The recent protest launched by Mapithel dam-affected headmen, chiefs and elders organisation against the authorities for neglecting their demands of providing rehabilitation and resettlement proves that Manipur still continues to reel under the curse of linear developmental model. The construction of Mapithel Dam began over Thoubal River in 1998 and the same was commissioned in 2018. The plea of the dam-affected people has been literally ignored by the state authorities. All that they wanted was to translate the memorandum of agreement signed between the state government and the organisation into reality before January 31. Since the demands were ignored, the dam-affected people had to resort to other actionable forms of protest. There are 23 villages affected by Mapithel Dam. Over the years, observers have witnessed submergence of villages and change in the ways of earning livelihood. The eventual consequence was the advent of illegal mining and quarrying. This trend is visible not only in Manipur but across the Northeast region.
In the last few decades, there seems to be a tendency by the respective state governments in the Northeast to oversimplify developmental process without truly identifying the needs of the people. The adoption of implementation process without truly grasping the paradigms of development has impacted on certain response which is both social and political.
The methods adopted by the state governments under the benevolent Centre have led to reprisals which have been either suppressed or ignored but not properly responded. The overall apathy to the phenomenon has been further compounded by the existing political uncertainty and social turmoil. Hence, the easiest way out for any ruling dispensation has been the application of temporary measures to solve issues that had been perceived as temporary.
This is one of the many reasons why the state governments in the Northeast find it easy to opt for short conflict management tactics while undermining consensus building mechanism. Take for instance, the case of Hydro Electric Projects in the Northeast region. It has been adequately argued that these projects would eventually affect the nature and communities inhabiting the demarcated identified zones. Beyond the predictable response on relief, rehabilitation and resettlement schemes, the state governments have rarely shown their acumen on addressing the issue of rights and the blatant manner in which the grievances of the people have been ignored.
It is under such circumstances, CVOs in Manipur had been urging both the Centre and the state government to stop the blocking of water in the Mapithel Dam. They had also demanded setting up of an independent expert team comprising of local members to assess the impact of the dam besides initiating a dialogue with the people in the upstream and downstream areas.
The CVOs had also alleged that many dam projects constructed in the region have failed to provide power and water to the people as promised. It has been alleged that any opposition to the construction of dams has been pursued with threats and arbitrary detention of local community members. Against this kind of reaction, it will immensely benefit the government if the issue is patiently considered not only from the aspects of identifying real issues but also truly understanding what constitute the paradigms of development for the people.