Mega Dams In North-East India: Are They Necessary?

A civil society group from across the country studied the impact of mega-dam projects on life and livelihood of the people in North East India. The group in its interim report demanded suspension of construction of dams until a cumulative study that engages with the people finds it beneficial to go ahead with the projects. The report as published in the Countercurrents.org is re-posted here.

Interim Report and Press Statement of CDRO Fact Finding into Mega Dams in North-East

Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation, comprising of 20 civil and democratic rights organisations from across India decided to undertake a fact finding into the impact of big/mega dam projects coming up in the North Eastern states on the life and livelihood of the people. Reportedly more than 168 MoUs/MoAs have been signed by the Arunachal Pradesh government alone. CDRO believes that such projects, be they so called Run of the River or Storage dams, affect not only people whose land will get submerged upstream but also people living in the downstream area. We also believe that affected people comprise those whose life and livelihood is intricately linked with the river beyond, since water flow will impact agriculture, fisheries, river transportation. Construction of concrete dams in a high seismic zone with sedimentary rock is in itself a mark of utter irresponsibility. Besides, natural floods carry sediments while man-made flood through construction of dam brings sand which destroys cultivable land. Also worth noting is that the seven North Eastern states are plagued by multiple problems born of neglect, discrimination and exploitation of resources accompanied by fear of the people about demographic transformation with the influx from outside threatening their way of life and further militarisation of the region.

The team split into two groups; one headed towards upper Assam and another towards Tipaimukh dam site. The first team visited North Lakhimpur, Dhimaji in Assam and Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh covering Lower Subansiri, Lower Siang and also downstream area of Lohit and Dibang river projects in Tinsukhia district. The second team visited Tipaimukh project which would affect people living in Manipur, Mizoram and Assam.

Given below are highlights of what people felt would be the consequence of the projects on their life and livelihood:

I. FIRST TEAM REPORT:

1. Lower Subansiri is allegedly a Run of the River project with storage capacity which would submerge 70 sq kms upstream. The 2000 MW project is being constructed for NHPC by Larsen and Toubro and Soma when fully constructed will have a height of 115 metres. While officially only 31 families would be displaced according to Walter Fernandes, no less than 700 families would be affected. About 3436 ha of forest land would also get submerged and wildlife habitat. Lower stream the impact would be even worse since fear of river drying, fluctuation in water flow, likely increase in deposit of sand over presently cultivable land, destruction of aquatic life which destroy livelihood of 39 lakh fisherfolk, not to forget river transportation. The man-made flood created by 405 MW Ranganadi dam on 14th June 2008 was repeatedly referred to by people to remind us of the possible damage that can be caused to life and livelihood by natural or man-made flood. The difference between peak and lean flow, according to people, is such that likelihood of flash flood increases manifold.

The nature of protest currently in form of four month long blockade of vehicular traffic carrying construction or other equipment meant for the dam, is a clear sign of collective resistance.

2. Lower Siang is again allegedly a Run of the River project with storage capacity which would submerge and restrict habitation in upto 106 kms. Apart from this at height upto one km has been declared as no-man’s land and reserved for compensatory forestation for the company. The 2700 MW project was awarded to Jaiprakash Industries. Siang’s Adi community considers the river as sacred and fears that 35 villages would be affected. Thus their community land which is cultivable and rich in flora and fauna would be wiped out. . IN 34 villages ninety percent of people have affirmed through signature their opposition to the dam. They fear that their culture and people face annihilation. It is this that drove them to protest the construction of dam recently. And fear mixed with anger remains strong among people here.

Lower stream people, especially Mishing community, reside along the river bank. They along with others who live in the plains downstream apprehend that their livelihood would be wiped out since river flow would both impact cultivation as well as fishery on which most of the people depend.

3. Lower Dibang is a 3000 MW storage dam of NHPC with a height of 288 metres which submerge 45 kms upstream wiping out 30 villages. This will affect nearly 50% of Idu-Mishmi community and their community land. If the argument of development and employment opportunities do get created by this project then considering the skilled and qualified people among the Idu-Mishmi they stand to lose. We are told that this generates the fear that people from other parts of India would garner the maximum benefit. This will also nullify whatever protection is offered by the Constitution. The agitation since 2006 has ensured that 11 times public hearing has had to be postponed.

The fear in the downstream area is once again that their life and livelihood would be adversely affected. We do wish to point out that the anti-dam movement is still in its infancy in these parts. But the fear is palpable.

4. Demwe Lower Hydro-electric Project has been given to Athena Demwe Power Ltd. and is said to be Run of the River project to generate 1750 MW and will submerge 26 square kms of land to make way for a reservoir. 1416 (One thousand four hundred sixteen) ha of forest would also be lost in the process. Its height is 163.12 metres. Public hearing was confined to an area of 5 kms below the dam site. One of the fallout of this project would be the damage caused to Dibru Saikhowa bio-diversity area as well as other bio-sphere reserve in Assam.

While people speak in downstream area about the consequence of the Lohit project on their land and livelihood it is yet to take an organised expression.

II. SECOND TEAM REPORT

1. The proposed Tipaimukh project conceived in 1970s and is being currently implemented by NHPC, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) and Govt. of Manipur, despite serious opinions of the people to the contrary. It will submerge around 25,822.22 hectares of land ONLY in Manipur apart from Mizoram. The project is going to destroy at least 7.8 mn full grown trees and bamboo bushes. It will be 162 mtrs in height and is supposed to produce 1500 MW of electricity. 12 villages with a population of 557 families /2027 ST people (of the Hmar and Zeliangrong tribes) will be displaced. Most of these figures were disputed by people and activists of organizations working in the area because effects of the dam on the people, land and environment of the down-stream areas have not been evaluated by the government agencies.

There has been a simmering of resistance to the proposed project. Some people perceive it as not only a dam but also a threat to their material existence and life, culture and history. There has been recently some rallies, as the cycle rally by the Village Women Coordination Committee on the 19 Feb Sangaithal area, (Imphal), Jointly organized demonstrations(as the 14th mar 2012 event at Nungba Bazar, Tamenglong )) etc. And the resentment is gathering momentum.

The statutory Public Hearings, for the project, has been fraught with problems and there has been a great deal of dissatisfaction over the way these have been manipulated. The public hearings started in the year 2004 (Darlawn, Mizoram) and continued sporadically till the last one at Tipaimukh on the 31st march 2008. People at Tipaimiukh, have told us categorically they were not heard and what was the decision of the Public Hearing, they said, had already been taken by the officials who had come. There has been a protest against Public Hearing also (Kaimai, Tamenglong district March 2008).

What we have listed above is only a small sample of the impact of the dam on life and livelihood of the people both upstream and downstream. The fact of the matter is that nearly every river will have several dams each; Lohit basin will have 10 dams, Subansiri basin 12, Dibang basin 12, Siang basin 39, Kaming basin 43….These figures can go up were all data made public by the Arunachal government. To build so many dams in an area which is earthquake prone carries incalculable risk for all living beings.

Each MoA is accompanied by monetary advance by project developer to the Arunachal Pradesh government at the time of signing the deal. This implies that the project gets sanctioned even before any of the mandatory reports and clearances is given.

This makes the entire scheme of building projects which will destroy the Brahmaputra basin a colonial project meant to benefit rest of India at the expense of North East. It is also of interest to note that maximum numbers of the projects have been awarded to private companies. Most of the projects lack Impact Assessment Studies. Indeed some which claim to have got this study done are confined to between 5 to 10 kms. Siang river project indeed claims that no agricultural land would be submerged whereas nearly every household in 35 villages would lose their cultivable land! The misinformation by the authorities is accompanied by deliberate attempt to hide the truth from the people by manipulating studies.

We demand:

Suspend construction activities until the cumulative impact study of the entire north east, which involves engagement with the people who will get affected by construction of these dams.

The fact finding was conducted by following organisations:

1. Asansol Civil Rights Association (ACRA), West Bengal

2. Coordination for Human Rights (COHR), Manipur

3. Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS)

4. Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR)

5. Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR), Andhra Pradesh

6. Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi

Source: http://www.countercurrents.org/crdo250412.htm accessed on 25 April, 2012.

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