Sword legend halts start of India’s 1,500-MW Tipaimukh

Anger over a proposed dam in India’s northeastern Manipur State, 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.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to have laid a foundation stone December 2 at the remote site of the 1,500-MW Tipaimukh hydroelectric project, the largest hydro project in eastern India. However, given the level of opposition, Singh has changed his plans, officials said.

Local people say Tipaimukh Dam would inundate their ancestral lands, displacing 40,000 people from 60 villages. 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.

The project has been in the pipeline since 1954, proposed for the Barak River. Supporters say it could generate much-needed revenue as well as power to help fuel India’s fast-expanding economy.

Earlier this year, India’s North Eastern Electric Power Corp. courted bidders for the project, which is to include two diversion tunnels, four spillway tunnels, two headrace tunnels, two surge shafts, two power tunnels, cofferdams, switchyard, powerhouse, and a main rockfill dam to be 163 meters tall and 390 meters long.

Threatened lake believed to hold sword of Jadonang

Tribal groups said the project would take away their land and livelihood, and inundate five lakes and a river island that 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 fueled by anger over what locals view as New Delhi’s plunder of local resources and a lack of meaningful autonomy.

With 2 million inhabitants, isolated Manipur, 2,400 kilometers 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.

However, officials say the project could bring Manipur 1 billion rupees (US$22.4 million) every year from power sales, guaranteed electricity supplies, and 4,000 construction jobs over a dozen years.

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