India-backed dam ‘to displace 45,000’

Protests have been staged outside of the Indian parliament building in New Delhi over India’s financing of the Tamanthi dam project in Burma, which environmental groups warn could displace up to 45,000 people in the country’s northwestern Sagaing division.

More than 2,400 have already been forcibly relocated since construction began in 2007, and that figure is set to rise as both governments push ahead with the $US3 billion venture, 80 percent of whose output will go to India and provide crucial energy to its northeastern states.

The Kuki Women’s Human Rights Organisation, which represents the Kuki ethnic group that populates areas of northwestern Burma and into India, is one of the organisations campaigning against the dam.

Its general secretary, Ngai Ngai, said that the thousands already relocated were denied proper compensation by the Burmese government. “They were forcibly relocated and could not choose to go where they wanted – they were ordered to move to specific locations designated by the government.

“Women and children relocated to new villages are facing huge difficulties over food – the new settlement is located up north and there is also a shortage of water. And as the land is dry, it is difficult to grow crops up there.”

The protesters yesterday handed a letter to India’s National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, as well as the Burmese embassy in the Indian capital. They are hoping to capitalise on widespread anti-dam sentiment in Burma that some speculate triggered President Thein Sein’s decision to suspend the huge Myitsone dam in Kachin state, which is backed by China. Various analysts claim however that the decision pivoted more on concern within the Burmese government about the country’s economic subservience to China.

The campaigning group Burma Rivers Network says the Tamanthi dam, which will create a reservoir the size of Delhi, is designed to produce 1,200 MW of electricity – the 20 percent that will remain in Burma is likely destined for the vast Monywa copper mine in Sagaing division. Switzerland’s Colenco Power Engineering, Ltd. was involved in preparing the feasibility reports for the project.

BRN claims that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was commissioned by the Burmese government prior to construction, “but the assessment team reports that it is incomplete because they were not given enough time”.

In May,India’s ambassador to Burma unsuccessfully urged a withdrawal from the project, which despite years of stop-start construction, has struggled to take shape.

Pulling out now would avoid “expending further diplomatic capital on seeking clearances etc,” Ambassador V.S. Sheshdari wrote in a letter to India foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. “The delay is affecting our image and is seen as confirming local (mis)perceptions about Indian companies.”

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