Vibi Yhokha | Kohima, March 25
Mapithel Dam: 7.5 megawatt of electricity versus the loss of homes and livelihood
A visit to the Naga village of Chadong under Ukhrul district in Manipur will give you a rare view of uncertainty and apprehension living under the shadow of a dam construction. The village carries a deserted look. There are no children playing around, no old people sitting outside and most houses in a dilapidated condition. The Church too appears empty on a Sunday.
Chadong village is one among the 11 villages that will soon be submerged under the Mapithel Dam construction of the Thoubal Multi Purpose Project. On January 10 this year, the Thoubal River was blocked, leading the water levels to rise and submerging 10 hectares of land including paddy fields. By monsoon, most of the paddy fields will submerge.
Standing 66 metres high and 1074 metres long, the dam was approved by the Planning Commission in 1980. Ansal Properties and Industries Limited, New Delhi and Progressive Construction Limited Hyderabad are taking on the construction works. The project is set to produce 7.5 megawatt of electricity while providing 10 million gallons of water to Imphal, daily. However the project will displace over 12,000 people, submerge around 11 villages and 777.34 hectares of paddy fields, 110.75 hectares of homestead, 293. 53 hectares of jhum land and 595.1 hectares of forest land.
Faced with this scenario, some men gathered in the community hall to talk. Each face carried a gaunt look. That look is of fatigue- fatigue over protesting for almost twenty five years against the dam construction. They seem to have lost count of the protests and rallies held. In 2015 itself, four protests were held.
Despite the area being a Seismic zone 5 (the highest risk zones), no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted, nor Social Impact Assessment (SIA) carried out, an assessment that is most crucial in any developmental projects that will determine the resettlement, rehabilitation and relocation of the inhabitants. The villagers were never given any Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
After much protest and talks, the Manipur government agreed to provide compensation, however only a few were compensated, that too in seven installments from 1996 to 2003.
Further, demands were made to the authority to review the whole project holistically. The government never listened, says Thamni Kashung, a resident of Chadong and Advisor for the Mapithel Dam Affected Villages Organisation (MDAVO). “For us, we will continue to protest until our genuine demands are met,” asserts Thanmi. One of their demands being, resettlement and relocation of the whole community together, so that the relationships are kept intact and their culture preserved. However no assurances were given.
Villagers say that “there is no historical record” of the village’s establishment, “because we have been settling here since time immemorial.” As is the case for many areas in the region, records of the village only appear with the arrival of Christianity in 1935.
Our voice and struggle has become so powerless, says Honreikhui Kashung as he cites how the government continues to use different tactics to suppress their movements, to the extent of threatening activists.
5 military deployments can be seen in the Dam site. Inside Chadong village, the Manipur Rifles and the Manipur Police are posted, with one attached right opposite the village church.
“They promised us a better future, but with the coming of the project we are feeling more insecure and apprehensive,” says Dominic, an advocate. He laments that community life is being severely affected with the dam construction.
In recent years, divisions had already started among the villagers. Some groups formed a separate committee negotiating with the government without the people’s mandate. Fictitious households and names were included in a list demanding compensation. Soon the committee members received the money and fled the village.
“People here are all farmers. To look out for an alternative arrangement is very difficult. But we will still struggle. The thought of our future is very dark,” adds Dominic.
The loss of a home
The Thoubal River (also known as Yangwui Kong in the Tangkhul Naga dialect) means the river of strength, because of its strong currents. Community fishing is held every year at the Chadong village, where the community fish and feast together. Chadong village is also known for its soil fertility and its bountiful granaries, where a year’s harvest can last for the next two years. The organic food products of Chadong such as bamboo shoots, mushrooms and wild vegetables are supplied in the markets of Imphal and Yaingangpokpi.
Chadong has a population of 1200 people. The project will displace over 12,000 people. Once the dam is inaugurated and implemented in full swing which is most likely to happen by April, Chadong village will submerge by monsoon. The villagers will need to relocate to another place. It is not just a piece of land that will be submerged, but a community’s home, history, culture, identity, and livelihood.