International Financial Institutions in Manipur increasing loans and indebtedness of people 

The Imphal Free Press, 30 January 2022

https://www.ifp.co.in/manipur/international-financial-institutions-in-manipur-increasing-loans-and-indebtedness-of-people

A workshop consultation on International Financial Institutions (IFI) in Manipur held on Saturday at Manipur Press Club in Imphal asserted that the IFIs in Manipur are increasing loans and indebtedness of Manipur and its people to Asian Development Bank, World Bank, New Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, French ODA, etc. and are destined to be trapped in a vicious circle of debt, conflict and impacts on communities and its fragile environment.

The workshop consultation was organised by the Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur; the United Voluntary Youth Council and the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, India on the pattern of financing and persisting issues and challenges of IFI financing in Manipur and to discuss ways and strategies to promote effective and sustainable development.

CRAM secretary, Jiten Yumnam said that ever since the adoption of a neo-liberal economic system by the government of India in 1990s, IFIs (both bilateral and multilateral institutions) have changed the politico-economic framework while the geographical advantage of Manipur have generated massive focus in expanding trade and investment cooperation between the countries with dominant economies of South and South East Asia. There has been an aggressive move to connect the NorthEast region with SouthEast Asia for trade and investment, as evident by the aggressive construction of Trans Asian Highway and Railway, Trans Asian High Voltage Transmission and distribution lines, all passing through Manipur, Jiten added.

The exclusivity of the development decisions making, the incompatibility of the initiatives with the primary needs of Manipur and insensitivity to the rights and impacts on indigenous peoples of Manipur has long been questioned, Jiten said.

Jiten explained in-depth on the challenges faced in implications of International Financial Institutions in Manipur. In Manipur, the ADB, the World Bank and JICA are primarily involved in financing of sectors such as road building, energy, water and sanitation, agriculture and business etc.

The World Bank is currently funding the dam rehabilitations and improvement project (DRIP) for Singda Dam and Imphal Barrage. As such, development cooperation in Manipur is marred with a range of social and environmental issues in addition to the direct and indirect violation of indigenous people’s rights. The project financings are also marred with lack of accountability of corporate bodies involved in the project financing and implementation, Jiten said.

The key challenges of the Official Development Assistant (ODA) projects in Manipur are the policy conditionings, tied aid or reliance on consultants from the donor countries at exorbitant consultancy fees. The challenges of such financial support of the international multilateral and bilateral banks are that the monetary support come as loan support with obligatory interest payments.

Most of the ODA financials are non-concessional, which also undermine the objectives of ODA to have greater grant components. The implications of these loans in Manipur have never been considered in projects or discussed with communities. Manipur is one of the poorest states of India with limited source of revenue and the state continues to reel in precarious financial situations, Jiten added.

Affected people of the proposed Imphal Town Ring Road and affected people of various development projects shared their experiences and opinions during the workshop. They said that the non-recognition of rights, lack of accountability of project authorities and intimidation to community leaders striving for development justice only undermine the effective partnership process between the communities and project authorities. The exclusive nature of the pursuance of such development processes and the least concern directed to the rich biodiversity of Manipur is also a concern for affected people.

As a moderator of the workshop consultant, CSO partnership for development effectiveness, India, focal point, Josephine Joseph said that it is high time to reflect on the implications of liberalization of policies and targeting people’s resources by extracting industries with tactical involvement of IFIs pursued under India’s Act East Policy. The project requires addressing basic rights of indigenous survivors. Public hearing has to organise wherever it is possible and every project should consult people, she added.

The casualties of Mapithel dam even as the dam lays non-functional.

Pic: Submergnece of a Church at Chadong Village by Mapithel dam

Vulnerability of Leimatak River 

Themson Jajo, The Sangai Express, 20 December 2021

http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.opinions.Opinion_on_Building_of_Tipaimukh_Dam.Vulnerability_of_Leimatak_River_By_Jajo_Themson

  Consultation : Protection of Land, Rivers and Forest in Leimatak  : 15 November 2021
Consultation : Protection of Land, Rivers and Forest in Leimatak on 15 November 2021 :: Pix – Centre For Research And Advocacy, Manipur

Like arteries of human body, rivers circulate water and nourished the earth planet. Among the precious free gifts of nature, rivers constitute the most essential being for people’s sustenance, development and the best host for living creatures. Above all the multiple significant roles of rivers, the indigenous river based communities have inseparable historical chain, cultural relationship, social attachment and key factor for their survival over generations.

Rivers have been source of folk songs and folklores for many communities around the world. It is due to these reasons why Maori tribe of New Zealand termed the River Whanganui as their forefather and still some other communities considered their rivers as god.

Manipur is gifted with several beautiful small and big rivers. Among them, the Leimatak River is a remarkable and enchanting one. It is a major tributary of the Irang (Alang) River. Originating originated from Churachandpur district, it flows towards the western side of Manipur. It is a unique river which runs northerly directions unlike others that usually flow from north to south. This river flows with a fresh water with crystal clear appearance.

Leimatak River is also known for its profuse and tasty fishes. It has been tiding freely and elegantly since the beginning of ages. According to folks living nearby, the original name of this river is Leimata meaning, rejecting bridge building over it. It was told that people in the past made attempt to construct bridge along the said river, but supernatural creature (as their belief) destroyed at the very night the bridge was built.

The Leimatak River is enchanted not only for its free and natural flow but also encompasses boon and associates with indescribable chain of relationship with the river based indigenous communities. Thousand of indigenous people sipped the shower of blessing from this river.

With the Leimatak River, the indigenous people living in the valley range were blessed with fertile land suitable for permanent wet rice cultivation and for animal grazing. River water and its resources such as fishes, primps, crabs, snails etc. feed the incumbents as a source of food and economy and its sand and stones provided free material for construction purposes since forefathers.

It is worth reflecting that many rivers across the globe have been granted legal entity as human being today. They are no longer mere rivers as one sees but as a legal personhood. River Whanganui has been legalized by New Zealand Parliament on 15th March, 2015, River Ganga & Yamuna in India on 21 March 2017 by Uttarakhand High Court, the Colombia’s constitutional court granted legal rights to the Atrato River on 22 May 2017, Bangladesh also became one of the first countries to grant all of its rivers the same legal status as humans in August, 2019. River Magpie in Canada has also been recognised as a legal person in February, 2021.

Remarkably, the Earth Law Centre (ELC) based in the New York City had made a historic Universal Declaration of Rivers’ Rights (UDRR) on 29th September 2017. Like the declaration made, the Leimatak River in Manipur deserves the same legal rights which enshrined five fundamental rights such as Right to flow freely, Right to perform essential functions within its ecosystem, Right to be free from pollution, Right to native biodiversity and Right to restoration.

This implicates that any infringement on Leimatak River will be a serious violations too. Aforementioned rivers received legal status with the fact that rivers are significant to different communities on their cultural, social, economic and religious perspectives, so is the Leimatak River significant to the indigenous river based communities.

Factors ailing Leimatak River

It is saddening that the natural flow of Leimatak River was drastically changed ever since commissioning of the 105 MW Loktak Hydro-electric Project in May 1983. Water discharge from this project not only kills the natural flow of Leimatak River but also changed its pattern. Thousand years of tranquillity and cordial relationship between this river and river based communities were shattered when the Leimatak River became hostile due to rise and fall of its water level in the post Loktak project era.

The changed flow of this river has even claimed 5 precious lives in Taoshang Khunou, 3 in Thangal and still so many more which are not recorded. Frequent loss of animal doesn’t confined at a place but entire villages in the river range. Besides this, normal way of community fishing and collection of sand, stone, chips etc. from the Leimatak River becomes a risk.

Fate of Leimatak River in the wake of Twin dams

There has been acute apprehension of Leimatak River being completely damaged due to proposed twin dam over it. Like mentioned above, this river has already been maimed by the Loktak project long ago. The National Hydro-Power Corporations (NHPC) in hand with the Govt. of Manipur proposed to build the 66 MW Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Project (LDHP) at Taoshang Khunou village over 30 years back and 70 MW Nungleiband dam at Nungleiband village about 15 years back.

During August, 2020 the Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Corporations Ltd (LDHCL) has signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the Manipur State Power Distribution Company Ltd (MSPDCL) for 66 MW Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Project. The PPA of 2020 was finalized as a result of long intense pressure from the NHPC. Even Meghalaya and Tripura state signed PPA on 19 and 20 June 2003 for purchase of power from the Loktak Downstream Project.

The 66 MW LDHP is proposed to build a 28 meters (94.36 fts) high barrage over the Leimatak River right at Taoshang Khunou village in Noney district. Estimated cost of the project was Rs. 867.77 crores in 2006, which was escalated to Rs. 1,250 crores in 2015 and the latest cost increased to Rs. 1391.65 crores in 2018. Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Corporations Ltd was constituted in September, 2008 as a partner of the NHPC.

While trying to build it, 211.50 hectares of forest and wet paddy fields will be diluted. Stage-I Forest Clearance was accorded on 3 March, 2011 without compliance of the conditions contained in the FRA, 2006. A Public Hearing for the LDHP was carried out on 7 June, 2011 at Longjang (Thangal) village in Noney district, Manipur. Environment Impacts Assessment (EIA) and Environment Management Plan (EMP) have not been disclosed to the affected villagers. As per the villagers of Taoshang Khunou, land survey was done in 1982 but agreement was signed only in 2020.

Still, there is another plan of building 70 MW Nungleiband dam at Nungleiband which is 25 km in the upstream portion of the Loktak Downstream project. As per the concerned villagers, the proposal of the dam was made fifteen years back. But surprisingly, nothing of the Detail Project Report (DPR), Detail Impacts Assessment (DIA), Rehabilitation & Resettlement (R&R) program and rate of land compensation etc. are opened to the villagers till date.

According to Village Secretary, satellite mapping for the Nungleiband dam was done in 2020. Land survey was carried out during April or May 2021. Public came to know only through news papers. It is being pursued without transparency and accountability and without Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of the concerned community people.

The affected Villagers of Taoshang filed a case before the Guwahati High Court against the steps taken by the state Govt. to resurvey land. The same was stayed by the High Court which led to suspension of the survey works for some time. The Citizen Concern for Dams and Development (CCDD) on 15 December, 2017 condemned the plan to start the construction of the LDHP.

Community people of Nungleiband expressed serious concern on 21st November, 2021 regarding the possible loss of land, river and forest in the village because of the 70 MW Nungleiband dam. Moreover, the people of Taoshang Khunou village exposed apprehensions on 15th December, 2021 about the 66 MW LDHP as they were not properly informed of the details of the project and detail impacts assessment disclosed.

Conclusion

Aggressive push of building twin dam projects over the Leimatak is a bad news for ecology, environment concern, rights of the river based indigenous people over land, forest and river and their long sustainable living. Building the 66 MW LDHP and 70 MW Nungleiband dam over the same river will be another chapter of disaster environmentally and socially. It will also completely destroy the Leimatak River and close its history.

Further, it will give adverse impacts in the downstream portions even deteriorating the Irang River. Moreover, it will aggrandise the menace of ecological imbalance and issues of indigenous peoples survival caused by the Ithai Barrage of the 105 MW Loktak Project, disaster to the affected people by the Mapithel dam, livelihood disruptive in the Khuga dam area, life hardship caused due to Dolaithabi barrage, devastation of land and resource by Khoupum dam etc.

It is quite irrational to build double more dams in Leimatak River of Manipur because Manipur state is still chronic from the previous dams associated with wide controversies which are not healed. It is also contradictory state Govt. plans to build the dams while the world is exhaustively finding solution to curb the threat of climate change.

As per a journal of Biodiversity and Conservation in Washington 2019, large dams are harmful to environment with the concern that living species are so specific to their habitat, any disturbance that alters their environment can put them at risk of dying off. Dams are big agent to climate change due to its carbon and greenhouse emission enhancing global warming @25%.

It acts as a big factor of forest loss and also an agent to 48% loss of water and their hydro-ecological systems are affected by dam reservoirs. It is a proven fact that large dams are unviable in the seismic zone. Notably, NE region is under the most severe Seismic Zone V of India. Further, it is a bitter conclusion that dams damage indigenous lives and are not feasible in the backward region.

It is high time State Govt and dam building giants like NHPC review the plan of constructing 66 MW Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Project and 70 MW Nungleiband dam project in the interest of protecting the inherent rights and free natural flow of Leimatak River in order to continue performing its ecosystem. Review the plan to build such dams so as to ensure sustainable living of the river based indigenous communities.

Let not the normal life of the affected villagers shatter in the name of development by damaging river, submerging land, forest, home-stead areas, animal grazing fields, loving ancestral homes and aged old settlement. Development plan at the cost of the indigenous land and resources is unjust and destructive more than upliftment. It is the need based development that is called for not through plundering land, river and resources.

Legally the Leimatak River should flow free without violating its fundamental rights. Environmentally, it deserves freedom to perform its own basic ecosystem. Socially and economically, the Leimatak River should move on unhindered so that the indigenous communities can enjoy its blessings through generations. Culturally, Leimatak River deserves to keep tiding so that people’s life depending on it can retain the aged long unbreakable chain of relationship.

Blockade of Leimatak River by building series of dams over it amounts to multiple violations and creating disaster in varied perspectives. There is a need of change the prospect of development from such unsustainable manner to people and environmental unfriendly system.

Speculating the whole perspectives and possible impacts of the twin dams, the Leimatak River is at high risk today. It is the responsibility of every citizen to uphold its legal rights. Undermining its significant roles shall be a huge loss. It is our bounden duty to ensure the Leimatak River render its invaluable services and perform its own natural ecosystem without retarding.

Concerning the significance of environmental, historical, social, cultural and long sustainability of the river based indigenous communities, the Leimatak River should run free and enjoy its own rights through generations without infringement.


* Jajo Themson wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is from Kamjong district, Manipur and can be reached at thmsontezonge(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on December 20 2021.

Consultation : Promotion of Sustainable Development at Tousang

The E-Pao.Net, 16 December 2021

http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.Press_Release.Press_Release_2021.Promotion_of_Sustainable_Development_at_Tousang_20211217

 Consultation : Promotion of Sustainable Development at Tousang
Consultation : Promotion of Sustainable Development at Tousang

A community awareness consultation on Sustainable Development and Protection of Land, was organized by the Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur (CRA) at Tousang Village in Noney District on 15th December 2021. The consultation was organized to promote the protection of land, forest, rivers and other natural resources for the livelihood and survival of indigenous peoples across generations.

During the consultation, Mr. Jiten Yumnam, Secretary of CRA shared on the importance of sustainable development in Manipur to ensure the inter-generational survival of indigenous peoples and to protect the natural heritages.

Mr. Yumnam explained how land sustained not only the physical survival, but also the spiritual and cultural survival and identity of indigenous peoples. The construction of large dams over Rivers already entailed submergence and loss of agriculture land, forest areas and Rivers and causing hardship to affected communities.

The proposed 66 MW Loktak Downstream hydroelectric project will undermine the livelihood of communities depending on the Leimatak River and adjoining land and forest areas in villages of Thangal, Tousang, Nungleiband etc, and further in downstream villages such as Toudaijang, Nungba etc along the Irang River. The Government should review the proposed plan to build large dams over the Leimatak and Irang River, to avoid causing social and environmental impacts.

 Consultation : Promotion of Sustainable Development at Tousang
Consultation : Promotion of Sustainable Development at Tousang

Mr. Themson Jajo, Environmentalist shared that land and rivers are associated with the rich culture and history of communities. Large dams, such as Mapithel dam has long been controversial for their social, cultural, environmental impacts due to submergence of agriculture and forest land. The Government should avoid repeating the sufferings of communities due to Mapithel dam.

Dams like Khuga dam, Khoupum dam, Dolaithabai dam failed after wasting huge amount of public resources. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation remains unaccountable for destroying Loktak wetlands. The construction of 66 MW Loktak downstream hydroelectric project and 70 MW Nungleiband dam etc over the Leimatak River lacks rationality given the potential adverse impacts. Villages like Tousang will be displaced permanently and any limited compensation awarded can never compensate the loss of their land and livelihood. Dam building only benefits dam building companies and not the affected peoples.

Mr. Gunrei Kamei, Environmentalist emphasized the need for a people friendly development rooted in human rights and environmental protection. Villages of Tousang, Thangal villages etc are sustainable villages, producing a wide variety of agriculture and forest products. Many communities affected by unsustainable development projects confronted problems with rehabilitation and resettlement.

The companies and Government officials took advantage of lack of road, health facilities etc and innocence of villagers in remote areas to promote unsustainable and destructive projects like large dams. The Government should promote agriculture, horticulture and other agro based livelihood options, instead of destroying their land and sources of agriculture production. The Government should build an all-weather road for Tousang village to improve their local economy and village livelihood.

The participants of the consultation affirmed call to ensure the free and unhindered flow of the Leimatak River. The participants also emphasized that the land, forest, water and especially, the Leimatak River is life for the people. The Government should promote development effectiveness by recognizing peoples’ rights their rights over their land and resources and seeking their free, prior and informed consent.

 Consultation : Promotion of Sustainable Development at Tousang
Consultation : Promotion of Sustainable Development at Tousang

How Hydropower Development Devastated the Loktak Wetlands and the Livelihoods of Women and Communities

The International Rivers, 8 December 2021

December 8, 2021

By: Jiten Yumnam, Nalori Dhammei Chakma and Petro Kotze

The Meitei people call the Loktak Wetlands in India’s North East region Loktak Lairembi or, the mother goddess. The wetlands are the foundation of their socio-economic development and rich cultural heritage, but has been decimated by the construction of the contentious and controversial 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project (Loktak HEP).

D:\Study reports\Dams & Iimpact on Women - IR - 2021\Write up\Write up - Nalori Comments\Map Loktak Lake.png

The hydroelectric project submerged the wetlands, with vast consequences for the generations of communities that intimately depend on the system for their livelihoods. Women in particular are hit hard. The loss of the Loktak Wetlands ripples into every crevice of their lives, as the Loktak HEP drowned out their cultural history, capacity to make a living and home for their families, and their right to voice their concerns. 

What women lost when the Loktak Wetlands were submerged  

The Loktak Wetlands, a protected Site under the Ramsar Convention, lies in the basin of the Manipur River. The ebb and flow of the river regulates the fragile ecosystem of Manipur Valley, part of the larger Chindwin-Irrawaddy River Basin of Burma. The water level of the wetlands fluctuates according to season, regulating a diverse array of aquatic flora and fauna. It is part of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot.

The wetlands allow for the migration of fish from the Irrawaddy River System and the growth of the wetlands’ famous phumdi, floating biomass composed of soil, plants and organic matter. The wetland absorbs floodwater during monsoon and its water is used for agriculture during dry seasons.  For generations, the people of Manipur, the Meitei, Nagas and Kukis, lived in close proximity to the oscillating flow of the wetlands.

Loktak Wetlands
Woman collects lotus fruit leaves and flowers in Loktak wetlands

They build their traditional floating huts (phumshang) on the phumdi to live in and to fish from and for generations, the Meitei in particular, have taken care of the wetlands and surrounding forests and hills, without possessing formal land titles over their fields. Women fulfil multiple roles integral to the sustainable management of Loktak wetlands. Each season, they trim and dispose of excess phumdi and help to build the phumshang. They also collect reeds from the surrounding forested areas of Keibul Lamjao for firewood, to smoke fish and for building material. 

Women are also the bearers of local cultural heritage practices, and much of the socio-economic functioning of the communities. They are involved in the making of the traditional fishing gear from reeds, bamboo, cane and cotton and they weave traditional clothing like phanek and khudei’. In Manipur, it is the women who manage the local traditional markets, where they trade fish and seasonal plants harvested from the wetlands.

Over and above their social and economic proximity to the wetlands, Loktak is the cultural heartland of the Meitei people of Manipur. According to Meitei folklore, Loktak is home to the revered mythical horned python called Poubi Lai, one of many folktales centered around the wetlands, narrated and performed by women during rituals and ancestral ceremonies.  

But this sensitive and rich system collapsed when the wetlands were submerged and converted to a reservoir for the Loktak HEP and irrigation facilities. The Ithai Barrage, constructed in 1979 on the confluence of the Manipur and the Khuga rivers, now maintains the water level of the Loktak Wetlands at a constant 668 meters. The water stored in the wetland is now channelled to Leimatak Power Station through the Ningthoukhong canal for power generation.  

Local communities were dealt a further blow when the Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act (LPA) was promulgated in 2006. The LPA is enforced by the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) to ensure an uninterrupted water flow for the Leimatak Power Station under the pretext of protecting the wetlands. The law divided the wetlands into zones that prohibits various activities, including fishing and waste disposal, that undermines the community’s human rights. 

The development has been a death knell to the socio-economic life and environmental integrity of the Manipur Valley.

The Impact of the Ithai Barrage on the Loktak Wetlands and its people   

The Loktak HEP caused massive displacement of the Meitei people of Manipur. Many families were banished with no compensation, resettlement or rehabilitation plan in place. The communities had no choice. In November 2011, nearly 700 phumshang were burnt down by the government, affecting more than 3,000 people, and many women from Langol Shabi and Nambul Machin areas. The LDA contended that the communities who had been managing the wetlands for generations, were now encroaching on the wetlands.  

D:\Study reports\Dams & Iimpact on Women - IR - 2021\Write up\Write up - Nalori Comments\Arsoning of floating huts.jpg
Burning of Floating Huts at Loktak Wetlands, 15 November 2021. (Pic by J. Yumnam)

“Many were displaced due to the Loktak Protection Act,” says Ms. Heisnam Chaoba of Thanga Heisnam. “Many moved out of the villages and they are now staying in tents at Imphal City and other places in search of work. Many are now engaged in construction works, driving auto-rickshaws or pulling carts etc. The Government failed to compensate the affected fisherfolks for torching their floating huts in 2011 and 201.”      

However, even for those that were allowed to stay, the prospects are bleak. An estimated 83,450 hectares of agricultural lands on both sides of Ithai Dam has been affected. Paddy fields which have been in existence for hundreds of years, sustaining families for generations, have been submerged, directly affecting more than 100,000 individuals, mainly of the Meitei community. 

The barrage also formed a barrier to migrating fish, decimating numbers and, in turn, the livelihoods of the fishermen that depend on them. Several indigenous species, including Ngaton, Khabak, Pengba, Tharaak, Ngaaraa and Ngaatin have disappeared. 

“Fishing, drying, smoking and marketing of fish are women’s work,” says Ms. Ahanthem Memthoi (65) from Sendra. She remembers catching a variety of fish from Loktak, like Pengba, Tharak, Ngara, Sareng, Sareng Khoibi and Ngaton. “We no longer catch these fishes.” 

Since the water level of the wetlands are not allowed to fluctuate any more, countless fauna and flora species have been affected. One is the Sangai, the endangered brown antlered deer. Found only in Manipur, the deer’s natural habitat is close to disappearing. The floating phumdis are also unable to recede and be nourished with soil and organic materials again, while the various indigenous aquatic edible plants like heikak (water chestnut), thaangjing, tharo, thambaal, loklei, pulei, yelang, kengoi and koukha have decreased, since their roots cannot extend to the bottom soil of the wetland anymore. Some indigenous rice varieties have already been lost, including Moirangphou, Phourel and Waiyu Chara (wild rice). 

Once self-sufficient, Manipur now imports food. 

The impact on the lives of local communities and women in Loktak and the surrounding areas have been severe. Women cannot fish or collect edible plants, or trade their goods at the market, anymore. They are also not able to keep their cows and buffaloes, since this land is now submerged. 

“Earlier, even people without formal education and unemployed people could easily sustain livelihood by fishing in Loktak wetlands,” Ms. Heisnam Chaoba, a Meitei of Langolshabi Village, says. However, fish catches declined and heikak, a major food source that was widely available before, has nearly disappeared, she says.  

Ms. Heisnam Leinungshi, of Thanga Salam says: “Traditional rice species like the taothabi, moirang phou, and waiyu jara were abundant before. Waiyu jara, a traditional wild rice was widely available in the wetland but is now extinct due to the Loktak HEP.” She says the wild rice provided food for several months, and was offered to their ancestral deities to bless the community, and they could sell the water chestnut as additional income for their families, as many people from outside of Lotak came to collect the produce.

The direct and indirect impacts of the Loktak HEP have rippled into all aspects of women’s lives, and those of their children and future generations. Women have been forced to borrow money, pushing them into debt. Families are unable to support their children or pay for their education. 

“The Ithai Dam is destroying our livelihood,” says Heisnam Ashangbi, of the local Thanga village. “The Government is destroying our children’s future.”

Once independent and proud fishermen have been forced to work as unskilled labourers, leaving their homes and communities in search of jobs. Many phumshang were razed and athaphum for fishing removed by force. This happened to Ms. Premila (67) from the Thanga Heisnam Leikai village. “Fishing was all our family is good at and for many years it was enough to make ends meet. I would join my husband in fishing and sell fishes at Ningthoukhong Bazar. The Loktak HEP deprived us of our only means of earning income. Now, I am forced to take up a very different life at a rented place at Imphal town for nearly eight years with my two children.” 

“The Government should kill us all rather than harassing us like this,” says Ms. Pramo of Langolshabi. “It is better for us to die, rather than torturing us”.  

The impact of the Ithai Barrage and the Loktak HEP goes far beyond the Loktak Wetlands. Ms. Indubala is from of Chairel, a Meitei village located downstream if the Ithai Barrage, that was famous for traditional earthen pottery works. “Women are the ones involved in making traditional pottery,” she says, “but with the Ithai Barrage and the sudden release of water from the barrage, the deposition of sediments in the repeated flooding has covered the area where villagers collect the earth suitable for pottery.” Now, it is very difficult for villagers to find the clay, and they cannot afford expensive machinery to help them. “The Loktak project has affected the traditional practice of pottery making with hand and the livelihood of women” she says. Many women were forced to abandon pottery and the associated traditional knowledge.

Chairel is not the only village to suffer from floods due to releases from Ithai Barrage. In 2017, there were at least five floods, in which 25 people were killed. The floods are mostly attributed to the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) refusing to open gates of Ithai Barrage. The Nongmaikhong areas and other villages close to the Ithai Barrage suffered the most damages.

“We experienced the worst flood ever in the past decade as flood water entered our fish farms three times in a row in 2017. Our village gets flooded frequently due to the Ithai Barrage,” says Ms. N. Bidyarani (47) of Nongmaikhong Awang Leikai, Bishenpur district. 

It has happened before. In 2002, extensive damage was inflicted by flooding, costing seven lives and affecting more than 40,000 hectares of agricultural land, amounting to losses of around Rs 600 crores

The plight of the people of the Loktak Wetlands have been unimaginably heavy. The NHPC still refuses any compensation for losses, saying that the villagers do not have property titles to make claim on any. Except for the losses they have already suffered, women have been the victims of the extensive militarization of the area to protect the power station and related infrastructure. Thousands of villagers from the Loktak areas have fled and sought asylum in makeshift relief camps at Ithai Khunjao, Laphupat and Tera Khunou.

Their suffering is unlikely to end soon. In 2018, the NHPC received approval to extend the life of the Loktak HEP by another 25 years. The NHPC also constructed the 66 MW Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Project by utilizing the water discharge from the Loktak power Station and the natural flow of the Leimatak River.  

A course of action for advocacy 

Women protest against Loktak HEP and Manipur Loktak Lake Project Act 2006

For the Meitei communities, Loktak Wetlands is life, a sacred source of their folksong, folklores and cultures. Loktak sustained lives for generations. Manipur’s unique identity and integrity will be rendered meaningless with the complete loss of the wetlands. The recognition of the intrinsic role of communities and incorporation of their indigenous knowledge and cultural practices, including the role of women, is crucial in sustainable management of the wetlands in future.    

Despite vehement resistance, the project authority, NHPC and government refuses to either decommission the Ithai Barrage or to repeal the Manipur Loktak Lake Project Act, 2006.

As such, the Loktak HEP has become a symbol of the plunder of the land and resources of Manipur and the thwarting of women’s roles in fostering food sovereignty. Communities in Loktak continue to advocate against the continued efforts by the State to undermine community rights over Loktak wetlands through additional policies.  

How can we live dignified lives, asks Ms. Heisnam Ashangbi. with the inhumane, merciless harassment of the Government? “We are prepared to sacrifice our lives to defend our rights,” she says. 

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Singing for Rivers

Pic: The Leimatak River in its gentle flow

Years ago,

Fishes swam joyfully

Sand resided at the bank

Water gushing soberly

In harmony the mortal sang

Sparkling water through the rocks

Splendid sight for the visitors

Scary is the river at dusk

No sand to hold rocks together

Big, small, rocks of all sort

Wrestles hard and faces frown

Pebbles continue to take stock

Of fish, sand, and mortals drown

Indeed, the great wall reins In lies and bitterness

Songs of suits and camouflage chants

Pebbles keeps taking stock of modernness

O come, all ye, faithful and joyful

Mortals of hills and vales Let us join and sing heartful

For rivers to flow free, rivers hail

For years to come

(A poem by Ms. Shanthalembi Lisham on Leimatak River, Manipur)

NHPC: Slayer of Loktak and Manipuri

By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor,

The Imphal Free Press, 22 November 2021

https://ifp.co.in/11061/nhpc-slayer-of-loktak-and-manipuri

(PHOTO: IFP)


Famous for its floating islands (Phumdis) and picturesque landscape, the condition of the Loktak Lake in Manipur is sadly deteriorating. Researchers blame changes in the hydrology due to the constructing dams, blockage of migratory routes for fish, drying up of wetlands from siltation and exploitation for declining indigenous fish varieties in the lake. The 266 sq km, Loktak is Northeast India’s largest fresh water lake and Ramsar site of international importance. This ancient lake plays an important role in the socio-economy, climate and rich biodiversity of Manipur.

Ithai Barrage was constructed downstream of Manipur River as a part of the National Loktak Multipurpose Hydro-Electric Project to maintain sufficient water volume in the lake by making it a reservoir for maintenance of the project. The Project was commissioned in 1983 with the construction of the Ithai Barrage; there have been certain changes in the climatic condition and socio-economic life of the people and environment of Manipur. One major impact of the Ithai Barrage on the environment of Manipur is the flooding of several thousand hectares of agricultural land around the Loktak Lake. The maintenance of constant water level of Loktak Lake due to the Ithai Barrage has flooded the agricultural land around the Lake which was previously utilised for cultivation. Secondly, Phumdis have been disappearing. Phumdis float during the rains and sink during dry months, sucking nutrients from the lake bed to replenish their roots and float again when the next monsoon cycle begins. This has been their life cycle for centuries but it is now at grave risk. The Loktak Hydroelectric Project constantly keeps the water level in the lake high, unable to feed from the nutrients on the bed, the Phumdis are thinning out and even breaking away.

Worse is- local residents themselves are breaking off pieces of the biomass to sell elsewhere as rich fish culture soil. The third impact of Ithai Barrage is the high level of siltation in Loktak Lake. The blockade of water current in the outlet of Loktak Lake through Manipur River has affected the normal flow of river and helped in deposition of silts at Loktak Lake itself from different inlets of the catchment areas. Fourthly, the ecology of the peripheral areas of Loktak  Lake , which were used as grazing ground of cattle in the past , have become inundated due to the maintenance of constant water level of Loktak Lake by Ithai Barrage. Even, existence of endangered Brow- antlered Deer of Keibul Lamjao National Park is at high risk. The environment around Loktak has been changed and the number of cattle and buffaloes has been reduced to a great extent in the last few years.  It directly or indirectly affects the livelihood of the villagers. Most importantly, indigenous fish varieties of Loktak Lake have vanished in the last two to three decades following the construction of the Ithai barrage across the Manipur River.  Fish prefer shallow areas for breeding but the constant high level of water in Loktak Lake for functioning of the barrage has destroyed their breeding habitats. In addition, the run-off from chemical fertilizers used in agriculture and untreated sewage from Imphal through Nambul River also directly affects the biodiversity of the Lake. Before construction of the barrage, minor carps such as Pengba used to migrate from Myanmar to Manipur and enter Loktak Lake upstream for breeding and spawning.

The deep rooted and multifaceted adverse impacts of 105MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project commissioned by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) continues to haunt Manipur for long, A simple interaction with denizens of Loktak Lake within and peripheral part of the wetland would unravel the alteration , a change more of nightmarish experiences to communities , of loss of land, of loss of fish species and seasonal plants, of change in culture that bring lamentations to memories of abundance, of freedom and glories in their bygone days prior to the dam. Much has been discussed and written on the wide impact of Loktak Project and the NHPC, a multinational Company for altering Loktak Wetland’s ecology and endless suffering seems to be least concerned. Rather denying its role in the devastation of Loktak and refuting the call of communities and even the Government of Manipur to decommissioned  Ithai barrage as emanating from sheer ‘’ Ignorance’ ’simply constitute an utter disrespect and insult to the people of Manipur. NHPC even boldly absolved and denied responsibility for the sufferings unleashed in Loktak Lake in legal process with communities seeking compensation for crop damages by the project.  This is clear evidence of how the NHPC functions with a clear impunity far away from any sort of monitoring and regulatory mechanism.

Unfortunately, the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) in a scandalous manner facilitated the NHPC’s unaccountability and assertion of impunity by unleashing merciless brutalities adding to the woes and suffering of the fishing communities displaced by NHPC’s Loktak Project since 1983. The NHPC’s Loktak Project is simply becoming a symbol of ruthless plunder and exploitation of Manipur. The Project is now also synonymous with the oppression of the people of Manipur and suppression of indigenous people’s legitimate exercise of their self-determination over land, lives and future. It seems the Loktak Project is designed perfectly to destroy and weaken Manipur by usurping its agricultural land and destroying its key primary economic base. Manipur indeed has long been reduced to a food importing state, ever since the commissioning of Ithai Barrage for Loktak Project. The NHPC continues to reap maximum profit at the cost of Manipuri’s land and suffering from its people.  A continued operation of Loktak Project for next Ten to Twenty years will simply cause havoc and completely destroy Loktak. Given the fast rate of sedimentation of Loktak Lake from the rivers flowing into it due to denudation of forest in their catchment areas, Loktak Lake will simply disappear soon. Rivers like Khordak and Manipur River all silted up already. Notwithstanding the multiple impact and continued unaccountability of NHPC, the objectives and performance of the Loktak Project need to be clearly scrutinised as well. 

The Loktak Lift irrigation Project which originally intends to provide irrigation and rejuvenate more than 30,000 hectares of agricultural lands now languish useless and non-functional while farmers also lament of the lands loss due to the construction of irrigation canals at Bishnupur,Moirang and Toronglaobi and many other areas vicinity of Loktak. Despite the worsening situation in Loktak Lake and non-functional nature of the key objectives of the Loktak Project, there is no mechanism to monitor the impacts and the performance of Loktak Project. NHPC seems to function above the people of Manipur and the Government of Manipur.

Now, the question is- how long such an ordeal and NHPC’s unaccountability will continue and how long will the people of Manipur suffer? There is no clarity how long the Project will continue and with the recent confirmation of an absence of a clear agreement between NHPC and the Government of Manipur that defined the terms and conditions of the operation of Ithai Barrage, the end to such ordeal is nowhere in sight in near future. The NHPC seems to enjoy complete freedom to destroy Loktak Lake and all the traditions and culture associated with it in its ultimate for an indefinite period of time. Manipur indeed reeling and enduring a time, where corporate bodies are increasingly ruling the roost.

‘Unhinder the flow of river and review the proposed 70MW Nungleiband dam’

The Imphal Free Press, 22 November 2021

(PHOTO: IFP)


Gangluan (Nungleiband) part IV village, located in Tamenglong district, Manipur has agreed to ensuring free and unhindered flow of the Leimatak River and to call for a review of the proposed 70 MW Nungleiband Dam, the 66 MW Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Project proposed over Leimatak River.The villagers agreed during a consultation on Sustainable Development organised at the village on Sunday by the Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur (CRA).

During the consultation, Jiten Yumnam of CRA shared that the Leimatak River is one of the most important rivers of Manipur and that it has been targeted for large dam construction. Yumnam shared that the flow regime of the Leimatak River is affected due to direct discharge of water from Loktak Power Station of the 105 MW Loktak multipurpose hydroelectric project, which curtailed villagers’ dependence on the river for fishing, sand collection, besides claiming lives of villagers along the river.

Pic: Let the Leimatak River Flow Free ! Review Plans to build large dams over the Leimatak River !!

The proposed construction of 70 MW Nungleiband dam, the 66 MW Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric projects will submerge people’s land, forest and other livelihood sources, Jiten said. It is crucial to rescind all plans to construct large dams over Leimatak River and to call for decommissioning of the Ithai Barrage of Loktak project to avoid all social, environmental and climate change impacts in Manipur, he added

Haothaoliu Panmei, member, Women Society, Gangluan Part IV, shared that the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation operating the Loktak power station, discharged water from the power station to the Leimatak River daily from around 7 PM. This affected the villagers’ reliance on the river for fishing, for sand collection, to access the river etc. The sudden release of water from Loktak power station caused the drowning of several villagers, including children from villages like Thangal, Toushang, etc. Panmei said.

Gunrei Kamei, Social Activist, shared that sustainable development is crucial for indigenous people depending on the land, forest, rivers and other resources for livelihood. Gunrei expressed concern that the rivers in Noney and Tamenglong areas have been targeted with construction of large dams, oil exploration, railway works etc. Indigenous people need to be fully conscious of these development processes that will entail loss of destruction of forest, land and water, to ensure that all development decisions and interventions ensure the survival and human rights for all coming generations, Kamei said.

G Amarjit, Faculty Member, JNU shared that dam building causes much conflict within communities. Dam building is marred with lack of transparency, accountability and lack of detailed impact assessment. Dam building is not sustainable, given the adverse impacts on people, environment and climate, Amarjit stated.

Studies confirm that dam building benefits corporate bodies while impoverishing communities with submergence and destruction of their land and resources. It is high time to question whose development are large dams, the JNU faculty member said.

The participants also called for the decommissioning of the Ithai Barrage of the 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project. The participants also asserted that the land, forest and river represent life for indigenous people.

Consultation on ADB & Development Effectiveness calls for Accountability & Indigenous Rights in Manipur

Pic: Sharing by Mr. Gopen of Irabot Foundation

19 November 2021: Source: CRA, Manipur

An Awareness Consultation on Asian Development Bank and Development Effectiveness was held at Khuman Lampak Youth Hostel by the Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur on 19th November 2021.  Dr. Amarjit Gurumayum, Faculty member, JNU, Mr. Gopen Kh, Secretary of Irabot Foundation and Mr. Jiten Yumnam, Secretary of Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur shared resource inputs during the consultation while representative of communities affected by the proposed Imphal Town Ring Road Project presented the challenges associated with the pursuance of the mega infrastructure project to be financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Pic: Interaction with Participants

During the consultation, Dr. Amarjit shared how the ADB has been increasingly involved across North East India as part of supporting India’s neoliberal economy and in particular the pursuance of Act East Policy.  He explained how ADB has been funding the South Asia Sub Economic Cooperation (SASEC) initiative in North East India and in peripheral region in South Asia. ADB financed sectors such as energy, infrastructure, power sector etc with views with visions including to tap the vast energy potential, vast resources of minerals, oil, forest, livestock, fertile agriculture land, important ports and cheap skilled labour. ADB has committed to uphold Development Effectiveness, including human rights based development approach, participation of affected community, transparency and accountability, besides promotion of environment sustainability. However, the financing of ADB has been marred with undermining its policies such as the Safeguard Policy Statement of 2009 in projects such as the Kangchup to Tamenglong Road project, the Imphal to Moreh Road, the Imphal Ring Road project financed by ADB.

Pic: Screening of Documentaty on ADB financed projects and impacts

Mr. Jiten Yumnam of CRA shared on the development financing by the ADB in Manipur and across North East, which includes mega road projects, urban development, power sector reform etc, besides plans to support large dams and eco-tourism projects in Loktak wetlands. He further explained on the ADB’s accountability mechanism with was established with key aim to advance development effectiveness and raised awareness on the problem solving and the Compliance Review functions of ADB. Mr. Yumnam stressed on the need for full adherence to the Safeguard Policy Statement of 2009, to protect environment, to promote the rights of all affected indigenous peoples and further to ensure accountability of international financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank.  He also stressed the importance of assessing the multifaceted impacts of such financing, including the impacts of loans in Manipur.

Mr. Dannylung of Tharon Village, shared how the that the villagers of Tharon village welcome the IMphal Town Ring Road. However, there is an apprehension among the villagers that the road will cause wide displacement and affect the peaceful settlement of the village. The village will be forced to become extinct. If the village has been affected with the coming of Ring Road then there is no alternative place to shift the village. Similar, Mr. Pholen of JAC against Ring Road in Kongba also raised concern that the Ring road project will cause displacement of more than 100 families besides causing massive acquisition of agriculture land in Kongba and surrounding areas. ADB should not finance projects that will case massive displacement and loss of livelihood in Manipur.

Mr. Gopen of Irabot Foundation shared experience of how various communities affected by ADB financed road projects raised complaints with the ADB. He stressed the need for all development stakeholders to consult and take consent of all affected communities, to promote food sovereignty in Manipur by avoiding forced acquisition of agriculture land and wetlands etc. He also stressed the need to stop all forms of forced acquisition of peoples land by ADB financed projects like the Imphal Town Ring Road project, which will facilitate the full promotion of development effectiveness in Manipur.

The participants of the consultation generally agreed to press upon the Government, corporate bodies and all international financial institutions, including ADB to uphold development effectiveness, to uphold human rights, environment sustainability and accountability and adhere fully to all safeguard policies in all development initiatives and financing in Manipur.       

‘Manipur’s Leimatak River in vulnerable condition

The Imphal Free Press, 16 November 2021

https://ifp.co.in/10953/manipurs-leimatak-river-in-vulnerable-condition

Several villagers living along the Leimatak River are highly vulnerable and the government proposed 66 mw loktak downstream hydroelectric project poses the risk of losing agriculture and forest land.

The serious environmental concern was highlighted during a consultation and awareness programme on “Protection of Land, Rivers and Forest in Leimatak Area,” that was held at Luangjeng (Thangal) village in Manipur on Sunday.

Pic: Leimatak River

During the programme, Jiten Yumnam, Secretary of Centre for research and advocacy (CRA), Manipur shared that multiple Rivers of Manipur, such as Irang River, Leimatak River, Barak Rivers, etc. are targeted for building of dams, viz, 66 MW Loktak downstream Hydroelectric Project, the 70 MW Nungleiband dam, 190 MW Pabram dam, 60 MW Irang Dam etc, which will lead to submergence of forest and agriculture land, besides disturbing the natural flow of these rivers.

Large dams have been controversial in Manipur for their failure, for undermining food sovereignty, failure to rehabilitate affected communities, for causing climate change and human rights violations. Dams are proving unviable and environmentally unsustainable. The plan for the 66 MW Loktak downstream project needs a comprehensive impact assessment and review of their viability and rationality, he said.

Social activist Themson Jajo shared how the Mapithel dam displaced thousands and destroyed the livelihood of communities in Mapithel valley by submerging their land, forest, river etc. Jajo stressed the need for review of the plan to construct the 66 MW Loktak downstream hydroelectric project and the 70 MW Nungleiband dam over the Lcimatak River for their multifaceted impacts and feasibility.

Faculty member, JNU, Amarjit explained that development should serve the needs, priorities and interest of the people. Dam building economy tends to serve the interest of corporate bodies while impoverishing communities by destroying their land and resources. The state and project authorities of dams should share all information on planning and dam building including survey reports with the people.

Documentary films, “Wall of Injustice” and “Dams and Discontents” were screened at the consultation.

Land, forest, rivers and other resources are sources of livelihood and culture of the indigenous peoples of Manipur. Land sustains their intergenerational survival and the pursuance of unsustainable projects such as dam building. mining, infrastructure projects, etc. has led to loss of land, activist Gunrei Kamei said.

The youth participants of the consultation emphasized the importance of land, forest, river as source of intergenerational survival for communities. The participants also stressed the need for free flow of Leimatak River and to rethink unsustainable development processes. The participants also stressed the need for transparency and accountability from project authorities of proposed 66 MW Loktak downstream hydroelectric project and to provide project documents, namely detailed project report, rehabilitation and resettlement plan, social and environment impact assessments to affected communities.