The Tipaimukh Hydro Electric Multipurpose Project has entered into its initial investment stage. The Government of Manipur and NEEPCO has not only injected proposals for militarization but has also pumped in money for small scale contracts, which otherwise has benefitted a little over five persons in the entire Tipaimukh sub-division.
Despite the run for money for the few that was planted by the NEEPCO, the Tipaimukh villagers are not ready to dam its principal lifeline lightly.
Despite the fact that the State and NEEPCO did not touch upon the key issues of the indigenous peoples rights to protect and preserve their ancestral land and their survival as a people, the visible quest is for their pro-active involvement in a project that they believe should centred around them.
However, the Government as well as the dam builder have not dealt with the adverse cultural, social and environmental impacts that the dam would bring.The dam planners made neither projections nor provisions for the cultural repercussions of the project on the indigenous peoples.
"What we have heard in all these years has been, if not the brightest, than the brighter side of the dam. The authorities who come and go projected the dam as our saviour and the only way to development available for us", Hmingmawi of Tipaimukh village said.
On the other hand Lalditum said, "I have not seen any dam in my life and it is impossible to even imagine the good and bad side of it. But I don't want to be compensated. I don't want my village and any other Tipaimukh village to be submerged. If that change has to overtake us, whatever beautiful name it bears, development would be our biggest enemy", Siema said.
"The promises of the dam that we have long conceived are baked with lame promise and expectations. I used to imagine a bright and sparkling Tipaimukh dam. That was why I spoke for the dam before. But now, after learning about diverse experiences and the nature of what we often called development and our experiences to this day, it is certain that we would be at the losing end", Rolawm said.
Despite that the development aggression pursued by the Government of Manipur and NEEPCO has made it evident that they are ignorant about the survival cultures of the indigenous people whose livelihood system is fed by the two rivers that are projected to be dammed. This has inevitably introduced the transcending participation of the Tipaimukh villagers in development.
The worries of the Tipaimukh villagers are also reflected in their concern about the prospects of maintaining the age-old ties with their tribesmen in the upper stream as well as in the downstream. "Tuiruong is more than a flowing water. It is at the heart of our existence as human being.
The dam will severe our ties with the rest of our tribesman, which will toll us in the long run", Chala said . Lawmsiem of Sartuinek village said, "We don't want high waters to split up our lives. If it is for development, it should come with a different face and character and not by damming our precious rivers."
Oblivious of who the stakeholders are, Tipaimukh villagers are already at the receiving end of the project. While the power game has negated their participation and representation, the Tipaimukh villagers still aspires for a transparent process of decision-making by involving them with equal status.
The gap in the existing power relations is seen to be the factor that has severely reduced their rights. and led to failure in assessing the risk involved. In their quest for a people centric development, the Tipaimukh villagers idea of development weaves around equity, sustainability, transparency, accountability, participatory decision making and efficiency.
The conceived dam that will gnaw into their lifeline is seen as a hindrance to their development. While the inevitability for a negotiation to the already pursued efforts is strongly felt, the people who would be affected by the project felt the need to emphasise on certain priorities and primacies that consider their well-being and its prospect as a people.
The Tipaimukh villagers are dissatisfied with the undue legitimacy and high-handedness that was overtaken by the Government of Manipur as well as the NEEPCO.
For the natural resource- based communities the marginalization that resulted with the aggressive intervention of the State and dam builder has become more than intolerable. This has moved them for an immediate review of all existing procedures and regulations concerning Tipaimukh project.
Moreover, the Tipaimukh villagers quest for a review of policy and institutional frameworks to assess and remove any bias that goes against their participation. While the need for recognizing entitlements and sharing benefits is further felt, the absence of all the priorities in the proposed project has made them wonder if the Tipaimukh dam is for development or destruction.