Sharp reduction in fish production in lake forcing them to take up alternative means of livelihood
A recent notice by the Manipur government to remove all floating houses and fishing structures on Loktak lake has evoked a sharp reaction from the fishing community and homestay operators.
Loktak Development Authority (LDA), a lake development authority in Manipur, July 18 issued a notice to remove/dismantle all ‘athaphums’ (circular fish culture ponds) and huts on ‘phumdis’ (floating organic mass) from the lake.
The notice said:
All athaphums, hut or houses on phumdi (homestay) within the premises of Loktak lake shall be removed/dismantled by individuals, people or society concerned within 15 days from the date of publication of the notice.
Champu Khangpok, a floating village on the lake, has been excluded from the order.
LDA issued the orders despite holding several rounds of meeting with homestay operators, said Oinam Maipakchao Singh told Down to Earth. Singh is the president of the newly formed Loktak Floating Homestay Association (LFHA), Thanga.
“It has been conserved that the exponential rise in the number of athaphums, houses (homestays) and huts constructed on phumdis have put the lake at risk, impacting the natural environment adversely,” the LDA notice said.
At present, there are 30 floating homestays under the LFHA on the Loktak lake. The authority has claimed there are 41 floating homestays, said Singh.
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The homestays are also a social issue as they are not appropriately regulated, the notice had said.
“The state government is trying to rejuvenate the ecological condition of the Loktak lake and delist it from the Montreux record,” it said. Montreux Record is a register of wetland sites on the Ramsar list.
The lake covers 61 per cent of the total identified wetlands of the state, official reports said. It plays a significant part in the socio-economic and cultural life of Manipuris.
Loktak, located about 40 kilometres south of Imphal, is presently under threat due to various factors, including human pressure. The Ithai barrage, commissioned in 1983, has brought about drastic changes in the characteristics of the wetland.
The LDA notice was issued as per “powers conferred by sections 4, 19 and 20 of the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006”, it said. The Act looks into the seriousness of the deteriorating ecological condition of the lake to improve and restore its ecosystem.
“In case any of the concerned failed to comply with the notices, LDA shall take necessary action for removal of unauthorised activities without further notice to save the lake from further deterioration,” the notice, issued by the project director of LDA Manipur, said.
Fishing is a traditional way of life for the local community on the lake.
However, a hydro-power project came into being in 1983 that brought a major change in its hydrology. There has been a sharp reduction in fish production and the traditional fisheries.
(From L-R) Local leaders Ningthoujam Raghu, N Ranjan Singh and Oinam Maipakchao Singh talking to the press July 27. Photo: Sobhapati Samom
The loss of large areas of agricultural fields due to inundation and increased levels of sediments and pollutants by untreated rivers have added more misery to the lake’s fate.
Locals had to take up alternative means of livelihood as a result. Operating locally made tourist boats and floating homestays in the lake over the fishing in the traditional athaphums are some of the new work taken up.
“Most of the floating homestay operators are educated unemployed youths,” said Singh. “We have requested LDA not to dismantle the homestays and instead suggest redesigns. We’ve also already taken up necessary steps to run homestays by introducing dos and don’ts, etc.”
“Homestay operators are ready to incorporate whatever suggestion and designs are framed by the authority,” N Ranjan Singh of Loktak Floating Homestay Association said in a press conference July 27.
The body had also attended meetings with LDA over operating the homestays, he said. “The LDA notice came out of the blue,” said Ranjan, who started running his homestay in 2018. “We want the betterment of the locals, but we do not want to pollute the lake.”
Loktak can not be saved without its people, Ranjan added, urging authorities to take back the notice in the public interest by July 30.
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The LDA order is an attempt to violate the traditional rights of the people living around the lake, said Ningthoujam Raghu of Apunba Loktak Ngami Sinmi Cooperative Society, a fishing group.
“The order alienates and deprives us of our rights. We have been dependent on Loktak since time immemorial,” Raghu said, demanding revocation of the notice.
“Otherwise, we’ll take to various forms of agitations,” he added.
LDA project director L Bhagaton Singh did not respond to messages and calls.
The authority’s Chairman, M Asnikumar, had attended an event prior to the notice, where he had appealed to all stakeholders for support.
Asnikumar had asked local elected representatives for assistance in the conservation and sustainable measures for preserving Loktak lake and its associated wetlands.
The chairman had pointed out that the lake played a crucial role in the socio-economic life of Manipur and said it was the collective responsibility of every stakeholder to contribute to its conservation and maintenance.
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