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Naga groups in anti-dam brigade

Imphal, Oct. 23: Five Naga organisations of Manipur have petitioned the Centre to shelve the Tipaimukh dam project, citing threats to the existence of 18 Zeliangrong Naga-inhabited villages and several sites held sacred by the community.

“The Tipaimukh project was not conceived with the interests of the tribal people in mind. We appeal to you to shelve this project once and for all, failing which we will take a more stringent stand,” the organisations said in a memorandum to Union power minister Ananthrao Geethe.

The project, to be executed in Churachandpur district, is meant to generate 1500 MW of power. Manipur and Mizoram have been promised 12 per cent of the output as royalty, but environmentalists have long been warning that the dangers far outnumber the potential benefits. With Naga organisations now joining the anti-dam brigade, it is unlikely that the project will see the light of day.

The five leaders who signed the document submitted to Geethe are K.S. Paul Leo, president of the United Naga Council, Manipur; Gina Shangkham, president of the Naga Women’s Union, Manipur; Aram Panmei, convener of the Committee against Tipaimukh Dam, Manipur; Nepuni Piku, convener of the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, Senapati; and Kho John, president of the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur.

The Naga leaders claimed that the dam would submerge arable land in 55 villages, directly affecting a 40,000-strong tribal population. Their memorandum quoted scientists and environmentalists as saying that the site chosen for the dam on the Tuivai river was geographically under the Taithu fault and prone to intense seismic activity.

“The proposed dam is set to unfold a human-created disaster that will have far-reaching ramifications if it is implemented without the free and informed consent of the people whose future is imperilled,” they added.

Another aspect worrying Naga organisations is the possible influx of cheap and unskilled labour once construction gets underway. According to the memorandum, the project will pave the way for “intrusion by outsiders” and artificial population growth. “It has the potential to overwhelm the host communities, given the lack of a proper policy and effective mechanism to check illegal migration.”

The Naga organisations said the indigenous tribal population should not be denied the right to information, environmental assessment and participation in any development project that affects their livelihood and dignity. “The dam cannot be allowed to be constructed if it is inevitably going to destroy one section of society. Sustainable development is not possible by forcing some people to sacrifice for others.”

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