The floods that took place in mid-June in northeast India severely impacted the lives and livelihood of over 17 lakh persons, many of whom were displaced from their home villages. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) had earlier noted that the damage caused by the floods was heightened by the construction of numerous dams and hydropower projects, none of which had been subjected to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) as mandated by the law. These included the Ithai barrage constructed under the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project and the Pare Hydro Power Project. Both were created despite protests from local communities, who live downstream from these projects and face great loss and severe damage, when these dams inevitably overflow during the monsoon season.
Most of the projects in the state are financed by external entities, such as the Asian Developmental Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. These institutions do not appear to take the wishes of residents into account, despite residents being the biggest stakeholders in such projects, due to the direct impact on their well-being. Under the Hydro Power Policy of 2012, there was a proposal to construct ten dams across the rivers in Manipur, despite the failure of most hydro projects/dams in the state. In addition to these failures, the entities responsible for monitoring the projects – the North Eastern Electric Power Coorporation (NEEPCO) and the National Hydroelectric Power Coorporation (NHPC) – are negligent in their administration, as evidenced by constant delays in opening dam gates during floods. Moreover, these entities are concerned with maximum power generation rather than the good of the people, creating a situation of conflicting interests, wherein corporate interests are given precedence over the rights of the residents.
In addition to the impact on the people, these projects have a marked adverse impact on the ecosystem, and in particular on indigenous communities in the area. The social and environmental impacts of the project have direct implicationsfor indigenous communities, most of whom depend on agricultural activities for their livelihood. In their hurry to “develop” the state, the government has failed to even sign an MoU defining the terms and conditions of the operations of the project, leading to a regulatory abyss and lack of accountability. Much as how the agitation to save the Silent Valley in Kerala in the 1980’s led to the stoppage of a hydropower project in the region, the government must take account of the adverse impact of these projects on people and the environment.
On 03 September 2017, there was a consultation on this matter attended by parties including the Loktak Project Affected Areas Action Committee, Mapithel Dam Affected Villagers Organisation, JAC-Mapithel Dam Downstream Affected Peoples, Loktak Fisheries Welfare Association, Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur, and the Committee on Human Rights. The parties unanimously decided to petition the state and central governments to decommission problematic projects, including the Ithai Barrage project, the Tipaimukh dam, Pabram dam, as well as oil exploration projects all over the state. The idea behind these demands is to ensure a more spirited form of participative democracy and to recognise “the people’s rights in (the) development process”
The AHRC stands with the groups and organisations in demanding an independent Environmental Impact Assessment and ensure people’s participation during the commissioning and decommissioning of large projects that could have a deleterious effect on their lives, environment and livelihoods. The Central and State governments must take note of the adverse effect of these projects on the lives of residents in the area, as well as the fact that many of these constructions are unlawful, due to them being undertaken without fulfilling requirements under the relevant environmental laws. By ignoring the desires of the indigenous people who are the primary occupants of the land, the State is violating the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is essential that the demands made at the consultation on 03 September are acceded to, and that provisions for compensation to affected persons are made. Developmental policies including the North East Hydrocarbon Vision 2030, Manipur Hydro Power Policy of 2012 and the Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006.