“Citizens’ Concern for Dams and Development”: the voice of vulnerable honored with Bhagirath Prayas Samman at India Rivers Week 2016

Manipur in the North East is characterized by lush terrain, flowing rivers, and diverse flora and fauna.[1] This region forms an important part of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot, one of the 25 global biodiversity hotspots recognized recently.[2] This picturesque setting has however become a fertile ground for large-scale hydro power projects and dams by the government, involving violations of human rights and unbridled exploitation of natural resources.[3]

The decades old ongoing struggle of Manipur against large dams has brought forth plethora of issues. Government Authorities’ failure to assess the multi-faceted adverse impacts of dams commissioned in Manipur, procedural irregularities in the environmental clearances to these dams e.g. flawed public hearings, manipulative rehabilitation and resettlement, flouting of environmental norms just to name a few. State Government’s push for large dams continues despite severe protest raised by local people. Absence of consultation and prior consent of communities to be affected is a hallmark of such mega dam projects. Deployment of heavy military to suppress protest during public hearings has been an old strategy.

In such growing chaos few voices have sharply raised crucial questions. ‘Citizens’ Concern for Dams and Development’ (CCDD) is an important name among them. Founded in 1999 as a collective of individuals and organizations CCDD has ceaselessly worked since to raise awareness about adverse impacts of large dams on rivers and for justice to the project affected. Closely working at grass roots with affected communities, particularly indigenous groups they have supported and empowered them to raise strong protests for projects like Mapithel Dam, Tipaimukh Dam among several others. They are also engaged in critical as well as constructive dialogue with State Government about ill effects of such projects and underlying policies.

CCDD collective’s ceaseless efforts to protect the rivers and livelihoods of the people of Manipur were celebrated by honoring them with Bhagirath Prayas Samman on November 29 2016 during India Rivers Week 2016 held in Delhi between 28-30 November. India Rivers Week is being organized since 2014 by a consortium of NGOs including WWF India, INTACH, SANDRP, Toxics Link and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust, with additional support from Arghyam (Bengaluru), International Rivers (Mumbai office), and Peoples Science Institute, Dehradun. More than 100 River experts, planners, researchers, artists, enthusiasts and activists from different parts of the country have been coming together to celebrate India Rivers Week in Delhi in last week of November to discuss, deliberate and exchange their experiences and ideas aimed at the conserving, rejuvenation, restoration of rivers in the country.

The Hydro-Power Aggression in Manipur

How crucial has been CCDD’s role becomes apparent if one tries to understand the canvas on which CCDD has been working.

NE region of India has been identified by the Central Government as the country’s ‘future powerhouse’ and the Central Electricity Authority has identified potential for 168 large dams in the Northeast with an installed capacity of 63,328 MW.[4] 20 dams have been proposed in Manipur alone.[5] The region has also been witnessing aggressive drive for seeking carbon credits for hydro power projects by dam developing Companies.[6] Looking at Carbon Credits as subsidy means and a big economic incentive, dam developers are aggressively pursuing for seeking profits.

tipaimukh-dam-wikimapia

Tipaimukh Dam on Barak River (Photo: Wikimapia)

Several multipurpose dam projects are being bulldozed by the Manipur State Government despite vehement protests by local people. Manipur being in the armed conflict zone deployment of security forces often comes handy. E.g. heavy military was deployed by the Irrigation and Flood Control Department of Manipur during construction of Mapithel Dam of the Thoubal Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project in January 2015.[7] Mapithel dam site is in fact seen as evidence to state’s way of favouring for corporate interests and militarization of peoples’ land and survival sources.[8]

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed for four power projects with total installed capacity of 368 MW as part of the larger dam building plans over rivers of Manipur under the Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy, 2012.[9]

While the State Government of Manipur plans to forcibly harness more hydro power potential, the existing dams in Manipur are grossly under-performing.[10]

CCDD- the voice of vulnerable

The population of the North East India and so also Manipur includes a large population of tribal and minority people. “Scheduled tribes” constitute a major segment of the population of the region.[11] These are the people with a characterized dependence on forests and hills which form their traditional habitat.[12] Forced displacement of such population, insincere, manipulative rehabilitation and resettlement and government’s insensitivity towards their land rights, livelihood and survival has subjected these people to miseries.

Raising voice for such population crucial question that CCDD has raised is “why indigenous people of Manipur should sacrifice their land, forest and other survival sources for such unsustainable projects?”[13]

Aram Pamei, Co-Convener of CCDD has asked “Is gifting away our land and resources to multinational corporations without our consent forms of development? Is bribing the community leaders to agree to oil exploration forms of development?”[14]

In the conflict ridden chaotic canvas of Manipur hijacked by corporate interests in hydro power sector, the meaning of ‘consent’ is often adopted as per convenience. CCDD has been unequivocally demanding ‘consent’ in its true spirit: Free, Informed and Prior Consent.

Fighting for “just development goals and priorities” they are intently seeking “nature oriented sustainable development”.[15] Viewing it as the democratic right of indigenous people to honor their symbiotic relationship with their land, forest, water and resources for their survival[16] CCDD has been sensitizing youth about the larger impacts of damming the free flowing rivers.

Throughout their course of work CCDD has also been insisting that the recommendations of World Commission on Dams, 2000 and provision of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 should be respected while pursuing mega dams and other destructive and unsustainable forms of development in Manipur.[17]

Exposing the role of international financial institutions

CCDD has shown that the mega dam projects taken up in the state have not catered to the energy needs of local people despite their household consumption being very low. People have started to rely on alternative sources of energy such as small affordable solar energy units.

Owning to this fact CCDD Secretary Jiten Yumnam raises a fundamental question “For whose benefit are these dams being built, when they are not being used to meet the energy needs of the locals?”

Jiten Yumnam has further unveiled the clear links between excessive interest of the government for building dams and International Financing Institutions (IFIs). In an interview given to CSO Partnership in Development Effectiveness Jiten Yumnam elaborates the role of IFIs in pushing large dams in Manipur and across NE India-

 “The WB (The World Bank) facilitates loans for high voltage transmission and distribution lines, connecting Manipur with other parts of India and also with SE Asian countries. Transmission lines are an important infrastructure to transmit power. So, their construction legitimizes the building of dams. The ADB (Asian Development Bank) is supporting power sector privatization in the region. Japanese banks are funding dams. So corporate houses are targeting our land for their profit and are supported by the government and these financial institutions,”

CCDD has been instrumental in generating awareness among the locals about this larger canvas of events to which they are losing their land and rivers on which they directly depend for their livelihood.

jiten-yumnam-youtube

Jiten Yumnam (Photo: Youtube)

Striking a dialogue

Most remarkable aspect of CCDD’s work has been engaging in dialogue with the affected communities, particularly youth and sensitizing them about the kind of damage the mega dam projects will cause to their rivers, forests and ecosystem of the region. CCDD has been creating spaces for connecting with youth by celebrating festivals like International Rivers Day or The World’s Indigenous Peoples day. Giving the celebration a meaningful turn CCDD has sought an opportunity to highlight the significance of these resources and the struggle which lay ahead. For example in 2014 theme for the World’s Indigenous People’s Day celebrated on August 09 was “In Defense of Our Land, Forest, Water, Our Rights and Future”. Or International Rivers day celebrated on March 14 the same year concluded with a mass protest rally at Thoubal River at Riha Village along Mapithel Range in Ukhrul District, Manipur by the Mapithel Dam Affected Villagers Organization against the project which will submerge more than 1000 Ha of forest land.[18]

worlds-indigenous-peoples-day-cra-manipur

Celebration of World’s Indigenous Day (Photo: CRA Manipur)

Struggle against large dams

CCDD has been instrumental in raising strong protest against construction of Tipaimukh Dam for 1500MW Tipaimukh Hydroelectric Multipurpose Project (THEP) proposed over the Barak river at the trijunction of Assam, Mizoram and Manipur.[19] The Tipaimukh dam will submerge more than 27,000 hectares of forest land, while displacing several thousands of communities.[20] The project will result in impacts of enormous scale on the flora and fauna, natural heritages of Manipur and threaten the livelihood, survival and human rights of indigenous peoples depending on Barak River. The construction work was stalled in March 2007 in the wake of massive protests from within and outside India.[21]

CCDD has been involved in protesting this project at every step. Working closely with the affected communities strong protest was raised during all the five public hearings held from 2004 to 2008. Environmental Clearance (EC) was granted for Tipaimukh dam on October 24 2008 despite the strong objections by the affected communities.[22] CCDD has been urging Ministry of Environment and Forest, and the Government of India for revocation of the EC granted to the Tipaimukh dam and urging Govt of Manipur to revoke the MoU it signed with NHPC and the Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd on April 28, 2010, reaffirmed on October 22, 2011.[23]

In 2013 CCDD and Committee on the Protection of Natural Resources in Manipur (CPNRM) made a joint representation in front of Chairperson of FAC, DG of Forest and Special Secretary, MoEF, registering strong objection to the idea of having a separate forest clearance for the forest impacts in Mizoram side only due to the proposed construction of THEP.[24] In May 2016 CCDD along with North East Dialogue Forum and Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur co-organized a public consultation on “Tipaimukh Dam and Indigenous Peoples Rights” at Manipur Press Club, Imphal. The consultation resolved to approach the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on these proposed big dams.[25]

CCDD has also been demanding stopping of ongoing construction of Mapithel Dam. Fraught with several irregularities the construction has spanned over last three decades. Once commissioned, the project will displace over 12,000 people (16 villages) submerge 595.1 hectares of forest land and more than thousand hectares of fertle agricultural land.[26] In January 2014 CCDD strongly decried the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), Government of India for conceding final Stage II Forest Clearance for Mapithel Dam on Dec 31, the CCDD urged the State Government to stop Mapithel Dam construction till the free prior and informed consent of all affected communities are obtained.[27]

mapithel-opposition-2-peoples-goals

Protest Against Mapithel Dam (Photo: Peoplesgoals)

CCDD brought to light several procedural irregularities plaguing the Mapithel project like grant of EC without full adherence to Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA, 2006), or exposing convenient double standard approach adopted by Ministry of Tribal Affairs while according highly objectionable ‘exemptions’ accorded by Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) for construction of Mapithel dam.[28] Citing an instance wherein the Ministry vouched for FRA 2006 compliance in Vedanta Mining case in Orissa to protect the tribal communities CCDD highlighted that the same Tribal Ministry exempted the application of FRA, 2006 in the case of Mapithel dam. This resulted in the Hon. National Green Tribunal halting work on Mapithel Dam for some time and was a landmark in raising these issues.[29]

While advocating strongly for consent of communities affected CCDD has been demanding revocation of the Stage II Forest Clearance for Mapithel Dam granted on Dec 31, 2013 and of MoTA’s letter to the MOEF on Dec 18, 2013 not to apply Forest Rights Act, 2006 for Mapithel dam. 

CCDD has also expressed serious concern over the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) for taking up four Hydroelectric Power Projects in Manipur on August 28, and demanded repeal of the MoU in the interest of the indigenous population. CCDD also demanded repeal of the Manipur Hydroelectric Policy, 2012, stating that it only aimed to further serve the corporate interest to maximise profits from the exploitation and destruction of land and resources.

Seeking an alternative approach

aram-pamei-tipaimukh-dam-e-pao

Aram Pamei addressing protest against Tipaimukh Dam (Photo: E-pao)

Driven by stalwarts like Jiten Yumnam, Aram Pamei, Joseph Hmar; what CCDD is intently seeking is an alternative approach wherein the voice of communities be heard and their simple and traditional way of life and their rights on the forests and rivers be respected.

While Aram Pamei states in a press release “The Government should promote a comprehensive Energy Policy that encompasses the most feasible alternate energy solutions in Manipur.” Jiten Yumnam insists that “the State Govt should now embark on an alternative model of power generation based on needs, wishes and aspiration of the people and to minimize impacts on environment.”[30] He also stresses that “the government should conduct a thorough investigation into human rights abuses and review the performance and compliance with environmental rights of the existing, but under-performing, power projects. With its hilly terrain, Manipur has the potential to support micro hydro-power units that can serve as a viable alternative that does not involve large-scale land grabs and environmental degradation.”

Belonging  to the land ridden in developmental conflict voice of CCDD has unmatched clarity and sharpness. Their contribution to the debate around development in this region is invaluable. Showing the mirror of ground reality and the kind of damage being done to the natural resources and the communities dependent on them, the group has ceaselessly questioned the corporate centered paradigm of development.

Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP, amrutapradhan@gmail.com

END NOTES

[1] CSO Partnership (Undated): “Dams and development: Corporate interests and Manipur’s struggle for justice”

http://csopartnership.org/dams-and-development-corporate-interests-and-manipurs-struggle-for-justice-3/

[2] CCDD (2012): “An Assessment of Dams In India’s North East Seeking Carbon Credits from Clean Development Mechanism of The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”, Jiten Yumnam, Citizens’ Concern for Dams and Development, p.4

[3] CSO Partnership (Undated): Op.Sit.

[4] CCDD (2012): “An Assessment of Dams In India’s North East Seeking Carbon Credits from Clean Development Mechanism of The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”,Op.Cit.. p.51

[5] CSO Partnership (Undated): Op.Sit.

[6] Ibid. p.51

[7] IFP (2015): “CCDD wants fresh work at Mapithel Dam stopped till rehabilitation issues settled to everybody’s satisfaction”, Imphal Free Press

http://ifp.co.in/page/items/24934/ccdd-wants-fresh-work-at-mapithel-dam-stopped-till-rehabilitation-issues-settled-to-everybodys-satisfaction

[8] CRAM (2014): “Sustainable Development Goals in Manipur’s Context”, Jiten Yumnam, UNJUST DEVELOPMENT IN MANIPUR, Official Publication of Centre for Research and Advocacy Manipur, September 12, 2014

http://www.foodsov.org/sites/foodsov/files/CRA_Newsletter_Dev_injustice_Manipur_Sept_14.pdf

[9] The Assam Tribune (2015): “Manipur NGO seeks repeal of hydro projects MoU”, The Assam Tribune, September 04, 2015

http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=sep0514/oth050

[10] Ibid.

[11] https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/india/indigenous-peoples-cultural-survival-and-minority-pol

[12] Ibid.

[13] The Assam Tribune (2015): “Manipur NGO seeks repeal of hydro projects MoU”, Op.Cit.

[14] CPGSD (2013): “Campaign against dam construction, rights violations in Manipur featured in national news”, Champaign for People’s Goals for Sustainable Development, 24 July 2013

http://peoplesgoals.org/development-justice-in-the-news-campaign-against-dam-construction-in-manipur-gaining-ground/

[15] The Sangai Express (2014): “Protest meet held against Mapitel dam”, The Sangai Express, July 23, 2014

http://www.thesangaiexpress.com/protest-meet-held-against-mapithel-dam/

[16] CRAM (2014): “Sustainable Development Goals in Manipur’s Context” Op.Sit.

[17] http://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=4..280713.jul13

[18] The Sangai Express (2014): “Protest meet held against Mapitel dam” Op.Cit.

[19] TOI (2016): “Manipur activists say no to big dams”, IANS, Times of India, May 04, 2016

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/imphal/Manipur-activists-say-no-to-big-dams/articleshow/52109857.cms

[20] https://cramanipur.wordpress.com/

[21] Islam & Islam (2016): ““Environmentalism of the poor”: the Tipaimukh Dam, ecological disasters and environmental resistance beyond borders”, Bandung: Journal of the Global South20163:27 DOI: 10.1186/s40728-016-0030-5

https://bandungjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40728-016-0030-5

[22] The Assam Tribune (2013): “Plan to chop off 78 lakh trees for dam opposed”, July 11, 2013

http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/mdetails.asp?id=jul1113/oth05

[23] Ibid.

[24] The Sangai Express (2013): “Tipaimukh Dam”, The Sangai Express, August 13, 2013

http://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=10..140813.aug13

[25] TOI (2016): “Manipur activists say no to big dams”, Op.Cit

[26] Ngamjahao Kipgen (Undated): “Dissenting Voices from the Margins”, Ngamjahao Kipgen, ISSN (Online) – 2349-8846

http://www.epw.in/node/145865/pdf

[27] The Assam Tribune (2015): “Manipur NGO seeks repeal of hydro projects MoU”, Op.Cit.

[28] Ibid.

[29] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/green-tribunal-halts-mapithel-dam-in-manipur–42946

[30] http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.opinions.Opinion_on_Building_of_Tipaimukh_Dam.Tipaimukh_Dam_Plan_and_its_Uncertainties

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: