A dam personifying misery and some ‘other’ dietary delights
MORE than 7.8 million trees will have to be cut down, bamboo cultivation spread across 25,000 hectares will be lost for ever, some 40,000 people will be rendered homeless when 90 villages go under and, more importantly, several endangered species of flora and fauna will be gone for good. Would an environmental disaster of these proportions justify the construction of a 162.8-metre high mega-multipurpose dam at Tipaimukh in Manipur&’s Churachandpur district? The region is said to be highly seismic and is inhabited by several ethnic Naga communities. Though the project&’s installed capacity is said to be 1,500 MW, it will reportedly generate a mere 412 MW.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation in December 2006 amid protests by locals and several organisations who claimed the project was cleared (in 2003) without any consideration of various aspects, both technical and economic. When the proposal was first mooted in 1995, then chief minister Rishang Keishing put his foot down. But the nod was given in 2001 when the state was under a short spell of President&’s Rule. (It is worth recall that when the Centre unilaterally extended the Nagaland ceasefire to Manipur in June 2001, the people of Imphal Valley took to the streets against it and in the police firing that followed 17 were killed. This also happened during President&’s Rule.)
Bangladeshis have also opposed the Tipaimukh project because they fear that during the monsoon, when the dam&’s spillway gates are opened to let out excess water, it will cause flash floods in their country. According to a report in these columns (13 July 2009), “the Bangladesh government had maintained the dam would have no ill-bearing on the country until the formation of the National Committee Against Tipaimukh”.
A recent report said the Tipaimukh project may not be feasible after all as it would cause massive destruction of the ecology downstream of the Barak river in Assam and the Tuivah river in Manipur. This seems to indicate that the authorities are having second thoughts about the project. The Union environment ministry is reportedly hesitant to clear the project as it feels “that no compensatory mechanism would help in mitigating the loss caused by erasing forests”. It is still not too late to take a fresh look because the actual construction work is yet to start.
Work on Manipur&’s Thoubal valley multipurpose  project, conceptualised 30 years ago and now renamed Mapithel dam in Ukhrul district, is at a standstill following disputes over compensation for land losers. In 1980, the Planning Commission approved it at an estimated cost of Rs 47.2 crore. When it will be completed is anybody&’s guess. The Manipur government has come out with yet another dam project at Chakpikarong in Chandel district and this, too, has run into trouble. The locals have staged several demonstrations against it.
In Assam, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity, headed by Akhil Gogoi, has stopped work on the Lower Subansiri hydel project for about two years and has not allowed machinery and materials to reach the project site at Gerukamukh. It has refused to accept the Dam Design Review Panel report unless the demands of the downstream people are met. These include issues like landslides, downstream impact, flood control, ecological damage to aquatic wealth and earthquakes.
Since about 70 per cent of the construction work is said to be over, abandoning and dismantling structures that have already been built would be unthinkable. However, a way out must be found; after all, what the KMSS has asked for is that the project authorities ensure the safety of those living downstream as they fear their land will be washed away if, by chance, dams in Arunachal Pradesh get damaged.
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RECENTLY, the Dimapur-based Morung Express published a photograph of street stall-holders in Dimapur selling different types of dried insects. Not that the vendors have taken a cue from a UN report that has urged the people to eat insects to  fight world hunger. No eyebrows need be raised because the sale of such items in Nagaland is not an uncommon sight. Kohima has a “keeda” market  (one can see it on YouTube) where the meat of different animals and dried snakes and insects are sold.
   According to the UN report, two billion people the world over have already supplemented their diets with insects, noting at the same time that "consumer disgust" remains a barrier in many Western countries. We have seen photographs of people in South-east Asian countries selling live scorpions, considered a delicacy when deep-fried. Well, as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!