One person’s manna is another person’s poison. This adage couldn’t ring more true for the people of Manipur whose fate has been divided along the line of development.
The construction of a multi-purpose dam that promises a better life for people in one part of the state has spelt doom for nearly 12,000 people in 11 villages whose homes will be submerged in the waters and be lost forever.
The Mapithel dam of the Thoubal multi-purpose project in Phayang has been the eye of a storm for the locals for a long time now – since its inception in 1980. But now that the end is nearing and the result is there for all to see, those affected have been raising a last cry for help.
Construction of the dam means blocking the Thoubal river, leading to the water-level rising and submerging 11 villages in the vicinity, along with fertile paddy fields, forest land and historical relics like some of Manipur’s oldest churches.
One such church, the Chadong Baptist Church, which was built in 1935 and is claimed to be one of the oldest in the state, held an emotional prayer service last week before it went under water.
In a memorandum to the chief secretary of Manipur, the religious heads of the affected villages and others wrote: "While trying to provide benefits to the valley districts, more than 12,000 people who are in the project upstream are adversely affected and displaced with no means of future survival."
The 66-metre-high and 1,074-metre- long dam is aimed at utilising the water resources to provide irrigation to 21,860 hectares of cultivable land in the Thoubal district as well as generate 7.50 MW electricity and supply water to the capital city, Imphal.
This "positive" development has, however, not gone down well with the people of the affected villages, mainly because they will in no way reap the benefits of this project but lose a lot in the bargain instead.
"There has been no proper resettlement and rehabilitation programme for the affected villagers. There has been no impact assessment on the socio-economic and religious perspective," the memorandum said.
"The Mapithel mountain, located across the dam, will become inaccessible for forage of edible plants, roots and mushrooms necessary for future survival when a reservoir is created," the memorandum added.
Chadong, one of the affected villages, is known for its soil fertility and its organic food products like mushrooms and bamboo shoots make their way to markets in Imphal and elsewhere.
The Thoubal river, often called the river of strength because of its strong undercurrents, also sees community fishing in the Chadong area – a much celebrated event.
"All of that will now become history," lamented Ngayeimi, a villager in Chadong, echoing the sentiments of others. Most people in the affected areas are farmers and they fear the uncertainty of the future.
"The future looks bleak. What will I do, I am a farmer…" asked Bosco, another villager who has a family of five, including three children, to support. Villagers also claim that after years of protest, the state government did agree to give compensation, "but only few have been given this till now".
"All we want is that our plight should be first redressed, then the construction," the memorandum read, reflecting the irony of how development can have different definitions for different people.