Forest Laws Diluted to Clear Thoubal Multi-purpose Project in Manipur
After the Prime Minister’s Office’s (PMO) intervention to save top priority project in the North East, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) has diluted the Forest Law for Ansal Group’s hydro project in Manipur saying it be treated “a unique isolated case” and “should not be used a precedent in future”.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had accorded stage-2 forest clearance, on December 31 last year, to over Rs 1000 crore Thoubal Multi-purpose Project also known as Mapithel Dam at Thoubal River in Ukhrul district of Manipur.
The clearance for diversion of 595 hectare of forest land for construction purpose was given following MoTA’s approval letter to MoEF dated December 18, 2013. Interestingly, MOTA had strongly opposed the clearance to the same project some three weeks back on November 26.
The multipurpose project for hydro power, irrigation and drinking water is under construction since 1980s, and local people who were displaced had approached the National Green Tribunal in August last year following an RTI revelation that it is being constructed without any forest clearance. “Under the Forests Rights Act (FRA), it is important to complete process for identification and settlement of rights for the entire forest area proposed for diversion.
It is clear that FRA is already in operation as on date and is very much applicable to the instant project land,” according to the MoTA’s November 26 letter to MoEF. The MoTA further said that in case of “not applying to instant project, historical injustice done to the forest dwellers will, inter-alia continues, which is not desirable and it will be violation of the FRA, 2006”.
According to sources following PMO’s intervention, the MoTA treaded a completely opposite line in another letter to MoEF dated December 18. The development of North East is in the priority list of the PMO to deal with insurgency situation.
In order to expedite development of projects in the region, a basin-wise list was prepared last year to resolve all issues relating to hydro power projects.
“The forest dwellers and other institutions in area have already been provided with the requisite rehabilitation and reallocation package at appropriate point. The provision of recognition and verification procedure is complete in respect to forest dwellers and the acquisition process has been followed by the Manipur Government,” said the December 18 letter. Calling it a “unique isolated case vis-a-vis the provisions of the FRA” and the circumstances leading to the acquisition in the instant case “which cannot and should not be listed as a procedure in future”, said the letter. The local people are opposing the clearance demanding that their rights be settled first.