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PM postpones Manipur visit

New Delhi, Nov. 22: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has postponed his visit to Manipur to lay the foundation stone of the Tipaimukh dam, adding to the drama over the controversial project in Churachandpur district.

Congress sources today said Singh would reach the northeastern state on December 2, a week later than originally scheduled, to set the project in motion. His travel plans were ostensibly changed — the November 27-28 schedule was tentative anyway — because of the winter session of Parliament.

Singh will visit Imphal and Churachandpur.

The Prime Minister’s decision to reschedule his visit came in the wake of protests against the dam on the Barak river. The project site straddles the Manipur-Mizoram border.

Chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh yesterday met the Prime Minister to discuss the issue.

The project is a joint venture of Manipur, Assam and Mizoram, but it is believed that Cachar in south Assam will benefit the most.

The problem of flooding by the Barak in Cachar may be mitigated to a certain extent, but that too is being debated.

The anti-dam lobby’s main concern is that a large tract of farmland and a vast stretch of forest in Tamenglong will be submerged if the dam comes up.

Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People said the Prime Minister should not have agreed to lay the foundation stone of the project before the completion of public hearings, the second of which was held in Tamenglong today.

He said the decision violated the spirit of the Constitution. “I have written a letter to him,” he said.

Much of the anger is against Ibobi Singh, on whose insistence the Prime Minister is supposed to have agreed to visit Manipur and kickstart the project. Many within the Congress are reportedly opposing the project.

One of the other contentious issues Ibobi Singh raised during his meeting with the Prime Minister was the feasibility of withdrawing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, from Manipur before the Assembly elections. “The issue was not explicitly discussed, but did come up,” a source said.

The discussion coincided with a demonstration against the army act by the Manipur unit of the Nationalist Congress Party at Jantar Mantar.

Former chief minister Radha Binod Koijam and NCP members from New Delhi joined the protest.

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