IMPHAL, June 5: Fishers of Loktak lake have reasserted their right to live and coexist with the lake as their birthright in culmination with the World Environment day and under a campaign titled “Occupy Loktak: Reclaiming our Heritage and Rights” today.
In a unique demonstration, over 120 boats assembled at ‘Langon Sabi’, located in the middle of the lake and shouted protest against the Loktak Development Authority’s (LDA) drive to evict the fisher folk from their shelters.
In a simple function sans banners, the fishing community assembled in an impromptu stage built atop a phumdi (floating bio-mass). Speakers included Dr Debabratta Roy, convernor of Centre for Organisation, research and Education (CORE), Rk Rajendro, retired lieutenant colonel and former member of Manipur Human Rights Commission, Salam Manibabu, executive member of All Loktak Lake Area Fishermen’s Union among others.
At the outset, prayers were offered by the fisher community to evoke blessings from ‘Loktak Leirembi’ and to make successful their endeavor to reclaim the lake.
Speaking to the gathering, Salam Manibabu, representing the fisher union spoke that victimizing the fishing community amounts to discriminating against the lake.
“We have fed off the bounty given by lake since time immemorial, now the state government has imposed upon us the Loktak Protection Act,2006, which robs us of our fishing rights and similarly the right to live”, he said.
Mentioning that more than 10, 000 persons are sustained by the lake, Manibabu stated that under the purview of the Act imposed on them, their dwellings in the lake have been burnt and further restrictions were imposed which hindered fishing activities.
“Though, the government has given us meager compensation, no clear cut policy has been implemented for our rehabilitation, we know only how to fish and survive.They should know at the foremost that we equally have the duty to protect the lake which sustains us,”he said.
Members and elders of the Union spoke on maintaining the ecological balance and contributing substantially to the economy of Manipur while sustaining human security and livelihoods, while conserving the environment. They denied any notion that they are the enemies of the state or any government, while asserting their democratic right to life and participation.
Invitees and speakers in the meeting also reiterated that the observation this year was particularly significant. Debabratta Roy stated that the Rio+20 Earth Summit Conference is commencing from 20 – 22 June 2012 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the conference, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will come together to shape means of reducing poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want .The need to document indigenous traditional knowledge and science held by the indigenous peoples of the Loktak Lake in sustaining our natural environment and ecology of the wetlands was emphasized, as the vital foundation of sustainable development for all future generations.
Rk Rajendro detailed on the dubious operations of the LDA and the state authorities stating that the company licensed to remove the phumdis (K-Pro agency) was non existent post awarding of the work. The matter was intimated to the Gauhati High Court and also to the National Human Rights Commission.He mentioned that the Gauhati High Court had instructed the state government to give a reply about the K-Pro agency ( the office was not found at Delhi) and the state government was given time till January 2012 to give a reply.
“We know that nearly ten crores were sanctioned for the bamboo barricades seen here,,from what we witness presently, it is evident that corruption is rampant and we have to address the corruption issues along with the environmental ones”, he said.
It may be mentioned that on 14 November 2011, the state police authorities along with LDA officials began torching the dwellings (huts) of the fishing community and met with stiff resistance. In ensuing issues, the people of the area staged sit in protests, organized rallies and eleven women sustained major injuries from confronting the police at Ithing village on November 19 last.