Gonmei Meithuanlungpou Sebastian
(An extract from my forthcoming book “Beautiful Manipur Hills”)
Over all the things created by God, man, i.e., the image of God is given dominion; to rule, use, care, enjoy, respect and be grateful for the goodness, wisdom and power of the Creator. However, God does not authorise man to destroy His creation. In the struggle for survival and fulfilling the passions for comfort, artificial beauty, riches, power and greed; the uncontrolled activities of exploiting nature is increasing day by day, year by year. It is very clear that man is suffering and will be suffering because of his own deeds and short sighted creation, pride and quest. Doesn’t mean to say all the things invented by man are bad. Looking at the ailing condition of the present environment, a conclusion can be made that man is just a destroyer and not a healer. Man cannot heal nature. Only nature can heal by itself because nature and its laws are engineered by the wisdom of God. Therefore, man should respect and leave nature alone to heal. Man need nature to survive, nature does not need man. An aged man once said, “Son, remember the Naga proverb ‘Foolishness is elder to being wise’.” This old saying is still pertinent even in this 21st century.
Every year, the state of Manipur, like the rest of the world, celebrate the World Environmental Day on 5th June. This year, the theme of the celebration is “Connecting People to Nature”. No doubt, the said programme was celebrated with much publicity and enthusiasm. It may be weird, but we have forgotten the fact that people are connecting too much to nature, that is why, nature is sick today. Instead, ‘understanding nature’ is the need of the hour. Man is a consumer and nature is a giver. Nature has given its best till today despite man’s continuous exploitation and foolishness. Trump pulling the US out of the “Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 signed by 195 countries” could be a grave concern for the world at large because as per the report the United States is the second largest emitter of green house gases in the world right behind China. Nevertheless, the good news is that, China, India and many countries which cause maximum pollution in the world still pledged to work harder to save the world’s environment.
In the context of Manipur, some questions like “How many people are really aware of the environmental problem threatening the state?” “How serious and committed are the people of the state to preserve the state’s ecosystem?” “Can civic sense solve some of the environmental problems we have in the state?” etc., are worth pondering. Some general environmental problems confronting the world and the state today are: global warming, climate change, pollution and pollutants, disease, disasters, deforestation, extinction of various floral and faunal species, land slide, flood, drought, population explosion and urbanisation, adulterated foods, factories and industries, chemical and plastic culture, failure of governance, black market, lack of dedication and civic sense.
Manipur’s environmental problem can still be narrowed down to four aspects: 1. Deforestation, extinction of plant and animal species, land slide and flood, 2. Pollution and pollutants, 3. Lack of awareness and local participation, 4. Lack of civic sense. Every year, for many reasons, thousands of trees are planted in the state under various govt. schemes. Come the month of May-August, news and photos of tree plantation programs by the warriors of nature flooded the News papers. It is good and very encouraging to hear such News. However, one sad thing about tree plantation program is that, we plant trees but we do not care for them after planting. There seems to be enough scheme and fund for tree plantation but no scheme or responsibility for caring the planted trees. The blame game between the government and the people continues. The people say that the government does not look after the planted trees and the government say the people should look after them. Planting the trees requires vision and initiative, and caring for them to grow requires love and dedication. We can plant any amount of trees in the presence of media and cameras, but it is very hard to bend our backbones to weed or care for the plant in their absence. Everyone should think that we are the people and we are the government. The simple fact that caring for the trees to grow is more painful than planting them is forgotten by all. So, in general observation, tree plantation project is a failure in Manipur. Since these planted trees are not cared for, it is destroyed by various agents in the process of time. We should not forget that till today we are using the trees planted by nature, not by man.
Another mistake we commit in tree plantation project is planting wrong types of trees. My stray thoughts in this article are humbled before the learned botanist, geologist, environmentalist and zoologist. However, when we examine the soil, climate and latitude of Manipur, it supports thousands of rare floral and faunal species which are not found in other parts of the world. In recent past, many non-indigenous plant species which were thought to be fast-growing type were introduced in the state without knowing the harmful effect that could cause to the indigenous plant species. The harm could be through hybridisation, soil exhaustion and mutation. Citing some facts, teak and pine growers in the state are now complaining that teak and pine cannot be grown with other plant species, or in other words, in the place where teak and pine grows, no other plant could grow. Whereas, the trees of Manipur can grow very well with any type of indigenous plants with mutual benefits for all the species growing or living in a particular forest. Not only the big trees but the undergrowth of Manipur forest is a rich habitat for all types of edible and medicinal shrubs, creepers and herbs. The thickness of the available virgin forest at Papupana, Phuba, Kadi, Kuilong, Tipaimukh, Taosang, Dailong, Kajinglong, Siguilong, etc., is the clear indication of this fact.
In a blessed state like Manipur, except for beautification of specific location and farming, we don’t need to plant trees, just don’t cut them. Leave the forest alone for a while and it will try its best to come back as it always do. There seems to be no provisions till today to leave the forest alone. Shifting cultivation, logging, forest fire, making charcoal and felling trees for fire wood are some of the main causes of deforestation in Manipur. Most environmentalists in the state blindly blame shifting cultivation as the main cause of ecological destruction. Some could not accept this notion, because the growth of unplanned towns, cities, high demand of forest produce for human consumption and building, factories and machineries along with its pollutants seems more dangerous to the environment than jhum cultivation. Shifting cultivation affect specific forest only once in a year but human pollutants and consumption seriously affects the environment all year round.
Many seminars were conducted and laws and rules were framed to stop deforestation and killing of wild animals. So far, the success story of preserving the forests and the wild animals is found only in the villages where there is active local participation. These proactive villages should be given incentives and citation by the state or district authority. Most of the good forests which are available today in the hill districts are not the planted one but are those which are not touched by man. If the recent trend of deforestation continues, the green hills and forests of Manipur will soon turn into grassland and later into barren land. We should keep in mind that, once a place is converted into grassland, it will be very hard for the trees to grow again because grasses are more dominant than any other plant species. In this case, only bamboo is the most useful grass species found in Manipur. It is also a clear fact that most of the people in the state directly depend on forest for survival. Where terraced cultivation is not feasible, telling the people to stop shifting cultivation is the same as telling them to stop eating. Obviously, it will be very hard for an empty stomach to think about preserving the environment. Where LPG or electricity is not available, telling the people not to cut trees for firewood is like telling them to eat the food without cooking. Or to stop logging, the people of this state should build the houses and furniture with plastic or imported materials. At this juncture, to leave nature alone would not be easy. It is not a surprise to know that logging and hunting has become the profession of some people in the village. A huge gap seems to exist between theory and practical, law and people, people and nature, survival and remedy, etc. So, this gap should be bridged with understanding and provisions. Mere banning the people, who are also the owner of the land and the forest from cutting or killing of wild animals will have no effect. Another problem supporting this fact is that, land owners are not environmentalist, environmentalist are not decision makers, decision makers are not forest rangers, forest rangers are not the villagers, and the villagers are not government employees or businessmen. Creating the willingness of the local people- who were, who are and who will be dependent on nature for survival- to protect and preserve the environment is very important. Any form of law or Act banning the people from cutting or killing will be a failure without their willing, sincere and active participation. So also, only the government, environmentalist and the journalist will not be able to bring about practical changes without the involvement of the village authority, youth and the local land owners. Yes, in the days ahead, wild birds and animals may not be found in the market due to the strict implementation of the law, but it will still be found in the kitchen of the villages because it is impossible to post forest rangers or police in every forest and village.
In addition to this, since the people entirely depend on nature for survival, total ban from cutting or hunting may not be possible. It can only be reduced through awareness and systematic rules and approach which are people friendly and environmentally balance. For example, instead of imposing hard impracticable law, the people should be motivated not to harvest nature during flowering or reproduction period and also the young ones. They should also be convinced not to kill useful and harmless animals’ species. Every village should have a declared reserve forest of the village to conserve water and also preserve the plant and animal species. The village authority, youth and land owners of the village should be given the sole responsibility to look after the environment and the reserved forest with special schemes and incentives for the welfare of the society. Since the village constitute about eighty to ninety percent of Manipur, it is of paramount importance for the village to be involved directly in preserving the environment of the state. If the people are really serious about preserving the environment, special camp and seminars should be organised in the villages and not only in towns and cities.
Endangered floral and faunal species of Manipur: Apart from Nong-in the state bird, many floral and faunal species like hornbill, tragopan, tiger, gibbon, reindeer, bear, stag, otter, hog badger, reptiles, pangolin, pengba, orchids, lilies, rhododendrons, medicinal plants, uningthou (Phoebe hainensenia), Leihao (Michelia champacca), Uthambal (Magnolia), and Thangji (Quercus sp.), etc., will soon join the list of extinct species before they could be saved. It is a very sad thing to see that even useful and harmless animal species like nymph (young ones of dragon fly), lizards and frogs which are very useful in combating the deadly mosquitoes are not spared from being fried in the kitchen. Interestingly, Mosquitoes stings man: Dragonflies eats mosquitoes: Man eats dragonflies. Beliefs like some animals are beneficial in treating certain diseases, etc., also creates certain species highly demanded in the open and black market which led to drastic decrease in their number.
Thirty years back, we could see the majestic flock of hornbills flying across the villages every day. Interestingly, in those days, children would not have the mid-day meal without seeing the hornbill flying across the village. In the early part of 1980s, we could hear the gibbons and barking deer howling freely in the wild of Manipur hills. We could see the monkey sun bathing on tree branches. Just thirty years back, people used only primitive tools for hunting. In those days, hunting was just one part of recreation and community sharing, but now, hunting is a profession and the killed game is for sale at high price. Today, we could see no hornbill flying or gibbon howling in the forest of Manipur. Both deforestation and excessive hunting are responsible for the extinction of these precious wild life species. One or two addicted hunters can eliminate the whole species of wild animals living in the radius of the village. So, if every village has these numbers of hunters or more, it is not difficult to assume that the population of wild life is shrinking day by day. This is the immediate concern of the state lying at hand. If we don’t act now, we should be prepared to regret. As precautionary measures, the district administration used to collect the license guns during election. Similarly, the best way to control hunting and killing of wild animal is to stop the sale of guns and fire arms in the market including air gun. Since gun is for shooting, it is better not to possess any, because if you have, you would be tempted to shoot one day. The authority should ban or retrieve all the license guns from the people by refunding the amount for the license guns and create a peaceful gun free (gun less) state. All forms of sophisticated traps and hunting implements should not be permitted to be sold or possessed. Even with traditional hunting implements, hunting or killing of endangered species should strictly be prohibited. With regard to fishing, the people has now realised that fishing with chemicals or electrical appliances is same as cutting one’s own knee with knife.
Pollution and Pollutants in Manipur: Types of pollution in Manipur can be divided into four categories. 1. Water pollution, 2. Air pollution, 3. Noise pollution, 4. Land pollution. Some important rivers and lakes of the state like Barak, Irang, Iril, Imphal river, Nambol river, Chakpi river, loktak lake, etc., nourishes and quenches the people and the land of Manipur. Among these rivers and lakes, the most polluted are the ones which pass through cities and towns. For example, rivers that pass through Imphal city can never be clean or the Loktak lake which is located in the southern part of the city cannot be free from harmful pollutants. In simple observation, the main pollutants of these rivers and lakes are polythene (plastic), industrial waste and chemical waste (organic and inorganic waste). The most harmful pollutants among these are the plastics, industrial waste and inorganic waste (chemical and pesticides).
Manipur also witnessed small amount of air pollution especially in the densely populated areas. Most pollutants of the air are dust, smoke, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Cases of air pollution in the hill areas are very minimal. After the introduction of diesel auto, vehicle with loud noise, use of loud speakers, factories and machineries, the degree of noise pollution in the towns and cities of Manipur is increasing day by day. Land pollution particularly would mean the pollution of soil, but the pollution of the land surface can also be included in this category. Most pollutants of the soil are chemicals, pesticides and plastics. The pollutants of the surface areas of the land, be it residential, public, tourist spots or forest are the plastic bags and items, glasses and domestic waste. No one can deny the fact that there are no plastic wastes and broken glasses in Dzukou, Shirui, Buning, Koubru and Loktak lake. In the bygone years, people used only plantain leaf and bamboo basket to wrap and carry food items and other human use. However, at present, the people feel more convenient to use plastic bag for every purpose. Most scholars and environmentalists would agree that one of the most harmful pollutants of 21st century is the plastics and its other products. Though it is recyclable, most of the people are not aware or serious about it. At the same time, the manufacturers are not so responsible or do not take active part in collecting the plastic waste to recycle them. However, if the government is really serious about these hazards, it should stop the factories from producing plastic bags and items instead of blaming the choice less public. The sources must be stopped not the users. The habit of littering and lack of civic sense is one of the major problems among the people of Manipur. Sense of responsibility, common sense and civic sense can solve fifty percent of the prevailing environmental problems in Manipur. Let the people of Manipur practice the beautiful saying, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” in every house, village, street, locality, town, city, public place and tourist spot. Let the people be more responsible without forgetting the fact that honesty and loyalty to the responsibility is the greatest contribution one can ever make for the society. Thank God! The earth is still rotating. The sun still shines. The seasons still comes. The rain still falls. The flowers still blooms. The birds and cicadas still sing. It is not too late. Let us join hands and leave nature alone for a historic today and a better tomorrow.
(The writer is also the author of the book “Rongmei Folk Tales and Naga Proverbs” and Editor of the book “When I am Dead”. He can be contacted at email@example.com)