Mapithel dam tangle
For the last many years rehabilitation and resettlement of families affected or displaced by the construction of Thoubal multi-purpose project remain the most vital and sensitive issue. Lack of clarity on the amount to be paid as compensation and seemingly inordinate delay in arriving at a consensus with the project-affected villagers also appear to be complicating the issue further if one takes into account of the fact that organisations formed to highlight grievances of the villagers lack unanimity. As these organisations have been declaring from time to time that they have no objection against development projects it could be safely presumed that one of the points for the expression of annoyance to the government’s plan for early commissioning of the project, also referred to as Mapithel dam, is centred on the controversy over payment of compensation and packages for sustenance. Regardless of development projects deemed to be temples of progress, in the case of Mapithel dam, the development initiative is being equated to graveyards for the hundreds of families, whose economic activities have been affected to a great extent on account of submergence of approach roads to the villages and large tract of agricultural land transformed into a massive water-body. Accepted that Thoubal and other projects awaiting completion were aimed at accelerating the pace of development and ensure basic amenities to all sections of the society. However, it is also an undeniable fact that improving quality of life of the people should not be at the cost of people and their environment.
Whenever major projects are planned to meet the demand of increasing population internal displacement too is unavoidable as they all entail massive acquisition of land. According to a report of the United Nations released in the last part of 1990s, India witnessed around 50 million people displaced due to development projects in over 50 years. Around 21.3 million development-induced internally-displaced persons (IDPs) include those displaced by dams (16.4 million), mines (2.55 million), industrial development (1.25 million) and wild life sanctuaries and national parks (0.6 million). Though UN report did not cover Manipur, its studies on displacement and deprivation were carried out in Orissa (now Odisha), Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh (then undivided), Kerala, Goa, West Bengal and Assam. Of these states, the UN report mentioned about 1,909,368 people forced to abandon their traditional agricultural land and homestead covering 1,401,184.8 acres in Assam alone. Unofficially, the displaced population was put at four times more than the accounted figure. Noting that dam building has been one of the most important causes for development related displacement, other reports documented by rights activists contend that during the last 50 years, some 3300 major dams have been constructed in India with many of them leading to large-scale forced eviction of vulnerable groups, including 40-50 per cent of the displaced people belonging to the tribal communities. Thus, the brutality of project-related displacements could be comprehended from the fierce opposition being raised by Mapithel dam affected tribal communities. Evidently Manipur’s most controversial project, the challenge for the N Biren government to save the multi-utility dam is to ensure that benefits of Mapithel project are not reaped by large landowners or project implementing agencies at the cost of the tribal people, who are paying a heavy price for no fault of theirs.