There is really nothing very much to be surprised about a state which falls in the wettest belt of the globe having to suffer periodic cloudbursts, as Manipur does go through annually. What is surprising, and tells adversely on the vision and commitment to public welfare of the governments that have been, is that despite knowing fully well its monsoon realities in the aeons that have passed by, the state is still unprepared to meet this natural challenge at all. A week of incessant rain, and the state is still prone to the devastations of flood waters, with several rivers overflowing their banks on the one hand, and acute water logging on the other. What also cannot go without notice is, the water logging problem is incrementally more severe each year. If the trend in the past one decade or so is anything to go by, the bitterest irony is yet to come. In just a few months after the monsoon clouds have blown away, the state will be in a “drought situation”, and in all probability the state government would be rushing to Delhi with the begging bowl to look for funds to fight the new emergency. Why can’t our leaders begin seeing beyond just the immediate?
While it is true that there is a great deal of nature’s vagaries which are beyond ordinary prediction and human intervention, it is also a reality that good management and anticipation of what have emerged as a consistent pattern over the decades and indeed centuries, can save plenty. The government must then think of a strategy to manage the waters from the state’s extra rich monsoon, so that both floods and droughts become exceptions rather than rule. The government must begin a serious study on the subject at the soonest. But even as laymen, those who have lived in the state long enough would have noticed certain growth and expansion patterns of Imphal city, and other townships in the flood prone valley region which have contributed to the present miserable conditions. First of these is the disappearance of low lying wetlands everywhere in the valley, including in and around Imphal. Most of these have been reclaimed either as arable land or worse still as extensions of the city infrastructures. The Lamphelpat, Porompat, Sanggaipat, Takyelpat, etc were once wetlands that served as the reservoirs to absorb flood waters during cloudbursts, and then as sources of water during the dry seasons. In the absence of these reservoirs, rivers are much more easily swollen by monsoon rains. Even if reclaiming these wastelands are inevitable as the city grows, perhaps it would be wise for the government to leave at least part of them untouched, or even dig and deepen them so that they do not lose their holding capacity. The losses in their former areas can be recovered in terms of their depth. In this regard, city planners from a past era who dug such reservoirs as the Ningthem Pukhri, and the elaborate network of drainage systems known “Khongbans”, all of which flow into the then existent wetlands, demonstrated much more vision.
These planners of the feudal past, record books such as the Cheitharol Kumbaba tell us, even dredged river beds, linked and diverted river courses etc in the effort to manage water. They of course could freely use contributory unpaid labour (or forced labour as some might interpret it) at the time, but although this cannot be done now, the modern period has technology as substitute. Why can’t the government think of taking a leaf out of the strategies employed in the past? They can for instance give the idea of river linking a more serious thought. In this small valley, this should not come across as too awesome. Through a system of dykes, during the monsoon especially, waters from dangerously swollen rivers can be diverted to other safer ones and thus avoid avoidable human disasters. Other than dangers posed to life and properties, floods and draughts also damage thousands of hectares of crops almost every year. Hence in the not so long run, this recurring cost would be several times more than the investment to be made in a well-considered, well planned, water management system in the state. We do hope the government gives this suggestion a serious reflection.