No Turning Point Yet

Tonghen Kipgen's diary on the demand for the creation of a seperate Sadar Hills District in Manipur exposes Intra-inter communal conflict and systematic structural discrimination , says Ninglun Hanghal 

The agitation for the creation of a separate Sadar Hills district in Manipur started 40 years ago. In his book Sadar Hills Movement (Spectrum Publication, Guwahati), Tonghen Kipgen recounts how the demand eventually became a mass movement. The journey began as an appeal for implementation of the government of Manipur (Department of Planning and Development) notification vide No 18/1/71-SC of 14/2/1972 and Manipur Gazette No 28/1/71 dated 14/02/1972. 

All successive governments, right from the creation of the state in 1972, bypassed the Sadar Hills autonomous district council while five other such councils, created under the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Act, 1971, were upgraded to a district.

 Born in 1973, Kipgen is as old as the struggle that saw him becoming a student leader. He was made general secretary of the Sadar Hills Districthood Demand Committee in 2011. The struggle that began from 1974 onwards is divided into two phases — the first non- violent till 2010; the second, the public movement in 2011, also called the 123 Days of Agitation, caused a massive public uproar that brought Manipur to a standstill with economic blockades imposed along the NH-39 and NH-53 from 31 July till 1 November. Besides deaths and injuries, there was massive destruction of infrastructure and vehicles.

 In a candid diary written in “layman’s” language, Kipgen states that the “Sadar Hills movement” should not be conveniently clubbed into the category of “tribal, agrarian, or a separatist movement”. It is made out to be “complicated” and “complex”, but is not a matter of conflict of interest or disagreement between parties as dissected and observed by critics or analysts, he feels. He reveals that the demand committee members were criticised, demoralised  by  several quarters and were even threatened by state and  non-state actors.

 Kipgen’s diary reveals more than just a list of events, or a series of agitations, meetings, memorandums or official recordings.  It exposes intra-inter communl conflict and systematic structural discrimination. Sadar Hills is inhabited by Nepalis, Pangals (Manipuri Muslims), Meiteis, different Naga tribes, whom the author calls “Kacha Nagas”, and the majority community,  the Thadou-Kukis, who are  in the forefront of the movement. 

Geographically sandwiched  between valley districts inhabited by the Meiteis and hill districts with predominantly Nagas, the two majority communities in Manipur who are at loggerheads, the volatile and vulnerable Sadar Hills ADC area became a “laboratory” of ethnic and communal politics, blame games and, most of all, a classic case of the state’s apathy and indifference.

A commendable and remarkable gesture found in Kipgen’s record is the letter to the United Naga Council and the Naga People’s Organisation by the demand committee before commencing the 2011 protest. The letter, in the form of an appeal, reads, “Time has come for our unity and unflagging journey towards attaining justice… and stand with us.” While Kipgen does not mention receiving any response/reply, the diary notes the reaction of the UNC and the All Naga Students Association, Manipur, over the creation of Sadar Hills district, which says that “districts cannot be created by means of carving out/cutting parts of Nagas’ land in the state… Government should not pursue policies and plans to bring differences among the tribals in Manipur”.  

 Moreover, the infamous bloody Naga-Kuki feud in the early 1990s was  “conveniently” used as the main argument point of debate or rather a contention on the creation of Sadar Hills district by both the government and intellectuals, the valley-based civil society to be specific. Kipgen recalls that at several seminars held in Imphal on the issue, nobody was in favour of Sadar Hill district. He further mentions that a stern statement came from a valley underground group that said Sadar Hills district could only be created after a proper demarcation of boundaries.

Three-time state chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh told the demand committee that Sadar Hills district could not be created in haste due to the sensitivity of the issue, meaning opposition by the Nagas. At one of the meetings chaired by the chief minister himself during the height of the 2011 agitation, he proposed to the team to form a “committee on reorganisation of administrative and police boundary” for the whole state.   

Besides attempts to divert the issue, the book records an odd blame game played by politicians. Manipur’s  first chief minister Allimuddin, in 1972, defended himself saying that the inauguration of Sadar Hills district could not take place because the area’s legislator did not sound the traditional gong as a sign of allegiance. In the 1997,  when  W Nipamacha Singh was chief minister, he accused  “Kuki ministers” of not coming up with a location for district headquarters. The same year, it may be noted, a smooth transition took place; Imphal West and East District were bifurcated. The two districts border the Sadar Hills.

Kipgen believes that the Sadar Hills can be transformed into a model district of vibrant diversity, which will further help consolidate the state’s integrity. He raises many questions that  may remain unanswered. Nevertheless, the mass response and the spirit witnessed in the 2011 agitation does not seem to die down, “not so soon”.  

In the concluding chapter, Kipgen writes “... the worst phase of trouble would erupt if  opposition to the Sadar Hills persists.” Quoting Jinnah and the two-nation theory, and drawing inspiration from the 1916 armed insurrection in Dublin, a poorly supported, weak movement that gained strength due to the violent reaction by the British government and led to the creation of an Irish state in 1922, Kipgen states that “a system may respond vigorously to challenges which may set in motion a chain of events that the government was seeking to avoid”.
 In fact,  Kipgen’s own tone and use of language subsequently moved on from a non-political to a political one towards the end,  a reassertion of his introductory statement, “creation of Sadar hills is not politics... But the political methods and motives ultimately caused Sadar Hills to become a political issue”.

 Tonghen Kipgen lives at Kangpokpi (Sadar Hills). He was president of the Kuki Students’ Organisation (Gen Hq) and spokesperson of the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur. He was general secretary of the Sadar Hill District Demand Committee during the peak of the movement in 2011.

The reviewer is A DELHI-BASED freelance contributor
The Statesman NE page , November 25,2013

Mini hydro projects to Arunachal Pradesh’s rescue

With mega dams stuck in red tape and the threat of enormous environmental damage if they are approved, mini projects may be the best option for mountainous Arunachal Pradesh

Picturesque Arunachal Pradesh in India’s north-eastern corner, blessed with perennial rivers and a generous forest cover, is sometimes referred to as the country’s potential powerhouse. But it is struggling to cope with its own electricity demands as its people live w
ith hours of outages. And there is little likelihood that the electricity situation will improve anytime soon.

The state government, led by Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, has been seeking support from the central government and forums such as the European Union as well as agencies like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for hydropower projects. But there has been little movement.

The state is currently deficit in power. It buys from the national grid and uses diesel generators. India’s Central Electricity Authority (CEA) says Arunachal Pradesh has the potential to generate 49,126 MW per year from the 89 hydroelectric projects (HEPs) proposed in the state. Though this is installed capacity and actual generation would be far lower – especially in the lean months before spring snow melt and the monsoon – so many hydroelectricity projects would make Arunachal Pradesh a big power provider to the national grid. With major rivers Kameng, Subansiri, Dihang/Dibang, Siang and Lohit all joining to form the Brahmaputra, engineers consider Arunachal Pradesh perfect for hydropower generation.
Developers from the public and private sectors rushed to the state in the wake of the CEA study, and many projects were started without all mandatory permissions, mainly those that were supposed to deal with damages to the environment. Now permissions have been held up, and most projects have stalled.
Mini hydroelectricity projects have sprung to the rescue. The state’s departments of hydropower and power have so far developed 33.21 MW from 53 mini hydro projects.  Besides, other mini HEPs under the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) are also underway – Ranganadi (405 MW), Kameng (600 MW) and 37 other mini projects with a target of 58.99 MW.
While mega projects will take years to take off, given the layers of approval required and the financial crunch, the state, it appears, will have to manage with its existing mini projects.
If mega power projects were to be approved, experts point out, a huge amount of forest cover, agriculture and dwelling lands will have to be compromised, and along with it flora and fauna. Besides the ecological disturbances, there are also the long-term implications on the socio-cultural fabric of the state.
In this scenario, mini projects can contribute towards the protection of the environment and also resolve some of the socio and political tensions arising out of proposed mega projects– intra and inter community ties, interstate relations, centre-state and international relations.
Still, working on multiple tracks to solve its power woes, the government is lobbying hard to ensure that the mega projects get off the ground. In October this year, Chief Minister Nabam Tuki again approached New Delhi and pressed for an early solution to the many stalled projects.
Earlier in the year, as India’s economy hit a low and the rupee plumbed new depths against the US dollar (crossing Rs. 68 to the dollar in August), Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had said in the lower house of parliament that stalled mega development projects should  be given a go-ahead. This, he believes, is one way to revive the economy.
A meeting of all chief ministers of the states in the northeast – Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and Sikkim besides Arunachal Pradesh – will be held in January 2014 to review infrastructure in the region.
This is good news for Tuki, who has been trying hard for funds to continue with the ongoing proposals for several infrastructure projects, including HEPs.
The many hurdles
In November last year, Tuki had requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene to facilitate the scope of externally aided funding of development projects in the state through organisations like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank.
He met the prime minister and also wrote to him, pointing out that Arunachal Pradesh had submitted infrastructure development projects for funding to ADB but due to certain hurdles these had not yet seen light of day. He requested the prime minister personally intervene to clear these hurdles so the state can also benefit from international funding agencies like other states.
China had reportedly objected to the flood management project in Arunachal Pradesh in 2009 under ADB’s Country Partnership Strategy for 2009-12. Though there is no clear reason coming from China, the main objection was on the ground that the project falls under a disputed area.
Arunachal Pradesh, which borders China, is a bone of contention between the two countries with Beijing laying territorial claims on it and New Delhi contesting that claim.
In July 2009, then external affairs minister S.M. Krishna had said in the upper house of parliament that the Chinese objection to the project in Arunachal Pradesh was a violation of ADB’s charter that bars it from evaluating a project on non-economic criteria. According to Krishna, “China’s objection on political grounds is a clear violation of the ADB’s charter which prohibits the Bank from evaluating any proposal on grounds other than economic.” But ADB still backed out. China is the third largest shareholder in the ADB, after the US and Japan. It has a share of 6.54% in the organisation.
In October this year, when Manmohan Singh visited China, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on strengthening cooperation on transboundary rivers. However, there was no mention of grants or funds for hydro projects.
Current status of mega projects
Of the major hydroelectricity projects planned, the Dihang/Dibang basin will have 29 projects with an installed capacity of 22,489 MW, Subansiri 22 with a capacity of 15,191 MW, Kameng 29 with a capacity of 4,637 MW, Lohit seven with a capacity of 6,669 MW and Siang two projects with a capacity of 140 MW.
Promoters of most of these projects have now reapplied for revalidation of the Terms of Reference, since these have expired. These include the Talong Londa in the Kameng basin and Lower Siang projects. These big projects have a long way to go even if they are cleared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in New Delhi over strong objections by environmentalists and local residents. The ministry has asked the state government for a review and re-assessment of environment impact assessments and environment management plans.
As just one example of how these projects were started and how they have stalled, the 3,000 MW Dibang multipurpose hydroelectric project got site clearance in 2004 but the mandatory public hearing before the promoters were even supposed to apply for environmental clearance was conducted only in 2013. The environment ministry has now asked for a reassessment and re-evaluation of the flora and fauna and other socio-ecological impacts. It observed that a huge area of forest land would be submerged and noted its reservation on forest clearances. The reassessment has not been submitted to the ministry yet.
Many of the project developers have chosen to lobby the state government, the central power ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office against the decision of the environment ministry, instead of submitting reassessments.
The debate on mega projects is not new, neither is the struggle for power in the state and the rest of the country. While the wrangles continue, mini projects in Arunachal Pradesh have stepped in to bridge the gap between demand and supply – and give people of the state some respite from their power woes.
November 15,2013