March 2, 2018 / 8:20 AM / 7 months ago

Protests planned against opening of mega dam in northeastern India

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Villagers in northeastern India are threatening to disrupt the inauguration of a mega dam that has uprooted them from their traditional lands, campaigners said on Friday.

Resistance to the dam is seen as part of a growing movement across the country against large infrastructure projects, which activists say do not benefit the very people forced to give up their land.

Officials said the Mapithel dam in Manipur State is due to be opened on March 15 - nearly 30 years since construction began - and that it will vastly increase access to drinking water, irrigation and electricity.

But those benefits “won’t even go to the affected communities who sacrificed their land, river, forest and resources,” said activist Jajo Themson.

More protests are planned, he said, adding that previous demonstrations were put down with violence in a state where armed forces have special privileges to tackle a long-running insurgency.

Pritam Singh, chief engineer of Manipur’s Irrigation and Flood Control Department, denied the use of force against lawful protests.

All necessary permissions for the dam were obtained, and adequate compensation was given to those affected, said Singh.

“Some people did not take the compensation, but that is a different matter. Rehabilitation of five of the six affected villages has been completed,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Almost 2,000 hectares of land, of which a third is forest, have been flooded, said Jiten Yumnam of the Center for Research and Advocacy Manipur, an indigenous rights organization.

About 8,000 people in half a dozen villages are directly affected, with buildings and fields inundated by rising waters, he said.

As the Thoubal River dried up, thousands more lost their livelihoods, including fishing and collecting and selling sandstone that used to be washed downstream, according to Yumnam.

The dam has an annual irrigation potential of about 33,000 hectares, and will increase the drinking water supply to the state capital Imphal and surrounding areas by more than 45 million litres a day, according to a government audit.

The project will generate 7.5 megawatts for rural electrification.

Yumnam said authorities did not assess the dam’s impact on the environment and residents, who he said were not consulted.

“We should not proceed with this until we can be sure of its impact,” he said.

He added that a petition against the dam is still pending before the National Green Tribunal, a government body that deals with conservation cases.

Of nearly 600 ongoing conflicts over land affecting nearly eight million people in India, more than a fifth relate to infrastructure projects, according to Land Conflict Watch, an Indian research organization.

At least a dozen conflicts relate to hydroelectric dam projects, its data showed.

Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran. Editing by Jared Ferrie. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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