UMNGOT DAM: Is the Dam in the best interest of its citizens and the State?
By Natasha Gadal | SHILLONG:
“Discussions are always better than arguments because an argument is to find out who is right, and a discussion is to find out what is right.”
A projected analysis of conversations and discussions can change and offer a fresh standpoint rather than just clinging to a set of beliefs and viewpoints.
Barefoot Trust organized a session Kaleido-Voices on June 6, 2021 on the much debated topic in Meghalaya “Is the Dam in the best interest of its citizens and the State?”
Speaker Ayushman Das spoke of his support for the dam and Merrysha Nongrum against the motion as she did not want the dam to be constructed.
The Meghalaya government suggested building a 210 MW hydroelectric project at Umngot River, a south-flowing river also the tributary of the Surma River in Bangladesh.
They propose the concrete gravity dam for this project to be built near the Siangkhnai village, bordering East Khasi Hills district and Moosohkhia village in Jaintia Hills District of Meghalaya.
Reports suggest they expect about 13 villages would be exposed to immense loss and fertile land submerging.
Why does Meghalaya need a dam?
AYUSHMAN: “The consumption of electricity in the state is much higher than the production. It is almost equal to Assam and we can see the state wise distribution it is not similar. So we need this dam to meet the demand.”
Electricity is an essential part of modern life, making it challenging for everyday chores with hours of power outages. With the technological shift because of the prevailing situation, everything is online, load shedding and improper network connection restricts most of our work.
Why are the people protesting against the dam?
MERRYSHA: “A 20 mega watt hydel project in Tura has taken over 10 years and it is still incomplete. What guarantee can this government make and cost escalation like the Leshka project went up by 300 per cent more. “
The Umngot River, known for its enchanting beauty, connects to Shnongpdeng, which attracts tourists from both domestic and international. Their livelihood primarily depends on tourism.
Protesters fear this project will cause irreparable losses by wiping out Shnongpdeng and Dawki from the tourism map. It may be reminded protesters earlier disrupted two proposed public hearings called by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board.
However, about four villages have exhibited their support for this mega-dam project but the villagers are unmoved with any compensation that the government has said it will provide.
AYUSHMAN: The government has failed to pay the MeECL, resulting in enormous debts. The dam will solve the power shortage issue.
In addition, it will also uplift the socio-economic conditions of the people, resulting in the growth of GDP.
The state government has offered rehabilitation and resettlement to the people who will be affected by the mega-dam project.
In the implementation cost of the project, the R&R costs amount to Rs 2,898.29 lakh.
The Umngot basin will also narrow down the adverse ratio of hydro and thermal / fossil fuel power generation, making it more reliable and as an affordable source than any fossil fuels that are rapidly depleting.
Significant impacts relating to the project:
MERRYSHA: Besides the problems relating to the loss of livelihood of people and resettlement issues, significant environmental changes could also occur.
Major factors could be the submergence of land, displacement of population, threat to flora and fauna species. Denudation of forest, water-logging, salinity and alkalinity of soils, water quality, groundwater fluctuations, etc.
It is also necessary to know the negative repercussions and minimize the same.
Why support dam-building?
AYUSHMAN: “The state of Meghalaya has one proper dam, an alternative plant is required for which there have been proper measures and have been clearly written in the brochure including all R & R details.”
During 2020, Meghalaya experienced hours of load shedding because of a deficit in energy supply. It was clear Meghalaya needed more supply of energy, which would dissolve the power crisis.
At this pace, when industrialisation is taking over the entire country, if Meghalaya suffers load shedding so regularly, it will lack behind in development.
There has been a proper environmental assessment performed for the construction of the dam. It clearly states what the losses or damages will be.
Why should the dam not be built?
MERRYSHA: “We have no land to sell as we absolutely depend on it for our livelihood. Even if the government pays thousand times better, the land is still precious to us and our future generations.”
Building the dam, the people fear they will lose their livelihood.
In addition, their future generation will not get ancestral land.
The people also fear that the government will eventually not pay the compensation that they deserve to receive.
There will be a lot of indirect losses that the people living in and around Umngot will bear.
DRAWING A LINE IN THE SAND
Meghalaya desperately needs more power supply with the increasing demand. COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the art of adaptation and if the issue is not solved soon, it will create more chaos than expected.
Since many people are against the dam, the question remains; how do we solve this problem?
We could look up alternatives like solar and wind-induced energy, which are more workable and will not cause displacement. We could also explore state subsidised renewable energy incentives at the household level and office levels. Meghalaya is in a high seismic zone. There is ample evidence to show the disastrous effects of high dams on the lands that exist below the dam.
Alternatively, India has one of the largest wind farms in the world. Therefore, why not shift our focus towards renewable sources of energy. The options are out there, with many more innovative ideas cropping up regularly. Maybe it's time to develop political will to think sustainably within the energy sector.
(The author is Natasha Gadal, a 21-year-old BCOM student with Honours in Management. With keen interest in helping people out with their issues. She enjoys meeting people from different walks of life and comes alive when speaking in front of the camera. She is an intern with Barefoot Trust, an NGO working in education, sustainable food and diversity)
Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to TNT-The Northeast Today.
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