The Manipur BJP leadership has requested the Union government that the 105 megawatts Loktak hydroelectric project be decommissioned.
The dam on the lake was commissioned in 1983 and has been administered by the National Hydro-Electric Project Corporation since.
A major component of the project is the Ithai barrage – which acts as an artificial reservoir to ensure sufficient volumes of water for the project.
The barrage is located at the junction of the Manipur river and the Khuga river, where the Khordak channel leaves the lake, flowing southwards.
The project came up before the Environment Protection Act, 1986, came into force.
This Act mandates the need for a comprehensive impact assessment of projects, and also made it mandatory for consultations with affected people to be held before the setting up of a hydro project.
Asnikumar Singh said even if the Union government refused to give in to the demand of decommissioning the dam, “there have to be some corrective measures taken”.
“It’s high time there was a cost benefit analysis at least,” he said. “According to the DPR [Detailed Project Report], people of Manipur should be getting electricity generated from the dam at 10 paisa per unit, but instead people pay almost Rs 3 per unit.
The people must know the total number of megawatts of electricity that the Loktak Hydel Project has produced since its commission in 1983. Also, the DPR promised drip irrigation for 40,000 hectares of land around the lake to enable multiple cropping. The project has completely failed.”
He added that there were other places in the state where small hydel projects could be developed instead.
“Loktak lake cannot be compromised,” said Singh.
Experts say the timing of the demand is crucial. “This has come when there is a renewed push to fast-track the Lower Subansiri project,” said Ram Wangkheirakpam, director of Indigenous Perspectives, an Imphal-based non-profit that works on environmental issues.
The mega Lower Subansiri dam, a 2,000 megawatts hydro-electricity project on the Subansiri river in Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh has been kept on hold since 2011 following an order of the National Green Tribunal and mass protests by various indigenous groups.
“One must remember that the NHPC [National Hydro-Electric Project Corporation] doesn’t have too many projects of its own in the North East,” said Wangkheirakpam.
Currently, in addition to the Loktak project, the National Hydro-Electric Project Corporation operates two more dams in the North East: the 60 megawatts Rangit project and the 510 megawatts Teesta dam, both in Sikkim.
Apart from the Lower Subansiri, the public-sector corporation is awaiting environmental clearances on four other projects in the region.
The decommissioning of the Loktak dam will have implications outside the region as well. India is currently in the middle of a hectic push towards hydroelectric power.
To accelerate this surge, the power ministry has proposed that hydro-electric projects above 25 megawatts, currently considered non-renewable, be classified as renewable.
This, the power minster has argued, would help India’s renewable energy capacity touch 225 gigawatts by 2022 because renewable projects get loans at lower interest rates.
At the moment only wind, solar, biomass, and hydel projects up to 25 megawatts are classified as renewable energy.
Thus, it is unlikely that the Union government or the National Hydro-Electric Project Corporation will accede to a request to decommission the Loktak project as it will open the floodgates for other contested projects in the North East, said Wangkheirakpam.
‘Ignorance’, says NHPC
Bedi Ram, the project head of the Loktak project, defended it, saying that the opposition to the dam stemmed from “ignorance”.
“The real problem is the Manipur river,” he countered. “The river’s capacity is very little, which has further diminished as a result of siltation, so floods are inevitable. The government should try and revive the river instead of blaming the barrage.”
Decommissioning of dams in India is indeed rare – and almost never because of safety or environmental concerns.
The Tajiwala barrage, a colonial structure on the Yamuna river, was decommissioned in 1999 and replaced by the Hathikund barrage in 2002 because the old structure had stopped serving its purpose.
In March 2008, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition to decommission the Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala.
“In India, the Central Water Commission doesn’t want the word decommissioning to enter the vocabulary of water resources management in the country,” said Thakkar.
Internationally, though, decommissioning of dams is a fairly common practice. In the United States of America, more than 900 dams have been torn down since 1980.
France, too, has seen quite a few dams being decommissioned recently. In the rest of Europe also, thousands of dams are being put through a review process.
Among Asian nations, Japan is currently in the middle of bringing down its Arase Dam located upstream on the Kuma River.
With inputs from : Scroll.in