A rising dam and a sinking village
Villagers of a little known hamlet in Manipur are struggling to save their homes and livelihood from the rising waters of the Mapithel Dam, under construction for the last 35 years which now has the new completion deadline of March 2017.
When your hen lays golden eggs, you never kill it for the meat. Instead, you take extra care to keep her alive till the time possible.
This is exactly how some Manipur Government officials describe the Mapithel Dam in the State’s Thoubal district, under construction for the last 35 years. The dam, funded by the Central Government, has so far claimed a whopping Rs. 1325.837 crores. As per the plan, the earth dam will be 66 metre high, 1074 metre long across River Thoubal. Once commissioned, it will irrigate 30,160 ha of paddy fields, provide 45MLD of drinking water and generate 7.5 MW.
Coming under the scanner for the long delay, the State Government has now set its commission deadline for March 2017. Along with the new date, an additional sum of Rs. 172.970 crore has also been sanctioned to the project.
Some government officials, who don’t want to be quoted here, however say, in spite of the latest deadline, it is likely that the “hen” will be kept alive. They point out the obvious reason. Till date, the
project, without being completed, has delivered the State Government quite a sum. The first time was in 1980 when the Planning Commission sanctioned Rs 47.25 crore for the project.
However, the announcement of the new deadline has not come as any good news for the people of 11 villagers in the dam area. Once the dam is commissioned, it is estimated that these tribal hamlets will be affected, out of which six will certainly go under the waters. Those six villages are Chandong, Louphong, Phayang, Lamlai Khullen, Lamlai Mongbung and Lamlai Khunnou.
Closest to the dam site, Chandong is already experiencing the changes that are to come to the others in the coming times. Since January 10 this year, the dam waters have reached the village. The Government, meanwhile, has allotted a new area to the 800 villagers of Chandong and had directed them to shift there by July, 2015.
However, the villagers, under the outfit Mapithel Affected Villagers’ Organisation, are not ready to budge from Chandong.
Thampsom Jajo, the chairman of the Organisation, says they are staying put. The organisation is banking on the District and Sessions Court injunction order on April 4, 2012 given in favour of the villagers.
The villagers have their reasons. Jajo says the new area allotted to the village has no land for farming, their primary source of livelihood. It is located far away from the existing paddy fields of the villagers.
“With no land for farming, people don’t know how to eke out a living in that new area. Also, what the government has done is to level the ground there but given no basic amenities that a modern village should have. It means that we cannot live there with dignity and self-respect,” he says.
However, with many of their homes, the school and some other facilities already under water, the villagers are a worried lot. They recently offered their last prayers at the church built by their forefathers in 1936. Most of their livestock, used in agriculture, etc. are either dead or have been moved elsewhere because of the rising waters.
A new method of commuting around the village has crept in too. The villagers now use the few canoes donated by some NGOs to go to nearby areas to procure things of daily needs and also to transport the sick to the hospital.
Dependent on animal meat, these mountain people -- now with their livestock gone -- have resorted to fishing. On visiting Chandong, this writer was treated by a villager with a curry of fish caught from the waters that have reached the village.
The Government has set aside a sum of Rs. 111.75 crores to compensate the villagers who would be displaced by the dam construction. The Government is required to rehabilitate and resettle the affected villagers before one year of the completion of the project, which is March 2016.
State Chief Minister Okram Ibobi claims 90 per cent of the village households of the affected area have already taken Rs 15 lakh each as compensation. Additionally, the villagers of Chadong were offered an alternative village. However, the Chief Minister has not yet addressed the allegation in a recent news report that 95 non-existent villagers were also given the compensation money.
The local opposition to the dam is not new though. A good 25 years ago, a tribal outfit resorted to violence to stop the construction of the dam. Armed cadres of the outfit raided the project site and beaten up the workers. The police station and an Assam Rifles camp, opened in the immediate vicinity to safeguard the workers and the costly machineries, failed to come to the help of the workers. Security measures were beefed up soon after and the workers stayed back.
Within days though, the armed cadres struck again. They killed three workers and set on fire many costly machineries and directed the remaining workers to flee the site. Early next morning, all of them scooted while the police and Assam Rifles personnel resorted to a blame game.
Now, even though the villagers of Chadong are staying put, the India Reserve Battalion camp nearby has closed down as the water has inundated its campus. The villagers are angry that no minister or the local MLA has visited them yet. They allege that they have been left by the State Government to fend for themselves.
To add to their woes, a heavy downpour had recently lashed the area, causing multiple leakages in the dam. The terrified villagers living along the river slept for many nights in some makeshift camps
some distance away fearing the dam would break. Though the dam officials tried to allay their fears, the villagers were not convinced.
While it is still a big question whether the dam will actually be commissioned in March, 2017, the human tragedy and the utter negligence of the Government to respond to it effectively are more and more prodding the local anti-dam and human rights activists to join in the protests of the villagers. Overlooking it all, the Congress Government, according to some political observers in the State, seems to be planning “to use the golden hen” as a trophy for its performances in the Assembly elections slated for 2017.
Meanwhile the affected villagers have given time till end of October to make arrangements for them failing which they will resort to agitations.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Imphal. He can be reached at email@example.com).