Figure 1. Loktak Lake as seen from Google Earth. The circular structures are man-made ‘Athaphum’ for rearing fishes.
I was born and brought up in Ningthoukhong; the vicinity of the unique lake called ‘Loktak Lake’. I swam, played and passed most of my childhood in this lake with my friends. During my childhood, I saw many different types of migratory birds, wild boars straying on the streets of Ningthoukhong, Pythons climbing on top of the trees, Cranes nestling amongst the bamboo trees of our backyards, Crows crowing now and then — telling the people that the dawn is coming, frogs (barring Rana Tigrina locally known as Moreh Hangoi) croaking in our ponds, fried or roasted Khabak, Nganoi, Ngaton, Pengba, Tharak (indigenous Manipuri fishes varieties) coming on top of our dishes and sparrows nestling on the thatched roof of our veranda.
Bats zooming passed our forehead after dark. Large flocks of migratory birds flying in the sky in delicate geometrical formations. During those days, nobody thought that they would vanish from our backyards or our ponds, lakes and rivers. But now, when I ask my juniors, what is a khabak or tharak (fishes species) or khambrangchak (bird species), sadly, their simple answer is “I don’t know!”
Kawkha, kawthum, tharo, thamban, thamchet, thambou, yenna, yelli, heikak, kambong, kaona, thanjing, waikrow, (all these were once abundant flora of the catchment areas) etc. were in abundance near Loktak Lake. Now, if I ask any of the young generations of Manipur, “What is Waikrow?” I bet 99% of them will not know what it is and where it is found. However, we have enjoyed ‘waikrow’ (bulbous roots of grass variety found in swampy areas) in different taste, such as ‘milk waikrow’ or ‘chuhi (red sugar) waikrow’ found near Loktak Lake. Of late, all of them gone and our young generations do not even know what is there in this lake.
We enjoyed sailing the boat from Ningthoukhong to Thanga and back; nobody bothers, and no one interfere. But today, if you venture out and passed through some of the circular fishes rearing sites (athaphum) of the indigenous fishing communities, you are well in trouble, or you will be assaulted. The ‘phum’ or floating biomasses has increased manifold and the circular ‘athaphum’ for fishing has plagued the lake.
Recently, the Government of Manipur had cleared some of the floating huts and is trying to make a ‘buffer zone’ to preserve this lake. However, some of the well-known environmentalists and NGOs of Manipur interfered and asked for compensations for the fishing communities. Both the stakeholders are true to their terms; at the same time, both are wrong!
Mismanagement of the Loktak Lake and the migrations of local people to this lake for profits are established facts. Exploitations of the lake are becoming a multi-million business for the government, public and private. Scams after scams of the Manipur government; NHPC’s intentions to suck-up the water for power generations and corporate developments, but irresponsible on the parts of environmental conservation, management, strategy, awareness or campaign, on the burning issues of Loktak Lake from where the corporation is harnessing water resources on a continuous basis, since its commissioning (1983) (What a shame! NHPC is an ISO-14000 certified organization); local people who are wealthy and rich, having more than two or three houses, still owning ‘phumshang’ in the middle of the lake — are some of the few illustrations of the administrative and management follies of the past in terms of conserving the Loktak Lake’s environment.
The Multi-Crore (Rs. 224 Crores to be precise) scam by the Government of Manipur, Loktak Development Authority (LDA), K-Pro Infra Works Limited, Delhi and the black listed company Progressive Constructions Limited (PCL), Hyderabad — are well published in both national and state medias. The controversial Manipur’s Loktak Lake Protection Act-2006 (LPA-2006), prepared by incompetent authorities and without any proper researches or in consultations with the local people, is also becoming a bone of contention (Yumnam Jiten. Scandalous Loktak Lake Mismanagement. The Sangai Express, Imphal. October 22-23, 2012).
Within the last three-four decades, the lake environment had been degraded and exploited to such an extent that the recovery to its natural state is out of questions. Plastics ropes, rocks collected from the bank of Ningthoukhong Canal (during 80s and 90s), pesticides used for killing fishes, corrugated tins used for roofing, bamboos used for anchoring the floating huts (phumshang) and athaphum, polythene and plastics bottles and products thrown into the lake, kerosene or petroleum products poured over the water to prevent mosquitoes breeding, expired drugs (antibiotic as well as other allopathic) thrown into the lake, than encircling individual territories for fishing (athaphum), etc. — all these materials or pollutants finally find its way at the bottom of the lake. Seriously, ‘antibiotic drugs’ are ‘emerging contaminant’, which is becoming one of the major environmental concern, needing intense researches, due to its many sides or synergistic effects on both the environment (flora and fauna) and human (specially pregnant women).
In spite of strict rules and regulations to preserve the endangered ‘Sangai’ or ‘Brow Antlered Deer’; the villagers, time and again poached the deer for their meats. The prices of Sangai meat in nearby villages are reported to be in the range of Rs. 500 to 600 per Kg and wild boar for Rs. 400 to 500 per Kg. At Moirang, Keibul, Thinungei and other adjacent villages, one can get fried migratory birds dishes for Rs. 100 and above per plates, depending on the variety of the bird. Efforts are on to count and conserve/preserve migratory birds and Sangai’s in Manipur; however, efforts to bring poachers to book are minimal.
There is no rule or regulation to control fishing in this lake. A fisherman can catch fishes from its larval-form to its adulthood. Nobody dared to ask why we eat ‘Nganam’ (fish larvae stuffed with spices and covered by ginger or turmeric leaves then roasted), because they are delicious and wholesome! However, we forget that these fish larvae, one-day, will become adult and serve ten people instead of one.
Without proper management of the lake, ‘Hydroseric Succession’ (Shallowing of the lake) and other undesirable consequences will follow and Loktak Lake will become abysmal (please refer article, “The Fate of Loktak Lake”. The Sangai Express, Imphal. June 9-13, 2001, or website http://www.e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=education.Scientific_Papers.fate_of_loktak_lake). No doubt, all the stakeholders are believed to be helping the community, but we should also understand the question of, “Who Own Loktak Lake?”
Loktak Lake is not for a handful of people; it is the property of Manipur. The conservation or preservation of the lake is the responsibility of the people of Manipur and is not the deciding factor of some people — who have floating huts (phumshang) on the lakes, but spend most of their times in Imphal, Bishnupur, Keibul, Mayang Imphal, Moirang, Ningthoukhong, Thanga, Thoubal or other neighboring villages. The Loktak indigenous people, fighting for their ‘rights to live’ and ‘human rights’ should understand the root cause of the dwindling environmental conditions of the lake, which is ‘alarming’ too.
Misleading the fisher-folks of Loktak Lakes, to do whatever they like, to a public property of 2.7 million populations, where it is the sources of direct or indirect income to the State; is absolutely wrong. The ‘right to live and coexist’ only happened when the people really concern for their lake environment and diverting their minds from the influence of ‘greediness’ to the concept of ‘sustainable living’. People from different districts like Chandel, Churachandpur, Imphal, Senapati, Tamenglong, Thoubal and Ukhrul, have equal rights to fish in this lake, just like anyone from the vicinity of the lake. All the above factors, gave chances to the Government of Manipur to evict hundreds of poor fisher-folks from Loktak Lake. If anything happens on Loktak Lake, it is the ‘tragedy of common!’
Earlier, genuinely poor fisher-folks were never identified, but rather marginalized. The rich and powerful goons, today, hold the lake and its resources. It is true; Loktak Lake has been a sacred lake and inhabited by the indigenous communities of Manipur since time immemorial. But how many poor families are depended to or are having ‘phumshang’ in the lake is questionable? Greediness never goes away!
Therefore, based on the economic status of a family, ‘phumshang’ and ‘athaphum’ should be allowed to build in a limited and identified number/s, sizes, and locations and with certain ‘dos and don’ts’. Provision for rotations of ‘phumshang’, every four or five years, to the deserving candidates should also be put in the guidelines or law books of Manipur. How many ‘athaphum’ can a fisher-folk possesses as her/his properties, should also be clearly indicated? Unwanted athaphum should be removed to preserve the lake environment (Fig. 1). Taxing the owner/s of athaphum for using public properties will also generate revenues for the State. Using of traditional fishing systems should be encouraged for tourism and sustainable development and relying on modern tools should be banned.
If properly managed, Loktak Lake can become training sites for various water-sports and produced many more national and international athletes — who will bring laurels for the State/Nation. The construction of jetties around the villages and development of the Komlakhong, Water Sports Complex, should be welcomed — similarly many more complexes should also follow suits.
Of course, establishment of an ‘Institute’ or a ‘Center’ dedicated to high level scientific researches, exclusively for Loktak Lake, will certainly bridge the gaps and understand the many hidden secrets of this internationally significant wetland (Ramsar Site) and fragile ecosystem. I would recommend here that Loktak ‘week’ or ‘month’ should be celebrated every year, when no humans are allowed to be fishing or venturing out within a designated boundary inside the lake. This will at least helps the lake ecosystem — replenished to the certain extend of its natural state.
One should also understand that clearing/dredging of biomasses or evictions of indigenous communities from Loktak Lake, alone, will not solve any problems in the long-run. It is just a quick-fixed solution. Long-term solutions can only be brought about with the development of the catchment areas of Loktak Lake; systematic ecological management; check-damming rivers or streams that brought pollutants/sediments to the lake; environmental awareness to the general public’s and understanding the delicate hydrological systems.
As the population increases exponentially in Manipur, the numbers of fisher-folks will also increased manifold. In this scenario, the ‘carrying capacity’ of the lake will be drastically reduced, and the end result will be a ‘dead’ Loktak Lake. Thus, it is imperative for the individuals, NGOs, Media, Corporate Organizations and Government Agencies, to make the indigenous people aware about the importance of Loktak Lake, its environment, socio-economy, history and in tackling the changing climates of Manipur. The NGOs and Media-Personnel’s who are supporting the livelihoods of the indigenous people — should also know that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples doesn’t’ entertain polluting community. Rather, it took the principle of ‘Polluters Pay!’
If our community participated and managed the lake in a responsible and sustainable manner, no force in this world would be able to take away their resources. However, at the present moment, our fisher-folks are silent in terms of their involvements/commitments in conserving their lake, but blindly fighting for the ‘rights’ on this lake. It is indeed sad, to write this negative article against our own fisher-folks.
Nevertheless, we hope, one-day; we will realize the negative impacts and come-up with more favorable positive impacts. When that time comes, we will all join hands-together and fight the corrupt officials and their money minting corporate organs. As of now, we should appreciate the miraculous rejuvenating power of our lake — if not perturbed by us. So, let us give Loktak Lake a chance!
Please, look-up the Google Earth’s satellite imagery; you will feel that Loktak Lake is sickened with ‘Ringworms’!