The Holy Grail of Khuga Dam : Promises vs Plight
Time and again, a fear psychosis surfaces over the structures of Khuga Dam with this year’s heavy monsoon. Zoumunnuam village is a case in point in the most recent flood induced by the dam. The entire village was waterlogged to almost a house-deep. Every concerned individuals and civil societies doled out help both in cash and kind. But, assistance from the Government side is yet to be heard.
The Khuga Multi-Purpose Hydroelectric Project, also known as Khuga Dam is located near Mata village, some 10 kilometres away from Churachandpur town and is one of the 38 projects that had been put forth by the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) in 1980. The projects had got clearance and were meant to bring about techno-economic viability of irrigation, drinking water, electricity and flood control as per a report from South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).
Geographically, the contour of nearby town areas is such that the turn of the Khuga river around it was so steep. Therefore, the town and vicinity areas were prone to flood and inundation of lands during monsoon season. To help the locals from this natural catastrophe, Churachandpur town was earmarked for the construction of a multi-purpose dam downstream the Khuga River. The dam has a height of 38 metres from ground level and a width of 238 metres.
The multi-purpose driven hydroelectric project of Khuga Dam serves us a misnomer. As per data of SANDRP, 7.5 MW of hydropower will be generated; 15,000 hectares of land will be irrigated and up to 10 million gallons of drinking (MGD) water per day will be provided to communities in Churachandpur town and its vicinity of the dam like Bishnupur district.
Started in 1983, construction of the dam discontinued for almost two decades partly due to the ethnic violence. The construction resumed in 2002 by which time the construction cost was revised from time to time from original 15 crores of INR in 1980 to 433 crores of INR in 2012. On completion, it was inaugurated on 12 November, 2010 by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the then president of the Indian National Congress. Ever since, the dam has been lying untapped and defunct till date.
As much as the promises so are the plights meted out by the dam to both biotic and abiotic ecosystems. It, rather than functioning, apparently serves us more of unintended damages than that of intended benefits and promises. In other words, enough volumes of water are stored in the reservoir which are languishing in disuse. The issue in question is that of lack of canal system, and as a result the catchment areas of the reservoir are found wanting during an excessive monsoon, that the water has done severe damages to the environment.
This leads to submergence of vast tracts of lands such as agricultural lands, forests, wetlands and a number of villages. This has incurred great deal of cost on the surrounding environment.
The implementing body, the Irrigation and Flood Control Department (IFCD), Government of Manipur should own responsibility for these damages. The Department has been renamed as Water Resources Department.
Without environment clearance over 40 hectares in the Dampi forests have been damaged by the overflowing water from the reservoir.
Over 22 villages have severely been affected. The traditional means of livelihood of the indigenous tribals in the construction belt have been put to topsy-turvy. The forests, agricultural lands, the Khuga river and wetlands in Khuga valley are sources of their living and other economic activities. It even caused displacement of villages such as Sehken village, T Kotlien village, Changlian village, Belbing village and Geltamjang village to name a few. The villagers are forced to shift their bases to nearby town and villages.
The chief of downstream village called M Semoul village has always been averse to the dam authorities for their substandard quality in canal construction. He questioned the purpose of the dam: What use is a dam when it cannot provide water to the people ?
According to a response to one Mr. Haokip’s RTI Application in August 2016 by the IFCD, nearly 250 hectares of land including homestead land, agricultural land and forest land were acquired for Khuga Dam with due process of law under LAAR Act, 2013.
Over 30 human lives have been lost in the dam. The latest drowning case was reported in January this year and the dead body was identified as V. Suanbiaklal aged 28, from Pearsonmun village in Churachandpur district. Hence, the Khuga Hydroelectric dam looks like a death trap in Manipur.
These hardships inflicted upon the indigenous tribals of Churachandpur district is a gross violation of International human rights provisions envisaged in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007. Responsibility has to be borne by the State Government or the Centre.
(To be contd)