Umngot River is among the most popular tourist destinations of the state and is considered to be India’s cleanest river. Umngot River is one the most beautiful tourism spot of Northeast India. The crystal clear river in Dawki is a delight to the eyes and attracts flocks of tourists every year. However, the present situation is quite unfavorable for the river.
Since the past few weeks, several villages from Meghalaya have been protesting against the 210 MW hydroelectric project on the famous Umngot river in the state. Hundreds of people living near the river are afraid of the government’s plans. They are afraid that building a dam over it would gravely affect their livelihood which is majorly based on tourism.
Not surprisingly, the protests have not been covered by mainstream media, assumingly because of the larger trend of ignorance of matters happening in the northeast.
The Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB) had on Friday scheduled a public hearing for the project to be executed by the otherwise cash-strapped Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL).
Hundreds of people from more than a dozen villagers obstructed officers from conducting the public hearing at Moosakhia in West Jaintia Hills district on Friday. The MSPCB officials faced a similar situation at Siangkhnai in East Khasi Hills district on Thursday.
“Everyone is against the mega-dam project as their livelihood is dependent on the river,” Alan West Kharkongor, president of the Meghalaya Rural Tourism Forum, said.
The locals fear that the project, if executed, would cause irreparable losses by wiping out their areas from the tourism map, besides affecting many villages in the downstream areas dependent on the Umngot.
People have been protesting for over a week since the project will disrupt their lives. Villagers, especially landowners, are concerned because their lands will get submerged due to the project which will lead to loss of cultivable land. For many, the river is the main source of livelihood, which will then not be available to them after the construction of the dam.
Construction of dams also causes seasonal drying up of rivers which will affect the daily life of people in an unprecedented manner. Although the government introduced this dam project to build a reservoir and provide electricity to the people living there, the structure might gravely affect the daily lives of people to such an extent that electricity can then be considered a secondary need.
According to a report by the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL), the dam over the Umngot River was planned mainly to provide a source of hydroelectric power. The report also said that “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.”
At the same time, the report is quite vague on the benefits that the displaced communities will receive as it says, “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.” It only mentions a proposed resettlement and rehabilitation plan that aims to provide the people with monetary compensation.
The report also acknowledges that while no villages will submerge fully due to the construction, the loss of some cultivated land is to be expected (which directly aligns with the villagers’ fears). Other than the primary cause of building a source for hydroelectric power, the report does not emphasize any other necessary need for the construction of the dam.
The Umngot river attracts many tourists to Dawki bordering Bangladesh. The water of the river is so clear that boats seem to rest on a crystal glass surface besides casting their shadows on the river bed.
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