Monday, June 8, 2009

Tipaimukh Dam: Development or Destruction-Part-1

David Buhril

Far away from the idyllic flow of the Tuivai and Tuiruong (Tipaimukh) rivers, authorities cornered in power corridors gave a nod for environmental clearance of the controversial Tipaimukh Hydro-Electric Multipurpose Project.

While South Asia's biggest economy wanted to harness the hydroelectric power, little did the Tipaimukh villagers of the indigenous Hmar people, who would be affected by the foreign decisions, know about the impact of the decisions that has already put a go-ahead stamp for the mega structure to overtake their rivers, land, livelihood, culture and resources.

Their lifeline has been made to cut them off from the channels of representation, which should otherwise be made inevitable when they would be directly affected by the decision that was passed without their knowledge. The power of the decision makers who are not aware about their independent survival cultures would go a long way to usher a turbulent change that would negate the chance of their survival and continuity as people.

Tuiruong, the river that feeds their everyday life, interlinks them with their tribesmen in the upper stream as well as the down stream would be dammned in the name of development that has remain elusive in their life. The indigenous Hmar people, once again, realised that they are being excluded from control over the decisions and regulative institutions that will not only change the course of the river, but also their life.

While the emerging international standards and good corporate practice increasingly recognise pre-existing natural and community water and land uses, to respect indigenous rights and to negotiate prior informed consent of the traditional land owners, the unconsulted decisions for environmental clearance wholly negates their existence as human being.

Far from the negotiation table and power corridor that negates them, Tipaimukh villagers are worried and confused lot. "Tuiruong flows like the blood that keeps us alive. The endless talk for damming the river has brought us nightmares as we are never told what the structure would be like.

Besides, everything that has been happening against us are being decided outside us. We are worried. Moreover, the Government of Manipur will be sending forces to built the dam. We don't know what they are all up to," Thanghlei of Lungthulien village said.

The attempt to secure energy in these fringe geography has already insecure indigenous people who were put at the altar without any democratic consultations. This has severed the the Tipaimukh villagers whose ancestral land and resource were being targeted as urban fodder. With their cultural and identity footprints firmly attached to Tipaimukh, the proposed Tipaimukh dam has come to represent an imperialist-like character that the forgotten people are yet to come to terms with.

Much before the undisturbed sequence of repeated acts of survival see the structure that will rise to dictate them, the recently passed environmental clearance is seen as a more potent force than Christianity that first reached the Hmar people in Tipaimukh's Senvon village in the year 1910. The Tipaimukh villagers wonder whether they will continue to figure as survival indigenous societies when the act and decisions of the State go against them.

The Tipaimukh villagers in the fringe hills and mountain of Tipaimukh hardly know that their land and resources are being targeted to quench India's growing energy needs.

The proposed Hydro Electric Multipurpose Project that is designed to generate 1500 MW by damming the two rivers in seven years and three months is not merely a battle between development and environment, but a bigger battle between the "promise" and disguise of "development" and the impact it would have on stable indigenous community and their livelihood system.

For a community that has not seen the other side of their existence, the dam builder, North East Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) attempts to light up the dark world outside them does not come close to wake them to the need for sacrificing their land and resources.

After the decades of their mishandled experiences by the Government of Manipur that has severely failed to respond to their quest and aspirations for welfare and development, the indigenous communities of Tipaimukh have realised that the ebb and flow of their lives depends on Tipaimukh, which never fails them.

The Tipaimukh villagers are unaware about the promise of the 15.9 billion M3 reservoir capacity of the proposed dam, which will be the largest reservoir in the country. "We don't trust a government that has repeatedly failed us. We trust our soil, rivers and nature that has been a blessing for us. The Government or State is just a mistake.

They don't exist for us", Lalchunghnung, a villager from Tipaimukh's Senvon said. While the Government's decision has already outside the traditional land dwellers, the survival prospects of the indigenous people are left at mire in the name of "development."

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