For the past few weeks, several villages in the state of Meghalaya have been protesting against the 210 MW Hydroelectric project on the famous Umngot River. Umngot river is among the most popular tourist destinations in the North East, it is also considered India’s cleanest river. Locals are afraid that building a dam on the river will affect their livelihood as the majority of it is based around tourism.
What are people’s concerns?
People have been protesting for weeks since the project will disrupt their lives. Farmers especially landowners are concerned because their lands will get submerged due to the project which will lead to the loss of cultivable land. People living downstream of the river areas are also concerned that the availability of water might become a major concern. Another major concern will be the potential loss of tourist attraction. This will in turn affect the tourism industry and affect locals. Construction of the dam will also cause the seasonal drying up of the river which will affect daily lives. For many, the river is the main source of livelihood which will not be available to them once the dam is being constructed. Although the government introduced this project to build a reservoir and provide electricity to people living there since the project will largely affect the daily lives of people to a large extent that electricity is being considered a secondary need. Public hearings guarding the project were disrupted as the protesters felt that demands were not being heard but no other means of proper communication took place between the two groups which led to a lot of misunderstanding between them.
Why is the Dam being constructed?
According to a report by Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL), the dam over the Umngot river was planned mainly to provide a source of hydroelectric power. The report said “the project is proposed to be implemented with a dual objective of narrowing the gap between demand and supply of power as well as the adverse ratio of hydro and fossil fuel power generation” furthermore the report was quite vague when it came to benefits that the displaced communities will receive it said “people around the project area are expected to reap many indirect benefits that would uplift their socio-economic conditions including road communication, health, and school facilities” the report only mentioned a proposed resettlement and rehabilitation plan that aims to provide people with monetary compensation. The report also acknowledged that while no villages will be submerged fully due to construction the loss of some cultivated land is to be expected which directly aligns with the farmer’s fears.
Although, it is quite unfair that people are expected to uproot their lives and move due to a project that the majority of people don’t even want. India has witnessed many environmental struggles, especially after independence but to date, we have not been able to bring about any proper conflict resolution in such situations that keeps all parties satisfied.
This article has been written by Siddhesh Patil for The Paradigm
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