Khuga dam: Squandering Peoples’ Resources, Land & Lives
By Jiten Yumnam
The Khuga dam of the Khuga Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project features in news again in July 2019, a regular feature since its commissioning way back in 2010. The Khuga Dam Right Side Canal Farmer Association warned the Government in July last that they will be launching an indefinite strike to protest the non-provision of water in their farmland of around 150 farmers in the vicinity of Misau Lahvom village in Churachandpur District. Again, earlier this year in June, media also reported loss of two lives in the Khuga dam reservoir. Recently in 2014, media reported affected communities’ appraisal to the Prime Minister of India to investigate the corruption and fraud in Khuga dam construction.
The Khuga dam which should be generating good news of uplifting the States’s economy, of promoting food sovereignty, of improving economy and providing employment and enhancing State’s energy capacity is in media limelight albeit for all the wrong reasons, for breach of canals, farmers protesting for non-provision of water for their farms, recurrent loss of lives in Khuga dam reservoir besides controversies on corruption, fraud and rehabilitation woes. The media reportages reflect a reality that contradicts the grandeur promises in the inauguration of the dam Ms. Sonia Gandhi, leader of Indian National Congress on 12th November 2010 that the dam will usher in new era of development and prosperity in Khuga Areas of Churachandpur. The dam was inaugurated after Twenty-Seven Years (27) of project approval and without completion of key components to ensure functioning of the dam.
The multipurpose Dam commonly known as Khuga Dam, located at Mata Village, 10 kilometers away from Churachandpur Town was constructed in 1983 and after being stalled for almost two decades, the construction resumed in 2002. The cost of the dam has been revised from original Rupees 15 crores in 1980 to 433 crores in 2011 price level. The construction of the Khuga Multi-Purpose Project was meant for Hydro-electric power generation of 1.5 MW, to irrigate around 15,000 hectares of annual irrigation and to provide drinking water supply of up to 5 million gallons per day (MDG) for communities in and around Churachandpur Town and beyond in Churachandpur and Bishenpur Districts.
The Khuga Dam lies defunct since inauguration, despite the widespread loss of land, livelihoods, ecology due to the Dam . Barely four months after its inauguration, the left canal of Khuga dam experienced a severe breach. The left side canal breached on 8 December 2010 and again on 9 February 2011 at Kawnpui area. The Khuga canal breached again in August 2014. The right side of the Khuga canal further collapsed on 18 June 2016 at Moulbem village, inundating the nearby areas. Earlier, a portion of the canal between Lingsiphai and Tangmual breached on 16 March 2009, leaving a wide opening of 40 feet. The eastern canal earlier breached during a trial run about 3.1 kilometers from the dam site on 9 July 2008, washing away a fishpond and partially submerging a paddy field. The repeated breach of Khuga dam canals is due to improper alignment and poor quality of work and thus, any release of water in the canal is simply a recipe for disaster. The canals, while inconveniencing villagers with repeated breaches failed to serve their irrigation need compelled them to resort to complain and protest.
Due to rain deficits, changing climate change, most of the agriculture land in villages close to Khuga dam remains parched and dry. Indeed, the Khuga Dam Right Side Canal Farmer Association complained to the Government in July 2019 that they will be launching an indefinite strike to protest the lack of water supply in their paddy fields of around 150 farmers in the vicinity of Misau Lahvom village in Churachandpur District. The association expressed the grievances or difficulties faced by farmers due to the lack of water supply with the season for plantation of crops knocking right at the door. The grief of the farmers is while there is plenty of water at Khuga Dam, the non-maintenance of the Canal along with the apathy of the government will affect their monsoon harvest with non-provision of water . The audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of the Government of India in 2009 expressed their concern with the non-provision of irrigation waters from Khuga dam and outlined that the right side canal is functional up to few kilometers down-stream while the Left canal is said to be totally failed, while also mentioning that the remaining parts of the canals remains dry. The CAG 2009 report also acknowledges that the banks of the canals are characterized by an occasional breach causing anxieties and problems to the marginal farmers. Mr. Jamthang, the village chief of M Semuol village complained to dam authorities for their substandard quality in canal construction. What use is a dam when it cannot provide water to villagers? Why is the dam built in the first place?
The woes of the villagers are compounded by the failure of the Government of Manipur to repair the broken canals on the pretext of dismal financial situation of the State, which further led to deterioration of the conditions of canals, despite the multiple impacts on communities and their property. The non-allocation of funds for canal maintenance is indeed acknowledged by the concerned officials of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department, in response to an RTI filed on the status of the canals in 2016.
The proposed hydroelectricity generation from the project is never materialized as of today not a single unit of electricity is generated from the dam. There is no machinery installed except that of a tunnel at the mouth of which have been blocked. Paradoxically, no powerhouse for generating electricity existed till date. The dilapidated situation of the empty powerhouse left abandoned and uncared without any installation of power generating equipment testifies the fact that the power generation component of the Khuga Dam is a complete failure. Media reported that the generators and the turbines to generate electricity from Khuga dam were already auctioned and there’s no investigation to ascertain these facts.
When it comes to drinking water, the claims of providing 1.2 MGD drinking water is heavily disputed by residents. The water is pumped from the left canal and treated in water treatment plant in a hilltop close to the dam. Water could have been easily drawn from the Khuga River directly without the need for constructing the dam, if it is only for providing drinking water. Or the dam alternatively could have been made much smaller, thus avoiding forced acquisition of huge areas of land and forest and thus can prevent causing massive displacement and inconveniences to communities in and around Khuga and across Churachandpur Districts.
Displacement: The Khuga dam caused displacement of several villages, such as Sehken Village, T. Kotlien Village, Changlian Village, Belbing Village and Geltamjang Villages respectively. Sehken Village have been shifted to the downstream of Khuga Dam in the year 2011 just adjacent to the dam in the bank of the Khuga River and nestled in a small hillock with just 20-30 households presently. The old Sehken village is said to have 60-70 households and at least 100 years old, though they have shifted here recently the forest lands and the natural resources in the old village still sustains their livelihood. With the construction of the Khuga multi-purpose project, the affected villagers who were displaced were forced to shift to nearby towns and villages with no Land, shelter and occupation. Many villagers are forced to become impoverished. No proper rehabilitation and resettlement were conducted while the meagre compensation and relief packages provided were marred with manipulations, corruption, favoritism, nepotism, causing additional tensions and conflict among affected communities. The Khuga dam thus, is an additional source of social tensions in Churachandpur areas.
Khuga dam and loss of lives: Another key media highlights, indeed recurrent focus is the increased loss of lives claimed by the Khuga dam reservoir, an unusual and unintended function of a dam. Many villagers are forced to cross the dam reservoir to access to their traditional forest and livelihood sources. Nearly Thirty people already lose their lives in the Khuga Dam, mostly by drowning and capsize of their canoes and boats since its commissioning. Even as the dam lays useless, the reservoir has become even bigger controversy as death toll reaches Twenty-Two (22) approximately. The latest incident occurred when a man named Demkholen Haokip of J Gamnom village drowned on the late afternoon of 29th June 2019. In September 2011, three children hailing from Tuithapi and Tuibuong drowned at three separate incidents and the following year claimed Seven (7) Lives. The Government failed to initiate any precautionary and safety measures for the locals of Khuga. The locals are compelled to rely on makeshift boats to cross the dam reservoir for their survival means. Dams are slowing creating a disaster not only for the environment and nature but also for the very people the dam intends to serve.
The loss of livelihood and economic hardship inflicted by the Khuga dam on the indigenous peoples of Churachandpur area represents a clear case of violation of international human rights provisions, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007. The Khuga dam building process also claimed other lives, not only by drowning. On 16 December 2005, Three People were killed while 32 others were injured in an indiscriminate firing by combined personnel of Churachandpur police,12th Indian Reserve Battalion and 41 Border Security Forces at Khuga Dam Site at Mata Mualtam village of Churachandpur district, Manipur. The villagers were seeking just rehabilitation and resettlement for loss of their land.
Squandering Public Resources: In an RTI in August 2016, the Irrigation and Flood Control Department, now the Water Resources Department, Government of Manipur confirmed there are 193 regular employees engaged in different sections such as the Head Work (51), Canal-I (65), Canal-II (41) and spillway (36) respectively for Khuga dam under Khuga Dam Project Circle under IFCD. The total amount of the estimated honorarium and salaries for those regular and contract-based employees per month amounts to Rs 36, 10,051 (3.6 Crores Approximately). This reveals the fact that the dam is spending a sum of more than 4.3 Crores (Rs. 43,320,612) public fund annually, accumulating to almost 50 Crores since the commissioning of the project. However, the revenue generation details of the dam since its commissioning starting from 2012-15, regarding three main components of the dam, i.e, power generation, drinking water and irrigation is simply Zero (0). It is an absurd fact that not even a single rupee of revenue has been generated from the dam that cost nearly 600 crores of scares public fund, including the actual project cost, the maintenance and the payment of salaries etc. The loss of income from the agriculture and forest land for the communities since the commissioning of project and the money wasted in rehabilitation would all tally to more than 1000 crores of rupees, And this huge quantum of public money squandered in Khuga dam could have be utilized to improve the lives of the villagers in Khuga and Churachandpur areas, to improve their agriculture, their natural resources management, diversifying their livelihood means and to promote sustainable and alternative energies.
Khuga dam, Corruption & fraud: The construction of Khuga dam is marred with corruption, favoritism and nepotism. Series of claims, counter claims, petitions and counter petitions were also filed to the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Churachandpur Districts on exclusion in surveys for affected areas, exclusion of affected villages and for cases of double receipt of compensation by selected village chiefs and those privileged and well connected ones concerning the compensation matter for Khuga dam. The JAC on the Khuga Dam Project indeed apprised the Prime Minister of India in July 2014 on the irregularities and misappropriation of funds to the tune of Indian Rupees (INR) 1.5 billion involved in Khuga dam construction and appealed for his intervention to investigate such misappropriations .
Conclusions: The Khuga dam, which has been in news for all the wrong reasons, has failed to provide irrigation, power and adequate water for drinking. Despite incurring close to 500 crores for the construction of the mammoth dam, which is now becoming a white elephant, huge amount of public money is being wasted for maintenance of the dam and to provide salary for the employees maintained to oversee the non-functioning dam. The hydro-electric power project itself is a totally failed project and the possibility of serving the three purposes seems nowhere in sight as the forest cover in the catchment area of Khuga dam continues to change adversely and the flow regime of Khuga Dam has changed and there’s severe reduction in the quantum of water flow in Khuga River. The Khuga dam with its failure to provide irrigation water more than Thousands of agriculture land in Churachandpur and Bishenpur Districts and by submerging and extensive area of forest and agriculture land undermined food sovereignty of Manipur. Villagers close to canal areas threatened that they will bury the canals stating that it was a waste of land.
The matter of the IFCD auctioning and selling of the power generation units and necessary infrastructure and equipment, such as turbines, need be investigated to prosecute the erring officials concerned. Khuga dam indeed has become a death trap, claiming nearly Thirty lives in the reservoir so far. The increased claiming of lives by Khuga dam reservoir even as the dam lays failed and causing hardship to villagers is simply unacceptable. The failure of Khuga dam to fulfil its objectives and to generate a single unit of power despite incurring huge amount of public money need be fully investigated for appropriate actions to concerned officials and to prevent its recurrence. The Government should review the fallacies of dam and take urgent steps to decommission nonperforming dams like Khuga dam and hand over the land submerged to the villagers. The Government should end human rights violations on communities affected by the dam. The lack of accountability surrounding the dam construction despite multiple impacts on communities, livelihood loss, destruction of land, forest, water sources, indigenous culture etc., should be reasons rife to stop pursuing unsustainable hydropower projects in Manipur.
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