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Mizoram villagers brave dam waters in protest

Jul 30, 2009

A small village in Mizoram, a northeastern state in India, is facing threat of submergence from a newly built dam. The local tribals are refusing to leave their village, and demanding adequate compensation package for the loss of their livelihood and property.

Zohmingphanga, a farmer from Builum village in northeast India’s Mizoram state, was a happy man until last year. The 21 bighas of cultivable land that he inherited from his forefathers, and eight fish ponds spread over 12 bighas, earned him more than enough to sustain his eight-member family.

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Not any more. The entire village of Builum, located in Kolasib district, is slated to be submerged within two months when water from the dam of the newly-built Serlui mini hydel power project is released.

Zohmingphanga is not the only one facing this crisis. The village houses around 24 families, all of whom are victims of the Serlui mini hydel power project and live under constant pressure from the authorities to vacate their homes.

Farming and fishery constitute the only sources of livelihood for Builum’s inhabitants. Only a few people have shifted to towns near the state capital Aizawl to take up jobs in the government and private sector.

Officials at the Serlui power project say water levels in the dam have been rising since last May, and that the authorities are considering releasing water from the dam some time soon. The total capacity of the Serlui reservoir is 80 metres. Current water levels have already crossed the 55.07-metre mark.

The 12 MW Serlui mini hydel power project was only recently completed. The authorities plan to roll the first turbine of the dam by the end of this month. This will release 24 cubic metres of water from the dam, submerging the entire village of Builum.

The Mizoram government has asked the villagers to leave. Although, the government has assured them proper rehabilitation and compensation, the 24 families complain they have not received adequate compensation.

Undervaluation of land

“The government sent a team of surveyors to assess the total value of our lands towards the end of last year. However, their estimate is not acceptable to us. As per the estimate of the surveyors, I was offered only Rs 700 per bigha for my 9 bighas of cultivable land,” says Rainiana, a resident of the village. According to him, the present value of cultivable land in Biulum is no less than Rs 40,000 per bigha.

“I refused to bribe the surveyors to do an estimate of my land. Other people in the village bribed them and they got several lakhs of rupees as compensation for their land,” Rainiana says.

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“The government assured us that we would be rehabilitated in another village called Bokhlang in the same district. However, we were given only Rs 1.5 lakh to build a house. It is not enough.”

Saihnua (62), also a farmer, alleges that surveyors submitted misleading reports to the government.

“While some people received compensation of up to Rs 5 lakh for their land, others with similar land were offered only Rs 700 per bigha. Zohmingphanga was offered only Rs 2 lakh for his 21 bighas of cultivable land and 12 bighas of fish pond, which is much less than its value,” he said.

Braving the water

And so the 24 families have decided to brave the dam waters as a protest against the district administration’s failure to provide them adequate compensation for their lands.

“We are not going to accept this, and we are not vacating the village even if they release the water,” Saihnua says defiantly.

R Saihnua says: “There have been severe discrepancies in disbursing compensation and rehabilitation to the project-affected people. We are not going to leave the village until our people are given adequate compensation for their lands. We are ready to die when the authorities release water from the dam.”
Chief engineer of the Serlui project, C L Thangliana says: “We had given a notification asking the villagers to vacate Builum as the department had to release water from the dam. However, some of them have refused to agree to the compensation package.”

Thangliana did not comment further as the issue of compensation is being dealt with by the Kolasib district administration.

The issue has become so complicated that it has forced the powerful Young Mizo Association (YMA) and Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) to intervene. Various NGOs and students’ bodies in the state have set up a coordination committee to put pressure on the government.

Source : Infochange
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