By R.K. Ranjan
The valley of Manipur, according to literature and legends, historical evidence as well as scientific studies was formed in course of time from its fluvial-lucustrine origin. During its formation, the topographic system also developed its own, natural unique drainage system, with underlying rocks throughout the length and breadth of the valley. Any so -called ‘modern’, technological, unnatural intervention into this system, without proper and deeper understanding and planning, is likely to pose a threat to the natural compact drainage system of the valley. Therefore, it is of immediate necessity to trace the chain reactions caused or likely to be caused by the construction of Ithai Barrage on the southernmost course of the Manipur River. A detailed scientific and diagnostic analysis of the negative and positive effects of the Ithai Barrage on the natural drainage system of the valley is a must this stage when the valley and the people inhabiting the valley are faced with the danger of a total ecological disaster.
At present, the drainage system in the Manipur valley is a natural gift of the system and network of the Manipur River consisting the major rivers (its tributaries) viz., the Iril, the Imphal, the Thoubal, the Sekmaijing, the Khuga and the Chakpi. In the interfluves areas of the Iril River, Manipur River and Thoubal River and Manipur River and Sekmaijing and the Chakpi, there were many low lying areas naturally forming lakes and shallow lakes supporting the regime of the Manipur River. These lakes and shallow lakes of the interfluve areas served as natural reservoirs for the excess monsoon water of the respective rivers. This also played a very positive role in the sustainable development of the micro-eco-systems of the localized areas as an integral part of the entire eco-system of the Manipur valley. These in turn become excellent breeding grounds for the rich flora and fauna of the valley and particularly for the indigenous fishes of the State. For example, the Loktak lake, one of the biggest natural fresh water lakes in Asia, is the major reservoir of the Manipur River. During monsoon, all the rain water from the different catchment areas of the tributaries of Manipur River got collected at the Manipur River and then naturally drained towards the southern side of the valley, where the Loktak, the Pumlen and the Lamjaokhong Lakes have been situated. Unbelievably, the rain water which used to get impounded by the Sugnu Hump and also the torrential obsiquent stream of the Chakpi River receded upwards upto the point of Khordak Echil of the Manipur River where the Khordak channel allowed its inflow into the Loktak. In short, under such organic and natural conditions the Loktak Lake acts as a reservoir for the excessive water of the Manipur River. Still more, the Khordak channel allowed the drainage of the water from the Loktak to the Manipur River during the lean seasons through Khordak itself. Thus, Khordak acted as both the inlet and outlet for the Maintenance of a delicately balanced level of water. And hence, the Loktak Lake itself is a part of the Manipur River drainage system.
The marvel of nature does not end there. The forest coverage in the State, of the quantum of rainfall received in the catchment areas of Manipur River system and the pattern of land-use practices within its the catchment areas all related to each other and formed and organic link between the existence of the lakes and also the occurrences of flood and drought in the valley. The unhampered laws of nature symbolised the co-existence and survival of the peoples of the hills and plains in Manipur. Unless we understand the history and the laws and linkages of nature gifted to our state, we might disturb this co-existence by intervening unwisely and violating the entire system handed down to us as gifts of nature. This short of equilibrium an intricate balance between man and nature has been observed to exist upto about 1950 in Manipur.
Things have become from worse to worst because of the ill-conceived planning of projects in Manipur, in the pretext of so-called ‘Development’. The Ithai Barrage, for power generation, has been constructed at an unstrategic and unscientific point of the Manipur River, i.e. after the confluence of the Manipur and the Khuga rivers so as to devastate the future of the future generations of Manipur. To recapitulate, 2/3 decade ago the common people settled in and around the peripheral areas of Loktak, hoping that the completion of the Loktak Multipurpose Project (LMP) would boost their living standard and economic conditions. Unfortunately, the opposite was in store for these innocent people. Even the three crucial promises of the project have proved false.
1. Instead of reclaiming 40,000 hectares of surplus land from the peripheral areas of the lake and its distribution of the displaced/effected people, more than 30,000 hectares of land had been getting sub-merged after every shower.
2. It was promised that the LMP will provide continuous supply of water by lift irrigation for multiple cropping (60,000 hectares of land) in order to achieve adequate production starving of water. For lack of water, the power generation capacity of LMP has gone down to such a level that the power production unit had to be closed down in 1992.
3. It was also promised that the electricity produced by the LMP would be sold to the consumers in Manipur a rate below 10 paise per unit. But presently the people pay much higher. Unfortunately, the people, on the whole, have been cheated by the LMP beyond imagination.
Anyone who studies seriously the Project Report of Ithai Barrage with a proposal for the construction of a dam at a height of 760 metres contour line will be utterly shocked. The obvious implication of a 760 m. contour line dam is that the entire surrounding areas would be submerged under water and the people inhabiting the area would displaced, leading to their marginalisation and pauperization. If we analyse the topo sheets, we would arrive at a scientific and convincing conclusion that the water would reach upto Hiyangthang including many other settlement area of Moirang town itself. That is why a large tract of area has been flooded with water more frequently than ever. Now, after the construction of Ithai Barrage, the entire eco-system of lakes has terribly deteriorated. All the fishermen communities and lake dwellers have suddenly found themselves totally uprooted. Driven to the wall, the fishermen have recently resorted to application of pesticides to catch fishes. This has in turn led to the pollution of lake water and health hazards for the fish eaters of the State. All these implications were pointed out well in time to the Project authorities i.e. in 1975 by a group of concerned people led by Maharaja Kumar Priyabarta Singh. But it all fell into deaf ears.
Today, the people of the villages directly affected by Ithai-Barrage have become volatile above the grave danger to their existence. We can only hope that everything is not lost. We might initiate discussion on certain issues which might lead us to reduce the situation at least practically and this must be done immediately and urgently within the framework of natural laws and the organic relationship between men and nature. Let me try to put forward some suggestions. Since the Ithai Barrage was construction at the lowest point after the tri-confluence of the Manipur River and the Khuga and the Ungamel, the water receded both northward, rather than southward as was the natural course, to Loktak Lake through the Khordak channel. According to the information of Loktak Development Authority (LDA) leveling staff itself, the actual depth of the Khordak channel bottom is hardly one metre whereas the main river has a depth of 6-7 metres below the inlet channel. Therefore, a maximum amount of water cannot pass into the lake and hence more and more land area would increasingly be submerged under water. Daming at Ithai has also slowed down the current of flow of water leading to greater deposit of debris into the river bed and the lake. Before the construction of Ithai Barrage, the Khordak channel functioned as both the inlet and outlet channel and hence there was no possibility of depositing much debris. From times immemorial, the flow of river water was controlled by the Sugnu Hump and also that the Chakpi River played the consequent role in a natural process. But all these natural courses have now become defunct because of the Ithai Barrage, posing a severe ecological threat to the lake and surrounding areas. Again, it must also be realised that the water level of Loktak lake is higher than of the Phumlen Lake and lower than the Manipur River. Hence, whatsoever amount of water has been blocked by daming at Ithai flows into the Pumlen Lake resulting in further increase in the submerged area? Thus, the entire Chairel village has come under water and the inhabitants of the village have been forced to shift to the surrounding hill slopes.
In the end, I would like to put forward some concrete suggestion: as an alternative to Ithai Barrage which has resulted in the inundation of a vast amount of agricultural land and also to the over flooding of Pumlen area.
(a) Afforestation programme and protection of forest cover all over the catchment area of the major tributaries of the Manipur River
(b) Coordination among the various project authorities i.e. Imphal Barrage, Thoubal Multipurpose Project, Irill Pilot Project, Khuga Dam, Sekmaijin etc..
(c) Lastly, undertaking a systematic land-use survey both in the hills and in the valley, proper study of the Manipur River network
There are all tentative suggestions and not final. What I would honestly appeal for is to study the organic link between men and nature in a socio-historical context.