Editorial – Fragile Valley Ecology

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A lot many water bodies have died out from the Imphal Valley. In their footsteps may follow the rest of the remaining natural water bodies in the valley, including we dare say, the Loktak. Purely from common sense, the lifespan of a lake in a land-locked valley, with little or no drainage system to flush it in a continual process, cannot be that very long. For regardless of whether a river system drains water away from a valley, there will always be more rivers that drain into it bringing down tonnes of silt perennially from the surrounding mountain catchments areas. It can quite well be imagined why the battle to save fresh water lakes in small valleys have been almost always a losing battle. The best that have been done is to delay their deaths, but the cause for optimism is, advancements in science have come up with ever better techniques to increase the longevity of these lakes. Perhaps someday, it will become a reality when this delay of lake decay can be perpetual. But the fact remains that without this radical sort of intervention of science, valley lakes cannot live forever. This is what Manipur should be cautious about, and in fact be ready to face.

It needs no experts to tell us rivers can change their courses, and so when silt raises their bed high enough for the water to find another alternative path of least resistance, it will take the latter path. This phenomenon is not altogether unknown even in Manipur’s recorded history. In fact there have been records of artificial dredging of river beds through compulsory contributory labour under various kings, and even of artificial diversions of river courses. Considering the sizes of the rivers here, these projects could not really have been too awesome or daunting. All the same, although of a totally different dimension, the current talks of river linking etc, in the larger context of the vast Indian sub-continent are not any logic that escaped the notice of good administrators in the state’s history. Even now, in spite of what the critics of the river linking project say, we do feel it will be an experiment worth the while in Manipur. Just one case should suffice to illustrate. Diverting the Nambul River from the heart of Imphal city would do miles to the health of the river as well as in flood control within the Imphal municipal area. The water too may acquire more irrigational value in the process. The stretch of the river bed thus dried up can become part of the master plan of an Imphal city sewerage project, as and when such a project comes up.

Saving our lakes, most particularly the Loktak, will be a far more difficult proposition. But perhaps this will also have to be linked up with a river management project. Perhaps the solution is in devising a way to have our rivers safely deposit their alluvium loads they bring down from the hills in special reservoirs along their meandering courses before they empty into the Loktak. But it is not only silt or the fate of its lakes that the ecology of Imphal Valley is threatened by. The inescapable fact also is, whatever material is introduced into its soil will remain there forever precisely because there is very little draining out of the valley. Take for instance chemical pesticides or chemical fertilizers, or for that matter chemical effluents from factories in the future. Most of the residues from these are simply going to continue to accumulate in the soil. Who knows what effect such residues will have on the soil in a couple of hundred years. Just suppose it begins turning acidic or alkaline, or in the worst case scenario, poisonous. Considering pesticides are poisons, this is not altogether impossible. Again in the absence of a flushing mechanism, it will take eons before these soil conditions can be neutralized. This will indeed be a nightmarish scenario. Abolishing chemical pesticides or fertilizers can also mean present day disasters and it would indeed be stupid to recommend such a measure unthinkingly. What must however be done is to make sure that to the extent possible, only bio-degradable alternatives are used. Or even if there are no real substitutes to chemical agriculture boosters, their long term consequences must be closely monitored and regulated. While we all celebrate the fecundity of the alluvial soil of the valley and its salubrious climate, have the obvious fragility of the valley ecology ever been part of any serious reflection in official policy making or the general understanding of the issue? We are afraid to say there have been very little of it and this is most unfortunate.

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