India-Backed Myanmar Dam Displaces Thousands


Alex Hamasaki, Student InternLast Modified: 02:02 DST, 1 April 2013

Boy Protests Tamanthi Dam Project, Photo by International RiversSAGAING, Myanmar - More than 2,000 people were displaced in Northern Myanmar, according to human rights groups, for the construction of India’s Tamanthi Dam.

The Tamanthi Dam is financed by India’s National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and local human rights groups are saying that the dam will affect 68,880 hectares of fertile farmland, displacing 30,000-45,000 people.

Aljazeera reports that John Laban, an ethnic Naga who used to live near the proposed dam site on the Chindwin River, says that people were not offered compensation nor new homes. Laban continues that the people forced from their homes now have no choice but to take day labor jobs.

Reportedly 2,4000 people have been forced from their homes at gunpoint in the Sagaing Divison. Naga, Kuki, and Shan ethnic groups living around the proposed dam site have been forcibly relocated since 20007.

According to a report by the Kuki Human Rights Group, people were forced at gunpoint to sign an agreement that said that they volunteered to move. Compensation, if offered, was as little as $5 USD per family.

The Myanmar army bulldozed Kuki, Naga, and Shan homes and villages, and villagers from nearby towns were forcibly recruited to help, reports Aljazeera. Many of the displaced were relocated to a new village called Shwe Pye Aye, which was named after the country’s former leaders General Than Shwe and Maung Aye.

Kuki activists later held a river protection prayer ceremony in the Leivomjang village. Eight of the organizers were beaten and interrogated by military personnel, reports Kuki Women’s Human Rights organization and Kuki Students’ Democratic Front. These organizers were forced to agree not to carry out further activities against the dam.

According to the deal between the Indian and Myanmar government, 80 per cent of the 6,685 gigawatt hours generated annually will be allotted to India, while the remaining 20 per cent will be used at the discretion of the Myanmar government.

In 2004, the NHPC negotiated a contract with Burma’s military junta to build the Tamanthi Dam on the Chindwin River in Northwestern Burma. The Anti-Tamanthi Dam Campaign Committee reports, “Where others see a human rights disaster, NHPC sees a prime business opportunity.”

The ramifications of the dam go beyond the massive displacement of Myanmar citizens. Thanlwin-lovers, an informal organization protesting the dam, suggested that “If the project goes on, the lower part of Thanlwin River will dry up and the ecology will be damaged. There will be floods in area along the upper part of the river too,” said Nan Hlaing, the secretary of the group.

The floods would affect the Tamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hukaung Tiger Reserve, which are homes for several endangered species such as tigers, elephants, and the Burmese Roofed turtle. The few that still exist live along the Chindwin River. Steven Platt from the Wildlife Conservation Society told Aljazeera that the erection of the dam would lead to the extinction of wild Burmese Roofed turtles.

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