Dams have remained as a major instrument in the path of economic development and prosperity for a country and have been integral in bringing nations closer to each other. It has also played its role in creating mutual suspicions, mistrust and misunderstandings between nations as well as the government and its people. Dams help people in various ways such as water to drink, water for industry, water for agricultural purposes, water for hydroelectric power generation and reducing or preventing floods. These generally signify the advent of modern science. However, mega structures such as big dams cannot be built without first researching on their effects to local culture and livelihood and in nature.
The Tipaimukh Dam in the state of Manipur near to Assam, is similarly a dam that has been in the eye of controversy from its very beginning. The main purpose of constructing the Tipaimukh Dam has been stated as flood control and hydroelectric power production. The central government of India wants to construct this multipurpose project dam at the state boundary of Mizoram and Manipur on the river Barak immediately downstream to the confluence of river Tuival at a place called Tipaimukh. The Barak River is the 2nd largest drainage system in northeastern India, having a catchment area of 12,758 sq km with an average annual rainfall of about 226 cm and the design flood discharge is 16,964 cubic meters per second. A large project on a river like Barak would adversely affect the lower riparian areas, namely Zakiganj in particular, the greater Sylhet district, Mymensingh, Comilla and Dhaka districts in Bangladesh, involving the livelihoods of over 20 million people. Dispensation of such a vast population is beyond the limits of righteousness as these people and their lives have ever since been related to their homeland.
Another challenge has been faced in the building of this dam are the environmental factors which will create come very major problems to the nature of the area; which falls under the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot. As per environmental scientists who also use science to study their subject, the building of this dam will lead to severe changes in climate condition, with flowing of waters leading to temperature changes. The ecology impact factors are quite frightening, with features of instabilities in the form of – landslides, soil erosion, violent disturbance of original landmass, change in water quality, instability of geo-physical surroundings, nutrients variation of soil, minimized flow rate of the river downstream, extinction of aquatic species. Some of these factors together will reduce the capacity of regeneration and of ground-water aquifers, finally leading to enhanced pollution levels, submergence of land, air pollution and solid pollution. As the dam is proposed to occupy a very large area, the effect of this will be of tremendous pressure to the earth around the Tibetan plateau region and active regions of the Burmese arch. Apart from these many mentioned factors, the common sense that prevails in the minds of the locals who have had their fare share of experiences since ages, is that the area considered to build Tipaimukh Dam lies is topographically fragile and ecologically sensitive, and falls within one of the most seismically volatile parts on the planet. Indeed, Northeast India has seen the worst 2 earthquakes of recorded history, one was 8.8 and the other was 9.0 in the rather scale. And these have occurred within the last 150 years.
As the dam will be a joint venture of Indian as well as the Bangladeshi government, the approval of both the governments remains important. But keeping the various concerns raised, in August this year, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) sent its rejection of the building of the dam to the government. However, though the dam has so far been postponed, the government and their share of politics may still rule out carefully researched documents. Such is the state of affairs in India.
As Jiten Yumnam writes for Hueiyen Lanpao, a leading newspaper of the region “The Government of India and the Government of Manipur should take the Free Prior and Informed Consent of all affected peoples as recommended by the UN CERD Committee specific on Tipaimukh Dam in 2007. The Government of India should recognize the inherent rights of the people of Manipur to determine its right to development based on the needs, wishes and its aspirations. Any forced and arbitrary development pursued goes against principles of rights and sustainability. “
This post is the first in a blog series which brings forth to light the politics and extreme problems of building more than 200 dams in Northeast India.
Contributed by: Oinam Kennedy