The Downside of Khuga Multipurpose Project
By Christina Lalremdik
The Khuga Multipurpose project has yet again proven itself to be destructive than beneficial. The change in seasonal rainfall contributed to the exposure of the dam’s failure as farmers across the Khuga Valley embarked upon hunger strike since 30th June until the government repair the non-functional canals. Despite these vast agricultural lands being the lifeline of thousands of population, such occurrences have rather become frequent ever since the existence of Khuga Dam. It is a common knowledge that the so called irrigation canal constructed for the sole purpose of providing irrigation is functional only up to a few meters downstream while the rest is lying defunct due to breakage of the canal. Moreover, the rusted spillway gates merely allow a little amount of water to pass through the canal and even with the release of the dam water from the reservoir, the condition of the left and right canals are in no position to carry water without collapsing as soon as the water gets released.
Releasing of dam water through the outlets has cause even more serious concerns in the past years as the canals could not contain the flow of water causing it to collapse leading to submergence of numbers of villages across the valley. Besides forming a huge artificial lake, the dam is not beneficial in any other aspects like providing power supply, drinking water and irrigation.
Even as the dam lays useless, the reservoir has become even bigger controversy as death toll reaches 22, approximately. Khuga is becoming a serious life threatening destination as the occurrence of the reservoir taking away precious lives of common people seems to be increasing as years passes by. The latest incident occurred when a man named Demkholen Haokip of J Gamnom village drowned on the late afternoon of 29th June. The Dam is becoming more of a tourist spot than serving its basic purpose of bringing solutions to the hardships faced by the major population of nearby communities, thus ultimately increasing the vulnerability of it being a death trap due to lack of infrastructural development regarding the safety of its visitors.
In another incident on December 2005, three persons, namely Lenjamang Mate (30) of Mata Moldon (passed away at RIMS), Punsuam Hao (36) of Zoumun village and Kailian (48) of Mata Mutum lost their life while 28 were injured in firing by security personnel when controversy broke out among the villagers over non-payment of compensation by the State Government.
Speaking to the villagers of Mata Maultam on the significant chances encountered by them due to the construction of the dam, they responded that life before the existence of dam was prosperous. They had enough resources to sustain their livelihood and all sectors of the society had their own distinct occupation which enables them to maintain a certain financial stability. Khuga Dam has ended all of their livelihood activities, submerged their beautiful ancestral land, and forced them to settle in a different location where they had to practice different forms of farming and other alternative methods. These changes in their livelihood activities created unemployment among the displaced villagers since majority of them are unfamiliar with the alternative livelihood methods. The main problem faced by these displaced community is scarcity of water as the dam water is no longer fit for consumption. Today, they are compelled to travel a distance of kilometers to obtain their basic necessities like drinking water, rice, vegetable, etc.
The multipurpose Dam commonly known as Khuga Dam, located at Mata Village, 10 kilometers away from the town of Churachandpur District was constructed in 1983 and after being stalled for almost two decades, the construction was resumed in 2002. Eight years later, the dam was inaugurated by Smt. Sonia Gandhi on 12th November, 2010 in a hasty manner without proper completion of the dam. In the initial days of construction, the project was full of promises for development of the Khuga Valley and a better living standard for people living nearby the project area. The purpose of the project was to irrigate 15,000 hectares of agricultural land, provide 10 million gallons for drinking water and to provide electricity by installing hydro power plant (SANDRP). Around 433.91 crores have been spent in construction of the dam since its commissioning.
Construction of this multipurpose dam has disturbed the free flowing natural river of the Khuga valley, consequently submerging a vast track of land leading to displacement of villages and affecting the natural ecosystem surrounding the magnificent valley. With the emergence of Manipur Hydro electrical policy, 2012, the state has rather view river as a resource for meeting the needs of mankind which is purely commercial and for investment purposes. Rivers in Manipur are no longer seen as the gift of nature that must be preserved in order to maintain balance in nature and sustain livelihood of people but as a material for commercial purpose.
Researchers in Europe have stated that the 3,700 new dams under construction or planned for construction around the world will not meet the electricity demands of the developing countries where the dams are planned. Instead, these dams will pave the way for new ecological problems, reduce the number of free-flowing rivers around the world by 21%, and perhaps even cause conflict between countries over water.
Many developed countries have started abandoning dams as it no longer is useful to them and instead embark upon promoting free flowing of natural rivers thereby conserving its rich biodiversity hotspot and retaining the natural ecology of the region. Moreover, construction of dams in areas where indigenous community reside has infringed the indigenous people’s rights by extinguishing indigenous lands and erasing traces of various unique cultural heritages.
Dams do bring more problems than solve. It damage rivers, and even though they are being pushed as a source of renewable energy, it has been estimated that methane emissions from hydro-power reservoirs contribute more than 20% of all man-made emissions. Instead of solving the climate crisis, the dams will likely contribute to it.
The failure of Khuga Dam indeed results in a large scale of devastation of the environment besides causing irreparable livelihood loss for communities depending on their land, forest and river for their survival. The changes in riparian ecosystem as well as livelihood activities of the population living in the Khuga valley have brought a lot of destruction as far as development is concerned. The Government’s inability to balance development with environment has further aggravated the vulnerability of the land and its resources. There is no point in setting up a reservoir just for the purpose of storing a huge amount of stagnant water which destroys than enhance the environment. The authority should reconsider their stance on the Khuga multipurpose project that has become a nuisance than a blessing. The Government should provide and ensure that the rehabilitation facilities are befitting the context of the Khuga displaced communities and restore all the damages brought about by the construction to the Khuga Valley. Such developmental activities should rather be immediately ceased before it further brings more trouble and allow the Khuga River to retain its natural flow.
(The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author.)
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