Dolaithabi barrage: An emerging failed dam of Manipur
By Jiten Yumnam
Much optimism persists when Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India inaugurated the Dolaithabi Barrage, built over the Iril River in Imphal East, Manipur in India’s North East. The Prime Minister inaugurated the project on 4 January 2019 along with Seven (7) other projects during a public rally in Imphal, that included an integrated check post in Moreh, Dolaithabi Barrage, a food storage godown and a buffer water reservoir etc . A trial run for Barrage Project, to release water up to 7.54 km of common canal and left main canal was carried out prior to the inauguration in the previous year on 20 October 2018. The celebrative moods quickly fade as expected and adverse realities slowly unfolds in both upstream and downstream of Dolaithabi Barrage and villagers in both upstream and downstream portion of the dam start raising complaints.
The Dolaithabi Barrage Project was first approved by the Planning Commission of India in 1992 with a cost of Rs 18.86 crores to be constructed in Imphal East district of Manipur. The Planning Commission earlier conceded investment clearance for Dolaithabi Barrage at an estimated cost of around Rs 360.05 crores at 2011 Price Level. The project envisages construction of a barrage 78.75m long with six bays of 10 meter each to pass a design discharge of 2900 Cumec (cubic metre per second) and a head regulator on the left bank. The project was earlier envisaged for completion before 2014. However, the project substantially delayed was commissioned after Twenty-Seven (27) years of its project approval in 1992. The cost of the project has increased almost Twenty times from its original cost at the time of commissioning and reached almost Five Hundred Crores. The project, when completed, is envisaged to provide irrigation to 7545 hectares of agriculture land in downstream villages, viz, Sekta, Keibi, Wakhong, Sagolmang, Pukhao, Uyungpok, Challou, Pangei, Lamlai, Khundrakpam etc .
Soon after the inauguration of Dolaithabi Barrage, the real test of the barrage commenced in the monsoon of the year 2019. The deficit in rainfall and scorching heat amidst aggravating climate change, left agriculture fields high and dry in villages in vicinity of the dam. Villagers are much optimistic the barrage will provide water to irrigate their field. However, complaints continue to emerge from different villagers in downstream who supposedly should be benefited by the Barrage. The complaints pertain not only to the non-provision of water for the agriculture fields, but even raising the faulty nature of the designs of the canals, leading to reverse, unexpected and problematic flow of water.
On 3 August 2019, asserting that the hurried inauguration of the Dolaithabi Barrage has resulted into the ‘faulty / failure’ of the main right canal, Khundrakpam Kendra Development Committee (KKDC) appealed the Government of Manipur to rectify and renovate the ‘faulty canal and tunnel’ at the earliest to supply water to farmers in the area. Speaking to media persons, KKDC spokesperson, Mr. N Dijen asserted that the Dolaithabi Barrage has ‘failed to serve its purpose’. The tunnel under the Patlou Maning Ching that leads to the main right canal has not been constructed carefully, he said claiming that there are many defects at different locations. Pointing out the various ‘defects’ under the tunnel, Dijen claimed that the water that is supposed to go downstream is going upstream due to ‘faulty levelling’ of the tunnel ground. The water is supposed to travel from Dolaithabi Barrage to the main right canal and pass through the tunnel to reach to Yumnam Khunou, Sambei, Chingkhu, Tangkham, Haraorou, Khundrakpam and Waiton. The tunnel has failed to serve its purpose. The farmers and people who were thrilled to have the tunnel constructed are now worried if they will ever get water .
Another organization from Khundrakpam area also complained that the Dolaithabi Barrage has now failed to provide water to the villagers of the area. On 20 July 2019, Khudrakpam Kendra Youths Organisation (KHUKYO) has alleged the officials and authority of Dolaithabi barrage project that it has failed to deliver its promises and that these officials are also avoiding meeting the villagers. Secretary of KHUKYO, I. Tony, stated in media that due to irregularities in rainfall pattern this year, Khudrakpam paddy fields are dry and have been hit with water scarcity. Officials of KHUKYO requested the authority of Dolaithabi Barrage to open the dam to start cultivation and to their disappointment, the officials avoided meeting the villagers and the organization, which villages opined the refusal is due to the failure of the Dolaithabi Barrage. Tony further stated that due to poor maintenance of the barrage, there is no water to send through canals. “Also, streams flowing from Kongba Maru are flowing through Yumnam Patlou and Yumnam Khunou towards hill side, therefore paddy area of Khundrakpam is facing water scarcity” he pointed out .
Way back in the year 2006, the Chief of Utonglok village Hunkhup Koireng expressed concern that the people of the area have already taken a decision to oppose the demarcation of the land before furnishing a detailed project report on the project to be taken up. With the State Government keeping the would-be affected villagers still in the dark on the details of the proposed Dolaithabi Project, the local people of Dolaithabi and surrounding area have said a firm no to the demarcation of the land until a detailed project report has been furnished and conducted a special survey. Rengthing informed that Utonglok, Longa Koireng, Vilei, Sadang Kuki, Newbonjang, Old Boljang, Holbung, Gelmol, Dolaithabi, Sadu Koireng, Kayang are the villages which would be directly affected by the dam. The villagers are unaware of the settlement and cultivable land that would remain under water after the construction of the dam. The villager’s consent has not been taken as well; Mr. Hunkhup complained .
The upstream impacts are not limited only to Utonglok and surrounding village, but rather extend to upper portion of the Saikul constituency, Kangpokpi District. Earlier in end 2018 and early 2019, villagers of Kuki villages, settled in the upstream portion of the barrage maintained that the Dolaithabi Barrage Project at Dolaithabi village in the adjoining area of Kangpokpi district over Iril river, known as ‘Zildung’ has become a threat to thousands of residents of Saikul area of Manipur. People of Saikul area especially residents of nearby Zildung and even the locals of Saikul town including various educational institutions within Saikul Hill Town have been reeling under fear and hardships due to the closure and release of the project shutters on trial basis. When the shutters of Dolaithabi Barrage Project are closed, the water levels in Zildung swelled up enormously and inundated vast areas of land with its impact reaching till Molkon village located 15 to16 km away from the barrage site. Zildung is a vast river with immeasurable depth at some point; and when such enormous swelling of the river waters due to the closure of the dam shutters are released, it makes the soil loose and the water could easily carry away vast area of land .
Concerning the situation of unrest in Saikul area over the frequent closure and release of the barrage shutters, community organizations of Saikul area under the aegis of Kuki Inpi Saikul Gamkai assessed the impacts and express concern with the media earlier in December 2018. The President, Kuki Inpi, Saikul Gamkai, Seimang Lupho said that the trial at Dolaithabi Barrage Project in December 2018 has created a situation of extreme unrest situation in Saikul area. He expressed his apprehension that if the water level swells up any further after the Project starts fully functioning it will inundate vast areas of land including paddy fields and residential areas, etc. mostly in the area nearby the river till Molkon village. The project will affect at least 50 to 60 villages located nearby Zildung. The president of Kuki Inpi asserted that commonly during winter season, Zildung, despite its vastness and depth, the water level in the river is usually low. “But now during such season, if the water level is in this condition imagine what could not happen during monsoon,” he asked. The community organizations of Saikul area, including Kuki Women Union and Kuki Students Organization, under the aegis of Kuki Inpi, Saikul Gamkai earlier urged the state government to address the grievances of the people before the official inauguration of the Dolaithabi Barrage Project in the larger interest of the people.
There are multiple issues regarding the Dolaithabi Barrage. The Impacts are one aspect. The question of under-performance and subsequent causes are a significant issue emerging from the barrage. What is obvious is that the Dolaithabi Barrage inaugurated with much fanfare and optimism for its provision of irrigation waters for fields nearby seems to turn to a nightmarish experience for the villagers. The Dolaithabi is one of the dams with least resistance from villagers, either in upstream or downstream. However, the post commissioning phase of the barrage much revealed the nuances and the irrationality of the dam. A dam intended to provide irrigation waters should be providing waters to the villagers and not otherwise. The non-provision of the water in monsoon not only caused disillusionment towards the dam, but rather compelled the deprived villager to address the faulty nature of the canals. Water from the barrage, instead of flowing downstream rather flows upstream strangely due to the ‘faulty levelling’ of the tunnel ground, thus depriving irrigation water to the villages of Yumnam Khunou, Sambei, Chingkhu, Tangkham, Haraorou, Khundrakpam and Waiton. The tunnel has failed to serve its purpose. Further, there’s little hope the barrage can provide water in Winter season, as it lays failed to provide water even in summer times. The Dolaithabi Barrage, which has seen substantial delays and cost overrun and now failing to perform as expected now seems to qualify as yet another dubious and failed project that squandered peoples’ resources. Five Crores rupees is a significant amount that can contribute tremendously in uplifting poverty and improving other social facilities, schools and health facilities etc. An impartial investigation is much needed to ascertain the facts of the non-performance of Dolaithabi Barrage. The reverse flow of water in the canals seems to indicate the faulty designs and any investigation should fully unravel the lapses and the loopholes in the survey works and other necessary feasibility studies as well. Persisting failed and much delayed dams like the Dolaithabi Barrage, like the Khuga Dam, Khoupum etc should be an eye opener on any further plans to build dams in Manipur. The fast depletion of forest areas in the catchment areas of Iril River as confirmed by the Manipur Forest Department and Environment and Ecology Wing, Government of Manipur indicates the Barrage will no longer be viable in the long run to provide water, both in Summer and Winter times.
Even as the Dolaithabi Barrage fails to perform, the barrage will continue to incur additional cost for its maintenance, the repair of faulty and broken canals, payment of salaries for staff and officials manning the project, security cost, electricity bill etc, which indeed will be an additional wastage of public money. As the monsoon comes and the climate change takes its toll in Manipur with increased scarcity of rainfall and the drying up of Agriculture land, the Dolaithabi barrage, with its mammoth structure, will only make farmers angrier and of course reveal the nuance of such unsustainable projects in Manipur. Dolaithabi Barrage seems to be another White Elephant, fast emerging in Manipur’s Northern Landscapes, as though similar failed structures, Khuga dam in the South, Khoupum dam in the West and Mapithel dam in the East are simply insufficient for Manipur.
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