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Why hurry Mapithel dam commissioning plan ? Mamta Lukram

The state’s development discourse in the recent era dwelt around the paradigm of mobilising the huge untapped natural resources bestowed by Nature’s bounty. The numerous proposed, planned and commissioned multipurpose projects in the state is the economic framework for advancement, as mandated by the national policy framers. Consequently, the‘mega dam syndrome’ clutching the fists of the meandering free flow rivers in the state is the Pandora box, unsealing whose lid followed by concentric circles of impacts upon the lives of many thousand innocent villagers; testified by the concomitant performance review of the multipurpose projects that ever failed to adhere the targeted objectives.

Welfare oriented projects for the larger cause, when implementation fallacy galore, somersault and poised the essence of social disorientation. Case histories of the multiple multipurpose projects like the Mapithel Dam as the controversial project, the Khuga Dam, the Khoupum Dam as the failed dams and the Singda Dam, the Loktak Hydroelectric Project etc as the underperforming dams, are mammoth vivid testimonies. Cross analysis of the success parametersis the urgent need of the hour to unearth the adversities afflicted by the so called ‘development projects’ with implementation flaws sans efficient mitigation entitlements, before we hurried ourselves replicating the act.

A brief reflection of the diverse intricacies involved in the already commissioned Khuga Dam may prove pathfinding revelation prior to swift proceeding towards the Mapithel Dam’s inaugural plan, without completing its basic components.

Khuga dam a parallel to Mapithel dam :
Khuga Dam, the still ongoing project, was commissioned during 1980, with an initial estimated cost of Rs. 15 crore, revised several times escalating its cost to Rs.433.912 till date. The prime objectives are generation of 1.5 MW of hydroelectricity, supplying 5 Million Gallons (MG) of drinking water and 68 km of irrigation canal for irrigating 9575 hectares of agricultural land. According to the CAG Report, 2009, regarding the Khuga Dam, only the prime structures; the dam reservoir and the spillway were found completed. Reiterating the concerned authority’s claim of 59 km canal work completion from 84 km targeted, joint inspection report nailed that only about 46 km of canal work was completed, 40 km right side canal, functional upto 10 km only and for the left side canal water could be conveyed upto 2.20 km only. No detail of the claimed 6,000 hectares irrigation potential was available.
The CAG report, for the year 2016, published in 2017, omits report of the Khuga Dam performance review, focusing only on the Thoubal Multipurpose Project as the major project and Dolaithabi Barrage Project as the medium irrigation project which are included in the priority projects by the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), targeted to be completed by March 2017. However, according to a report by the IFCD, published recently in June 2017, the Khuga Dam is described as one of the major ongoing multipurpose project of the state, with 100% dam, 100% spillway and 99% canal work completed. Yet the other major components of the dam, like the hydropower generation and the drinking water supply component are kept understood.

Khuga dam fails to generate a single unit of electricity or single rupee revenue while the government invest lakhs every month to this dam for its maintenance, salaries for the regular and casual employees. Irrigation objective remains a far cry with frequent canal breaches while drinking water supply remains unsatisfactory. However, massive submergence over pressured and degraded the catchment area, drastically reducing the water volume of the Khuga river, severely affecting the ground water table of surrounding villages. State’s vast chunk of productive land is squandered, directly hampering the food sovereignty and right to life of the villagers. It has been 17 years down the line since its inauguration and commissioning, it lays defunct and failed. Contours can be sketch between the Khuga Dam and the Thoubal Multipurpose Project or the Mapithel Dam. The Thoubal Multipurpose Project was approved in May 1980, by Planning Commission of India, with the initial cost of 47.25 crores, with objectives of 7.5MW hydroelectricity, 10 (Million Gallon per Day) MGD and 33,449 ha, irrigation potential. The project was scheduled to be completed in 1987. By September 2016, the project scope was revised fifth times with its fifth revised estimated cost to 1,694.27 crores, approved by the Planning Commission with the condition that the project shall be commissioned by March 2016. The cost escalation of the project is 36 times from its original price and the time overrun of the project is 29 years. The non-completion of the project despite multiple revisions is described as indication of lack of proper planning by the state government, according to the report.

The major components of the dam, hydropower generation, irrigation canals and water supply components are frequent matters of heavy criticisms and confusions. The dam planned 29 years back, without appropriate catchment planning is sceptical to success parameters it sets with the degrading forest cover. Cases of unaccountability, corruptions, nepotism and frauds filled the news racks of the state. Pending cases of Forest Clearance at National Green Tribunal (NGT), Rehabilitation & Resettlement (R&R) anomalies, pending cases of land acquisition, Heirok Canal Controversy, mismanagement & misallocation of funds as reported in CAG reports, inordinate delays, non-completion of components, substandard quality maintenance, dam seepage, leakages, internal displacement, socio-cultural and economic impacts, militarisation, environment degradation and despite these facts, the government has set its target to inaugurate and commissioned the Mapithel Dam by November at the earliest of this year, 2017.

The current status of the Mapithel Dam is exemplified with unresolved issues, both in the upstream and downstream villages. The procedural anomalies resulting in gross human right violations jeopardising the lives of the people in implementation process has become the matter of international attention. Social divide and animosity becomes the social domain. The dam has plundered the lives, resources and ecology of the indigenous communities. Resistance become domain of community life in the post construction of the dam. Organisations representing the affected community, have been striving for their basic rights since the inception of the dam and persist still. The solidarity of the collective community response have been seeking the timely intervention of the government to settle the disputes, bringing an end to the claims and refutations aggravating the conflict situation in the affected villages.

Conclusion : Media reflections on the multipurpose projects’ failure to attain the set targets has been hitting headlines of major dailies in the state since decades, entwined with testimonies of how performance drama reflects the anecdotal accounts of the innocent villagers. The reversed fate operational in the implementation of the multipurpose projects decoded from the dismal performances must be the compiled logical lessons imparted.

Downstream affected villagers, women in particular narrated how the Mapithel Dam spell miseries, leading to the loss of livelihood without any alternative means, in the post construction of the dam transforming the innocent indigenous villagers to daily wage earners, seeking to articulate every odd job, to eke out a living. Water woes peaks with scarcity crisis, while the river water quality become highly unhygienic causing skin rash, skin problems, serious sanitation lapses, and other health concerns. Villagers strive to sustain with the limited access of piped natural water from a perennial spring, on annual loyalty payment basis under whose community possession the spring belongs to. Contestation of interest erupted quite often, responsible for deepening the sense of social divide in a land inhibited by multi myriad ethnic communities.

Nungbrang women have to move for miles for the small scale red sand mining, an act now proclaimed illegal and environmentally degrading, in their search for alternative livelihood leaving home since dawn, and returning by late evening, maximising the plight of vulnerability of the adolescent girls and small kids. Health and sanitation deteriorates with socio-cultural matrix stripping irreparably under deprived rights of accessibility to basic amenities of life.

The recent plan to inaugurate the Mapithel Dam underpinning the unaccountability, is a step accountable as lack of sense and marred logic. Commissioning plan must proceed with the assurance of the successful performance, not with the doom hope of inauguration for the inaugural sake, tramped over the dreams and aspirations of the people. Inauguration must accord the prospects of propelling prosperity. Commissioning prior to components completion metamorphoses indications of Mapithel Dam befalling the Khuga dam’s fate. Every responsible citizen need be persevered to wait till the dam components are installed and the unsettled disputes saturated at a negotiation. The time overrun is already 29 years without component completion, then why hurry the Mapithel Dam Commissioning Plan now? 

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