People living in villages downstream from the Mapithel Dam in Northeast India have suffered many sleepless nights this past month. The unfinished dam has been reportedly leaking since Manipur’s Irrigation and Flood Control Department hastily began impeding the Thoubal River and filling the reservoir in January. Many villagers, fearing an imminent dam break, have sought temporary refuge on higher and open grounds.
Last week, hundreds of people living downstream from the dam staged a protest at Tumukhong village. In a first, villagers from affected downstream villages and upstream communities came together to take a stand against human rights violations. This newfound unity offers hope that together they may resolve their concerns. Activists in the region sense the movement spreading beyond immediately impacted villages.
While dam break is an immediate concern, the villagers are speaking out on how they’ve been dispossessed of their rights. “A representative of Itham village shared how the villagers have lost their livelihood after the blockade of Thoubal River; they can no longer collect the sand and stone brought down by the river,” said Jiten Yumnam, an activist with the Centre for Research and Advocacy who attended the protest meeting.
“Ensuring the free and unhindered flow of Thoubal River is highly crucial to ensure community rights and to protect their livelihood. Mapithel Dam today represents a clear instance of development injustice where project proponents are never punished in spite of multiple violations,” said Yumnam.
The participants called authorities to conduct a downstream impact assessment and to rehabilitate and resettle all affected downstream communities. The participants also agreed to urge authorities to let the Thoubal River flow free, properly compensate the affected, and independently review the dam project.
“The Government of Manipur was compelled to release water due to the protest by affected villagers in July as the freshly filled Mapithel Dam started leaking. The villagers are shocked that project authorities commenced filling up the dam reservoir without addressing the multiple violations and the rights of both upstream and downstream communities,” said Jiten.
Members of more than 10 villages, both upstream and downstream from the dam, continue to meet in solidarity against the project. While the media has been highlighting the plight of the people, the government is resolute in going ahead with the project.
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