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Tribals protest against Tipaimukh project near Burma border

Nava Thakuria
Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)

October 30, 2003: The voice of protest against the Tipaimukh Hydro-Electric
Multipurpose Dam over the Barak river, which originates from north-eastern
Burma hill ranges has become loud and clear from inside and outside India.

While the tribal people of north-eastern India have demanded the outright withdrawal of the project, the government of Bangladesh has protested against it in the recently concluded Joint Rivers Commission meeting at New Delhi.

With an aim to safeguard the land, belief, culture and history of the hill tribal people, the local people have come together to protest against the construction of Tipaimukh dam over Barak in Manipur (Assam), which is identified as the largest hydro-electric project in NE India.

The tribal protestors, under the banner of the Committee Against Tipaimukh
Dam (CATD), have expressed apprehension that the proposed dam would submerge large areas covered with forest, having sacred places of religious and
historical importance and unique flora and fauna. The CATD has already sent
a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to intervene and shelve
the Rs. 50 billion dam project.

The committee has also cautioned the Indian central government that the local tribal people would intensify their protest in due course and try to stop construction of the controversial dam with their “last drop of blood”.

The memorandum, sent on September 19, however, admitted that the people of
Manipur were not against the development works undertaken in the North East
region by the Centre and State governments.

“But that must not result in the degradation of agricultural land owned by the indigenous people of Tamenglong and Churachandpur districts of Manipur, which would seriously affect their right of living,” said the memorandum, signed by Aram Pamei and Samsom Remmei, the convener and co-convener of CATD.

It may be mentioned that the Tipaimukh Multipurpose Dam is proposed to be
constructed at the tri-junction of Manipur, Mizoram and Assam states of North East India.

Since the dam site is located at the Manipur-Mizoram-Assam bordering with Burma, it is apprehended that the project would make impact on watershed area of Burma as well, thus influencing the ecological aspect of Burma's northern area.

The dam is reportedly designed to be as high as 162.8 metres. The estimated
electricity generation capacity of the dam is reported as 1500 MW.

Moreover, the dam is supposed to help mitigate the annual floods in Barak valley of Assam. After acquiring the responsibility to construct the dam from the original party, the Brahmaputra Board (of Assam) in 1999, the North-East Electric Power Corporation signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the Manipur state government in January 2003.

However, the Manipur State Assembly unanimously opposed the construction of
the dam two times in 1995 and 1998, due to apprehension about seismology-
environmental aspects and also the rehabilitation of thousands of displaced
indigenous families.

Meanwhile, the Central Electricity Authority of India has also given the final Techno-Economic Clearance to NEEPCO to start the project on July 2, 2003. The entire project has been planned to be completed by 2011.

Arguing against the dam, CATD convener Aram Pamei said that the proposed dam would be erected in the Tousem Seismic Zone, which is identified as the
epicentre of some recent earthquakes in North East India.

“So any step to construct a high dam there would only increase the possibility of a quake like the devastating earthquake in 1950 that killed thousands of people and destroyed countless properties and wealth in Assam (then the entire NE India was named so),” said Aram Pamei.

“If the dam, with an estimated capacity of 15.5 billion cubic metres, is constructed, over 275 sq. km of area will be submerged permanently. Moreover
15,000 people will be displaced by its reservoir. The most horrifying and
irreparable impact would be on their life and livelihood, culture and tradition,” said Salam Rajesh, an environmental journalist based in Imphal, the capital of Manipur.

There are cultural apprehensions regarding the loss of legend and traditional values. “The river Barak, along with Alang and Makhu, is deeply associated with the tradition, culture and belief of the indigenous people of the region. The Barak waterfall is also considered a sacred place. So the fear of submergence of the river, falls and lakes have angered the tribal people,” said CATD activist Samsom Remmei. In fact, protests against Tipaimukh Dam started in the early nineties.

The most active organizations like the Hmar Students Union, Zeliangrong Naga
Union and Naga Union of Manipur organized many protest meetings over the
issue. To continue their struggle, the activists formed the Citizen’s Concern for Dams and Development (CCDD) in 1999, which has become a strong platform for over 45 organizations.

Meanwhile, the sister organization of CCDD, All Manipur United Clubs Organization, has stated that the construction of the dam would simply destroy their livelihood by affecting the entire agricultural lowland on the banks of the three rivers — Barak, Alang and Makhu —which flow through the length of the Tamenglong district of Manipur.

The Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) has also strongly condemned the Indian government’s decision to construct the Tipaimukh Dam in
the Zeliangrong Naga areas in Manipur. The river Barak enters Bangladesh through Sylhet after dividing into the Surma and Kushiara rivers and unite again to form the mighty river Meghna.

“There are three major river systems in Bangladesh — Padma, Jamuna and Meghna — and the north-eastern region is dependent on the Meghna for fresh water. Now, if any high dam is constructed in the upper riparian country, it
will directly impact on the flow of the Meghna. The decreased flow will increase the fear of drought, and the increased flow will cause flood in northern Bangladesh. So we oppose the idea of any dam in those rivers that feed our river systems,” said Professor Ainun Nishat, a former member of the Indo-Bangla Joint Rivers Commission, in a protest meeting held recently at the National Press Club in Dhaka. Speaking to Sahara Time from Dhaka, the chairman of the Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh, Quamrul Islam Chowdhury, expressed apprehension that the Tipaimukh project would destroy the ecology, environment and the livelihood of the people of northern Bangladesh to a great extent.

Even in the 35th Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) meeting at
New Delhi on 1 October there was discussion on the Tipaimukh dam project.
Attended by Indian Water Resources Minister Arjun Charan Sethi and his Bangladesh counterpart Hafiz Uddin Ahmed along with other concerned officials, the meeting could not come to a conclusion regarding the issue. Sethi, while briefing reporters after the meeting, said that both sides could sign the Agreed Joint Minutes, but, of course, he admitted that the two sides could not endorse a joint statement.

Speaking about the proposed Tipaimukh dam, he said that Bangladesh had some doubts over the project, but India could convince the Bangladesh delegation to “dispel” their fear. The next meeting of Joint Committee of Experts
will take place this year in Dhaka.

Vajpayee had launched “Mission 2012, Power for All” initiative last May, which proposes production of 50,000 MW of hydro-electricity. North East India has been identified here as the richest region in this regard, and Arunachal Pradesh enjoys the lion’s share of potential with 45,000 MW.

NEEPCO has given the assurance that they would not execute the Tipaimukh
project without the consent of the local people. A senior officer of NEEPCO,
A.K. Dam, had reportedly said that the project would be beneficial for the region, and would directly or indirectly provide jobs for over 10,000 people. It may be mentioned that besides the 1500 MW Tipaimukh project, NEEPCO is also working for the 75 MW Doyang Hydro-electric Project in Nagaland, the 100 MW Papumpam, the 105 MW Pakke and the 100 MW Dikrong hydel project in Arunachal Pradesh. The government statistics say that after independence over 3000 big dams have been constructed in India. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had laid the foundation stone of the Hirakud dam in Orissa in 1948, which was the first major river valley project in the country.

On the other hand, Manipur’s Chief Minister, O. Ibobi Singh, confirmed that
the government would go ahead with the Tipaimukh dam project. “We must develop our state for the welfare of the people. So I appeal to everyone not
to put up any hurdles in front of this multipurpose project, which will create jobs for thousands of people,” said the Congress leader.

 
 
     
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