The Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur (CRA) along with the Lairouching Village Authority and the Loktak Fisheries Welfare Association celebrated the International Rivers Day at Lairouching Village along the banks of the Barak River on Tuesday.
The celebration was held under the theme, “Let all the Rivers Flow Free in Manipur”.
CRA secretary Jiten Yumnam, sharing the keynote address, spoke on the importance of rivers as a source of culture and livelihood of indigenous peoples. The International Rivers Day is being celebrated to protect the intrinsic relationship of rivers with people and to ensure that rivers are free from pollution and to prevent dam building that can kill rivers, he added.
Jiten also expressed concerns that the construction of 67 MW Khongnem Chakha Dam and 190 MW Pabram dam will submerge a massive tract of agriculture and forest land in areas inhabited by the Liangmai and Maram Tribes in North Manipur.
Indigenous peoples’ rights should be fully recognised before introduction of any kind of development processes affecting the land, river and forest in Manipur, he added.
Lairouching Village Authority member, Solomon shared that the proposed 67 MW Khongnem Chakha dam will affect at least seven villages belonging to the Maram and Liangmai tribes in Maram, Chakha and Willong areas. The consent of the villagers should be taken before undertaking any project over their land and territories, he said.
Environmentalist Themson Jajo emphasised the importance of valuing the role of rivers stating that rivers are life. He stressed that rivers have the right to flow freely and the right to perform their role to promote the ecosystem and the right to be free from pollution. He lamented that the construction of large dams like the Mapithel Dam disturbed the natural flow of Thoubal River and severed the intrinsic relationship of indigenous peoples with the river for fishing, collection of sand and stone and for access to the water, etc.
Mothel Saka from Thawai Village shared that the social and cultural relationship of communities in Mapithel valley has been severed by the Mapithel Dam. Dams, instead of benefiting the people, unleashed suffering and miseries to the people, he said, adding that Dams are promoted in the pretext of development but caused impoverishment and worsened inequality in Manipur.
Dams led to submergence and deposition of sand and silt in agriculture land in Mapithel areas, he pointed out and called on communities not to sacrifice land for projects that will entail suffering to them.
Loktak Fisheries Welfare Association secretary Heisnam Chaoba shared that the protection of rivers in Manipur is crucial to promote the health of wetlands, such as the Loktak Wetlands in Manipur. The rivers and wetlands provide fished and other seasonal food. However, the construction of hydroelectric dam projects destroyed the livelihood of people in Loktak wetlands, he said.
Corporate bodies like the National Hydroelectric Power Project only benefited from dam building while communities in Loktak suffer, he added.
Later, the participants of the International Rivers Day celebration organised a symbolic mobilisation at the Barak river portion in Lairouching village and raised slogans such as, “Let the Barak river flow free”, “The rivers, forest and land is our life”, “We say no to 67MW Khongnem Chakha dam.