New Delhi, Nov 13 (UNI) In a significant decision that follows persistent and strident popular protest, the Centre has directed the authorities in Manipur to hold another public hearing on the controversial Tipaimukh dam to be built on Barak river.
Public hearings are mandatory before any such project is cleared by the Enviornment Impact Assessment wing of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Earlier hearings too had been termed by organisations leading the opposition to the project as farce and without any public participation.
Sources in the Environment Ministry said the order for holding fresh hearing was issued to the state government last week.
Although the Prime Minister during his visit to Manipur last December had avoided laying the foundation for the multi-purpose project himself after anti-dam bodies urged him not to do so, a few weeks later, the foundation was laid by Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.
However, three days later a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in a Division Bench of the Gauhati High Court challenging the ''illegal'' Public Hearing on the project conducted at Tamenglong.
Filed by a social activist Aram Pamei of Tamenglong, it said the people of the district who had come to participate in the public hearing were not allowed to enter the DC office complex by the security personnel.
It also alleged that Tamenglong people were never given notice of the public hearing in the manner prescribed by the law. The notice was never published in any vernacular language, as required.
The public hearing has been manipulated and it cannot be used for the purpose of obtaining the requisite environmental clearance from the Manipur Pollution Control Board (MPCB), the petitioners had said.
The High Court had issued notices to the Ministry of Environment and Forests on the PIL.
Hearing held at project-affected Churachandpur had also been rejected by the organisations heading the campaign against the Tipaimukh project on the same grounds.
They said chairpersons of 16 village authorities opposing the project were denied access to the venue and so they could not give their inputS even though they had come from remote areas of the district specifically for the public hearing.
The project will be constructed on the river Barak, which bifurcates into two streams--rivers Surma and Kushiara-- while entering Bangladesh.The Meghna originates at the confluence of the Surma and the Kushiara.
Opponents have warned of an economic, ecological and human catastrophe; thousands of people will be displaced as the dam would submerge scores of villages.
Meanwhile, last month, the Action Committee against Tipaimukh Project (Actip) strongly condemned 'another deliberate' attempt by the North Eastern Power Corporation Ltd(NEPCO) to push through the project by hosting a meeting of Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and hydroelectric Projects.
It had alleged that the meeting had been convened to get environmental clearance on the Tipaimukh Project, and pointed out that the Ministry of Environment and forests, as one of the respondents in the court case, was unable to file a counter affidavit till date.
NEPCO said the project would be one of the largest hydroelectric project in Eastern India to date and would be located 500 meters downstream of the confluence of the Tuivai and Barak Rivers in the Churacchander district near the Manipur - Mizoram border. It will have a 6 X 250 MW power house and will be completed in about 12 years.
The dam has reservoir capacity of 15.5 billion metric, which is higher by 75 per cent than the Bhakra reservoir. After completion of this Project, the perennial flood problems in the Barak valley in the State of Assam would be solved, it said.