A dam being constructed by Myanmar across a river close to the boundary with India has stoked fears of submergence and water scarcity among border villagers in Kengjoi subdivison of Manipur’s Chandel district.
Last week, residents of Khangtung village reported to district officials about the dam being built by Myanmar authorities barely 100 metres from the zero line separating the two countries. International rules warrant border countries to check activities in No Man’s Land – a 150-metre strip on either side of the boundary line.
The dam, called Tuidimjang, is on the Twigem river flowing into Myanmar from Manipur. Khangtung, inhabited by the Thadou tribe, is 137 km south of Manipur capital Imphal.
“Local people have sent photos and raised concern. The dam appears to be a new and small one, but the fear of the villagers is genuine. We are sending a team next week to survey the dam construction site and get the coordinates. A report will be made this week for sending to New Delhi via the State government,” Chandel Deputy Commissioner K. Krishna told The Hindu .
Houkholen Haokip, secretary of the Chandel unit of the Thadou Students’ Association (TSA), did not rule out the possibility of China assisting Myanmar in building the dam. “The topography of the area is such that Khangtung and other Indian villages will be submerged if the dam comes up. The villagers, dependent on the river, are already facing water scarcity. Efforts to get in touch with officials and contractors in Myanmar have been in vain,” he said.
The TSA has written to Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren, requesting intervention.
“When the dam is completed, the entire Khangtung village will be inundated and the villagers will face untold miseries and require relocation and rehabilitation. This project will have huge negative social, cultural and economic impact on the residents of Khangtung and other Indian villages,” TSA secretary general Michael Lamjathang Haokip said in the letter to Mr. Biren.
Manipur has had issues with internal dams too. In June 2015, a tribal village named Chadong in Ukhrul district was submerged by the Mapithel dam on river Thoubal.
Construction of the Mapithel dam, initially known as Thoubal Multipurpose Project that aimed to produce 7.5MW of power, irrigate 21,862 hectares of land and provide 10 million gallons of drinking water, began in 1989 amid protests from people downstream.
Elders of Chadong village had inked an understanding with the State government in 1996 for an alternative settlement, but the 800-odd villagers stayed put during the submergence 19 years later as the government had failed to provide a proper relocation site.
The Khuga dam south of Manipur’s Churachandpur town has hit turbulence too. Taken up in 1980, the project lay dormant until 2002 leading to cost escalation from the initial Rs. 15 crore to Rs. 381.29 crore in 2009.
The project sanction by the Planning Commission was said to have inherent flaws, as a result of which the power component of 1.5MW incorporated in the initial design was scrapped despite near-completion of a powerhouse.
Controversy has also dogged Tipaimukh, the mega hydroelectric project proposed on river Barak in Manipur 35 years ago. Dhaka is against the project, as Barak flows into Bangladesh from Manipur through southern Assam and feeds the Surma and Kushiara rivers in the country.
At least three anti-dam organisations in Manipur and downstream Assam have been protesting against the Tipaimukh project to be built by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd. Apart from large-scale submergence, they fear ecological degradation, if the dam is built.