project was ultimately accomplished in December, 2020.
Counting down from commissioning of the project, it runs six months after inauguration. No tangible result of the project could be seen as of now. People of the State have been eagerly waiting to devour the fruit of the Mapithel dam project. Welfare to be enjoyed from the project is highly anticipated by one and all. However, no one can predict what benefits will be actually given by the project. Still then, the dam envisaged to be a welfare project, should it be inclusive welfare for all its citizens.
An amount of Rupees 1387.85 crore of public money have been invested for Mapithel dam project and being a welfare project, the affected indigenous communities had sacrificed their invaluable inter-generational capital assets such as prime agricultural land, forest, animal grazing fields, river and resources willingly or unwillingly. While people are looking at the rosy picture of the dam, effects of the dam construction and its counter impacts to the land donors in the grass-root level are usually ignored which are necessary as one assesses the outcomes of a project.
Reality of silent woes of the affected land donors has been unveiled in the post dam period. The Mapithel valley once known as the rice bowl of Ukhrul district has now turned to a region where food sovereignty has vanished. With the rise of dam water, submergence of 777.34 hectares of prime agricultural land in the area, 110.75 hectares of homestead areas and 293.53 hectares of low lying forest/jhum area including animal grazing fields took place. About 75-80% of paddy production and other income generating activities in the valley area are frozen defeating the age old food security and other sufficient productions have been  brought down to the lowest ebb in the post dam era.
The affected community people will be reel under food shortage and economic degradation with the construction of the Mapithel dam being a welfare project. The majority innocent people are still expecting the handsome promises made by Govt. before dam such as jobs to every family, livelihood means to be arranged, maximum development to the affected villages etc. etc. Those positive dreams of the ignorant citizens will remain dreams which will never materialize as the project is sealed as completed.
It is now history that once the affected villagers were enjoying plenty of paddy and food crops with the rich fertile land, forest and river resources bestowed upon them. With that power of natural gifts, they were self sufficient. Those capital assets and natural resources were in fact the back bone of their community life characterizing central point of the villagers’ economy. Their socio-economy and culture were based on the principal activities of agricultural practices and other forest and river resources. Those abundant days have now become a distant memory.
Based on in-depth study at five adversely affected villages, it was recorded that villagers in the Mapithel valley range such as Chadong, Ramrei Lower, Ramrei, Riha and Thoyee village have actually incurred a yearly loss of above 25,000 paddy tins in minimum calculation, which turns out to above Rs 70 lakh in economic value. An annual loss of about Rs. 15 lakh on average are incurred in every affected village only on paddy production.
Dilution of the capital assets of the affected people directly resulted in loss of food production featuring food insufficiency in the region. It has given adverse counter negative effects on families’ income, day to day household maintenance, their economy, children education and health etc. Food productions were crucial for families’ consumption as well as surplus rice produces for family maintenance. Thus, being a less privileged tribal society, cut off of this core production means the rest completely came to a halt too. Out of compulsion, the affected villagers in the Mapithel valley now directly depend on Yaingangpokpi, their nearest market as their principal granary.
Furthermore, other major alternative economic activities such as cattle rearing like cow, buffalo, coat, sheep etc. become relatively non viable as grazing field areas are gone under water. With shortage of food production, even economic activity like piggery becomes infeasible as chaff feed are unavailable in the localities anymore. The then income generation from home stead farms are also frozen. Besides this, yearlong income generation from river resources are grossly affected too.
Land owners, producers of rice, vegetables, cattle etc. are bluntly made hungry people today. Creating the land and resource donors of a development project down to hunger would be a vivid testimony of unjust kind of development construing the definition of the word welfare project a ridiculous. This may not be a new thing happened in entire India. Lakhs of indigenous populace have been forcefully displaced and alienated their land and resources creating such bitter social life journey generation after generation. Thus, Mapithel dam becomes a chapter in the history of welfare projects where the word welfare has turned into a disaster for lakhs of people instead of better of life as assumed before.
With the new grim conditions in the region in the wake of Mapithel dam , it is the bitter conclusion of the affected common people today that it would have been by far better if no such consent was entertained for construction of the dam. Mapithel dam has become an emblem of misery and hunger of people which indeed will be a drawback for future development plan of such projects. It seems there is repetition of the same old fashion of any project commissioned without considering the plights of the affected communities who dedicated everything like sources of their sustenance and loving ancestral homes. The deplorable conditions faced by the affected villagers today will go on through generations unless serious consideration and proper concerns are given by the concerned State Govt. authorities.
In conclusion, it is highly suggested that State or Union Govt. shall not take up any plans to build large dams like Mapithel dam and other previous flopped projects in Manipur unless plans are literally meant for well being of all. Such projects are not relevant if developers are not ready to take all precautionary measures. Loss of food security due to Mapithel dam project has defeated the principal objectives of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015 such as No Poverty, Zero hunger, Good health and Well-being, Quality Education, Reduced inequalities etc.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]