//Mythical sword halts start on northeast India dam

Mythical sword halts start on northeast India dam

01 Dec 2006

Source: Reuters ,By Biswajyoti Das

IMPHAL, India, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Anger over a proposed dam in India's northeastern state of Manipur, which locals say threatens thousands of homes and a sacred lake holding the sword of a legendary hero, has forced the project to be put on hold.

In a visit this weekend, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to have laid a foundation stone at the remote hilly site for what would be the largest hydroelectric project in eastern India, capable of generating 1,500 MW of power.

But local people say the Tipaimukh dam would inundate their ancestral lands, and more than two dozen tribal groups, supported by environmental activists, had called for a 24-hour strike and blocked highways across the state.

"The project has to be dropped as we will not allow anyone to ride roughshod over tribal sentiments linked to our land, culture, livelihood and identity," said Kinderson Pamei of the Action Committee Against Tipaimukh Project.

Given the level of opposition Singh has changed his plans, officials said.

Supporters of the project — which has been in the pipeline since 1954 and which would straddle the Barak river, the region's second-largest — believe it can generate much-needed revenue as well as power needed to help fuel India's fast-expanding economy.

But tribal groups say they will not only be robbed of their land and livelihood, but five threatened lakes and a river island likely to be inundated are sacred to them.

They believe the sword of revered hero Jadonang lies in one of the lakes, while an island called "Thiledam", meaning life and death, is where the souls of local people find eternal rest.

India's northeast is home to a complex web of tribal groups and more than a dozen long-running insurgencies fuelled by local anger over what their protagonists view as New Delhi's plunder of local resources and a lack of meaningful autonomy.

With 2 million inhabitants, isolated Manipur, 2,400 km (1,500 miles) east of the Indian capital, has been racked by a revolt since the 1960s. The violence has left 20,000 people dead.

Little industry and hardly any job opportunities have led thousands of frustrated youths to join the separatists.

Opponents of the planned barrage, 390 metres (1,280 ft) long and 160 metres (520 ft) high, say it will submerge nearly 300 sq km of land, displacing around 40,000 people from 60 villages.

Meanwhile, officials say the project could bring Manipur, which borders Myanmar, one billion rupees ($22.4 million) every year from power sales, guaranteed electricity supplies and 4,000 construction jobs over a dozen years.

"We need to tap this resource for our benefit," said Shyamsunder Singh, a senior power department official.