THE groundwork for the Khuga multipurpose project was initiated way back in the early 1980s, Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi presided over its inauguration in a 10-minute ceremony in November 2010 and completion took all of 29 years, an unenviable record of sorts. Located near Mata village some 10 km from the district headquarters town of Lamka in Churachandpur, Manipur, it is popularly called Khuga Dam and locals refer to it as “Mata dam”. Four months after the inauguration, breached canals and breaks were reported during trail runs that destroyed residential and cultivable land.
When it all started, Churachandpur’s populace was either unaware or indifferent, though some “informed” people whose land came under purview of the dam were already knocking on the doors of the authorities concerned for compensation. Came the 1990s and construction became apparent because of the huge infrastructure. The site became a “hot spot”, acquiring recreational value as a picnic spot and a favourite for lovebirds. Till then, there were no security forces guarding the dam.
Since 2000, Khuga Dam provided one of the most beautiful background scenes for the camera. Such was the enthusiasm to see the dam being constructed that the Churachandpur District Students’ Union reportedly urged Sonia Gandhi to include the site as one of the state’s tourist spots in anticipation of the lifting of the Protected Area Permit system.
Simultaneously, it began to be heavily guarded by Border Security Force personnel.
The other side of the dam also saw several repercussions. Supposed to have been completed in 1987-88, construction was halted for several years when the district came to a standstill in 1997 because of an outbreak of violence between the Zomis and Kukis and it went through an almost defunct and forgotten stage. Till the inauguration, many villagers were still to be compensated, not to forget local contractors’ pending bills amounting to Rs 31 crore. There were violent protests in demand for compensation in December 2005 and three persons were killed and several injured in firing by security forces.
According to the audit report of the Manipur Irrigation and Flood Control Department, the original estimated cost of construction was Rs 17.18 crore. Till March 2008, expenditure was Rs 300.77 crore. As the project continued to be delayed costs too escalated to Rs 335.11 crore and the revised date of completion was extended to 2009. The audit report stated that the cost of the project was revised several times and stood at 14 times the original estimate by the end of March 2008. Meanwhile apart from the initial component, irrigation and drinking water supply and electricity generation were added along the way. The project potential estimate was to irrigate 15,000 hectares, provide 10 million gallons of drinking water and generate 7.50 MW.
Comparatively smaller than other proposed mega structures in Manipur and elsewhere, Khuga Dam was visualised as an alternative solution to the problems faced by the people of Churachandpur in particular and Manipur in general. With agriculture being the mainstay of the region, the priority on irrigation, drinking water and electricity was justified. With more than Rs 300 crore invested, the proposed “output” of Khuga Dam is unlikely to be experienced by the people of Churachandpur.
It may also be mentioned that the audit report of March 1999, on the performance review of the dam, says, “Since 1984, the IFCD, Manipur, carried out construction work on 25.37 km of canal over an area of 40.27 hectares of forest land in Dampi reserve forest without obtaining the required clearance for diversion of forest land". Barring the unaccounted environmental destruction (that still continues) the overall concept of the multipurpose Khuga Dam project in itself was unpractical and paradoxical.
As far as irrigation is concerned, Churachandpur is a hill district where jhum cultivation is practised. Few of the plains areas in the adjoining districts have permanent cultivation that requires improved irrigation. While the idea of irrigation for jhum cultivation in the hilly region is yet to be conceptualised and is, thus, unrealistic to many, people felt, and not without resentment, that the actual benefit would go elsewhere and not to the hill people of this district. As feared, people are faced with a drinking water scarcity and yet is doubtful whether the water reserved in Khuga Dam would qualify as “clean” for drinking. Several villagers living in the vicinity of the dam, as also visitors, have reported that the “stagnant water” actually “smells”. Power supply was always a luxury for the people of Churachandpur, and of late the situation is at its worst.
Though the locals were either ignorant or unaware during the implementation of the project, it became the talking point in the later stages. People waited, hoped and imagined. Now, with the much-hyped project standing tall and ready to function, villagers and supposed beneficiaries feel otherwise. Those in Churachandpur and, specifically, Lamka live in fear of the dam, for they believe Khuga Dam will fall one day and Lamka will be doomed.
The writer is a freelance
The Statesman , March 7, 2011