Mega dams’ impact on native people

Among others, undermining the need to consult the local populace prior to undertaking major construction projects could be the genesis for objections raised against mega dams in the north eastern states at the eastern Himalayan people’s convention, which was organised on Wednesday, as economically underdeveloped communities in the region are of the belief that such massive structures demonstrate both brilliance and arrogance of human ingenuity. Regardless of initiation for construction of mega dams based on the plan to generate sufficient electricity and irrigate food crop production areas, they also flood large chunk of land areas, cause displacement and change the course of livelihood of the native people who traditionally depend on forest and river products. For instance, the Hoover Dam in the US, which is one of the world’s highest and most powerful dams, is considered to have spurred agricultural and industrial development in south-west US. However, it destroyed the Colorado river’s rich downstream fisheries, in addition to greatly affecting the environment. Similarly, construction of the Bhakra dam in India in the 1960s became the symbol of India’s green revolution, and was hailed by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a ‘Temple of Modern India’. Yet, it is learnt that in India and beyond, badly managed irrigation schemes led to waterlogging, increasing salinity of soils and diminishing harvests eventually resulting in Nehru himself deploring the ‘disease of gigantism’ in dam building. In the pursuit of constructing such massive structures authorities tend to take side with the construction firms on account of the quantum of investment that private parties invest while ignoring the plight of hundreds of dam-affected communities.

In Manipur’s context too, commissioning of the Loktak hydro project and its Ithai barrage component have not gone down well as major section of the state’s population believe that the project is benefitting only the NHPC while those displaced from the periphery of the Loktak lake continue to struggle for their daily source of economic sustenance. The convention’s resolution to prevail upon authorities concerned for reviewing the contracts signed with construction firms might have stemmed from chief minister N Biren’s announcement that the government is averse to continuation of the Loktak hydro project and will explore feasibility of decommissioning the Ithai barrage in the aftermath of the recent flooding of many low lying areas in the state subsequent to blocking the natural flow of excess water by the barrage. Giant hydroelectric dams being built or planned in remote areas of the north-east have and will ultimately devastate tribal communities by forcing people off their land or destroying hunting and fishing grounds, push them towards economic ruin and, in the case of some isolated groups, possibly lead to extinction. The dams are intended to provide much-needed, low-carbon electricity for burgeoning cities, but tribal people living in their vicinity gain little or nothing as most of the power generated benefit only industrial units and city dwellers. The convention’s resolution also assumes significance as tribal communities will bear the brunt of dams and other development projects in remote locations where the indigenous people are settling. As financiers and builders consistently underestimate the number of tribal people who are to be affected in case mega dams are constructed full consent of the local populace should be made mandatory.

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