| A view of Dumbur lake in Raima valley. Telegraph picture |
Agartala, Sept. 5: Long reviled as the vale of tears, Tripura’s lush green Raima valley, crisscrossed by the sprawling 42 square km Dumbur lake, now holds out the hope of emerging as the crucible of hope for the impoverished indigenous people inhabiting the valley.
Thirty-eight years ago, power starved Tripura — then ruled by the Congress — decided to go ahead with a hydroelectric project, which required a huge water reservoir.
The government turned a blind eye to the plight of more than 27,000 indigenous farmers who lived and worked on the valley floor. It engineered an artificial confluence of the Raima and Sarama rivers, which had been glorified in indigenous folklore and mythology like the Ganga and Saraswati, to submerge the fertile valley.
More than 27,000 indigenous people lost their traditional homes and livelihood to pave the way for the water reservoir of the hydroelectric project. But very few got compensation because they did not possess the official title deeds required by the government.
This insensitivity and cynical approach of the state government had sparked protests: the CPM, together with the then Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) and CPI, formed a joint action committee to protest the forced eviction. But, nothing worked in the face of the persecution of the Congress government, headed by then chief minister Sukhamay Sengupta.
Pakhi Tripura, a senior CPM leader, was jailed during the protest movement and returned home after two years to find his wife and children missing. They were never found.
The Dumbur hydroelectric project was commissioned in 1976 with an installed capacity of generating 10MW from its two units. A third unit of 5MW was subsequently installed in 1984 as a standby.
But the project has been jinxed from the start: It never generated power to capacity and during the last five years, the project has become unviable because of heavy siltation of the lake owing to largescale soil erosion from two surrounding hill ranges that have been heavily deforested.
During the protracted dry spells every year, the project comes to a grinding halt as the water level in the lake dips and the turbines do not get sufficient water to generate power.
Considering the unviability of the project, the state government has decided to abandon it and convert the 44 islands in Dumbur lake as well as land close to indigenous hamlets into tourist spots.
“There was a time when 40 of the 42 square km of the lake was an expanse of water but now the water level cannot be retained beyond 20 square km. So, while the task of restoring the lake will continue, we will try to turn the lake, its 44 islands as well as its picturesque environs into tourist spots,” said A.K. Dhar, a senior tourism department official.
He pointed out that the Dumbur lake area and nearby Gomati wildlife sanctuary are favourite haunts of migratory birds from Arunachal Pradesh and other parts of the country that will attract people.
“A project has been sent to the DoNER ministry for converting the project site, including the lake and its environs, into tourist spots; hopefully it will be sanctioned soon,” he added.