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Environmental Protection & Internal Displacement in Manipur

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By- Homen Thangjam

The paper addresses the concept of “core” and “buffer” zone, which have become essential part of recent environmental protection drives undertaken by nation states. These have become a norm of standard setting, for example, in the name of tourism, to get aid and financial assistance from the World Bank or other funding agencies, and overall taken to be a part of the globalization process. The case of the induced displacement of the inhabitants of the floating huts locally known as “Phumshang” or “Champo” of the Loktak Lake on account of the imposition of the Loktak Protection Act 2006 and consequently, the burning down of these huts as a process of eviction is taken as an indicative case. The traditional floating huts have been in existence since time immemorial. The legendry story of Seven Incarnation in Moirang Kangleirol recorded the human existence on the phumdee (floating biomass) huts. The recent protection drive has resulted in deprivation of traditional livelihood of the inhabitants, especially, fishermen, displacement and change in vocation. The paper argues that within the framework of liberal democracy practiced in India both as a set of accepted norms as well as an electoral procedure, consensus is needed not only from the victims also from the larger populace in the form of consultative meetings and debates.
This paper is divided into three sections. First section dwells on globalization as understood within the realm of social sciences, its varied aspects and debate surrounding the spatial dimension both in terms of time and space. Second section dwells upon the historico-cultural aspect of water bodies in the lifeworld of the Manipuris. Third section deals with the issue of whether modern-post colonial state of India replicates colonial rule or globalism. Within this section a brief an analysis of the Loktak Protection Act 2006, the forced eviction drive undertaken by the Government of Manipur and consequent displacement of the people is reviewed.
The idea of “core” is nevertheless lost in the agenda of globalization if we accept the theory that international organization create/diffuse/script policy models to states and states adopt these models as mentioned above. The issue at stake, however, is that such policies, even in the case of environment; do not take into account ecological dimensions to the pattern of human development. Ideas about environment and movement aimed at focusing attention on the causes of its degradation and ways to protect it needs to be set in the specific socioeconomic and political contexts which gave rise to them. Guha is of the opinion that it is important to understand the often fundamental differences that separate Euro-American environmental activist and theorists and those who argue from the perspective of the post-colonial societies (Guha 2000).
Significance of Water (Bodies) in the Lifeworld of the Manipuris
Simmering voices of resistance have emerged against the Loktak Protection Act 2006. The Act has been justified on the grounds of heritage, as a fulcrum of ecological balance in the state and most specifically as a biodiversity hot spot. The Act has been implemented within the larger framework of the “Save Loktak Campaign”. Consequent upon the implementation of the Act, livelihood of the people who have traditionally been dependent upon the water body have been affected. Government while denying the affected people a place for their voice, which they raised in response to the disturbances to their life, work and deportment (displacement), has also horrendously misrecognised these voices. They are now framed within the volt of state’s own language and categorized as anti-development, anti-government and anti-state. In this habitual framing, the victims are now identified as a security threat, not as ones demanding their rightful places. Within this order, also developing is a body of legalities and illegalities. Loktak is now more than a lake. It has already transgressed the nature that it was once lovingly understood with. It has been now metamorphosed into something that closely looks like an economy of “illegality” built around to check anti-government and anti-state elements. Cleaning the Loktak is cleaning these elements off, not about saving a heritage.
Riverine civilization, that is Manipur, evolved through the art of dredging the waterbeds, from time to time, periodically in a more emphatic sense, since ancient times. Apart from dredging, the demanding job also included digging of new water channels and joining of streams and rivers for human consumption and irrigation, and finally, changing the course of streams and rivers away from human habitats so as to avoid disasters during the rainy seasons. Such feats are unimaginable today, if one looks from the perspective of modern science and technology, given that earth movers, technological marvel of modern science, were absent in Manipur of the yore. Onus of the taxing work was on the people (citizens, prisoners and slaves included), whipped and dragged by the task masters under the command of the king. Apart from the diktats of kings, primary association of the nature as a part of human consciousness, thus informing its culture and spirituality, call it animism, also greatly contributed in preserving its surrounding with a kind human touch. Thus, riverbeds had to be dredged so as to allow their normal course of flow, new channels had to be dug so as to feed the plants and human beings, and at times, river courses had to be changed so that there is harmony of life. Water ultimately was/is an inseparable part of the Manipuri world view not only as a source of life but one that also sustains life.
Ikoukatpa or Lai loukhatpa (welcoming a deity to its abode, the temple) is the first ritual of Laiharaoba, in which the particular deity, thus far roaming in its spirit form in the water, is “pleased” and taken to its man-made abode, so that its holy presence brings prosperity to mankind and stave off-disasters. Significance of water in our cosmology lies here. Spirits of the deities are not taken down from the heaven or sky, neither are they plucked from the air or wind, nor, for that matter, dug up from the earth or sand. Centrality of water in our world view is further enacted by the spiritual attendants, including the myth of creation universe as well as life created out of water/fluid, in the unfolding days of Lai Haraoba.
Colonialism & Disruption of Harmony
Varied aquatic food, in addition to water creatures such as fish, mollusk and others, consumed in Manipur have been a matter of amazement to outsiders, who regard Manipur as a jungle-mountain state. Legends talk of how various water bodies have supported livelihood to the general populace of Manipur. For example, the destitute Khamba and Khamnu survived on water plants of Loktak Lake. Moreover, people living in the vicinity of such water bodies, developed skills, which later on became traditional occupation of the area, passed down from generation to generation as forms of knowledge.
Access to water bodies for livelihood purposes, except sacred ponds, was an unrestricted affair until the arrival of the British in Manipur. Monetization of economy from 1891 had a tolling effect on the colony. Colonial administration demanded revenue from any available source, and thus, imposed upon the people taxes such as water tax, fishery tax and so on. People’s survival rights were neutered. Over and above, the kind of devotion paid to the water bodies, at least in the domain of maintenance such as dredging and channeling, in the erstwhile era of free Manipur came to an end.
The development in Manipur is not an isolated case. What happened in the west, by 19th century, was that the centralization of political authority and the formation of nation states allowed experts to intervene more broadly, on a national scale, in planning and management of natural resources. It began to make sense to speak of “national forest,” or of “rivers as the property of the nation,” where previously these resources were recognized largely as being locally owned and controlled, by villages, tribes, or communities” (Guha 2000, 27).1The first-ever “international” environment took place in 1900 at London for the protection of wildlife in Africa. Characteristically for the times, there were no Africans present, the delegates to the meeting being the foreign ministers of European colonial powers who then controlled the continent: France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and pre-eminently Great Britain. The parties to the conference signed a “Convention for the preservation of Animals, Birds, and Fish in Africa.” The London meeting was followed by the establishment of the first multinational conservation society, “Society for the Preservation of the Fauna of the Empire” in 1903 to halt the destruction of wild animals in the British colonies. Through the colonies, wildlife conservation followed a set pattern. The first step was to moderate demand by specifying closed seasons when animals could not be shot, and issuing licenses, the possession of which alone allowed hunting. The second step was to designate particular species as “protected”. The third step was to designate specific territories as “game reserves” meant exclusively for animals, where logging, mining and agriculture were prohibited or restricted. The final and most decisive step was the establishment of national parks, which gave sanctity to entire habitats, not merely to animal species dwelling within them. The creation of reserves was dictated by sentiment as well as science, to simultaneously allow space for wild species and to affirm a shared human past. In other words, the progress of conservation was linked to the development of distinct settler identity.
In these schemes of conservation the African did not fit anywhere. The white settler identified with the land but not with the men and women who had dwelt there long before their arrival. Wildlife conservation cemented a union between the Dutch and the English in southern Africa, but it also consolidated on the whole, white domination over the majority black population. In game reserves Africans were barred from hunting, while in national parks, they were excluded altogether, forcibly dispossessed of their land if it fell within the boundaries of a designated sanctuary. Conservation was even viewed as a part of white man’s necessary burden to save the nation’s natural heritage from African despoliation (Guha 47).”
Harmonious relationship between man and nature, environmental consciousness as modern-day understanding put it, came under severe attack during the colonial period. On one hand was the non-intervention of the colonial state, in terms of maintenance and preservation of natural surroundings, as mentioned above, along with denial of the general population a free access and involvement. With the abolition of Lallup system, (clamed as an emancipatory act informed by humanity and liberal ethos), which colonial British termed as “forced labour” or “corvee”, without understanding the socio-cultural and economic context of Manipur, the erstwhile practice of an individual’s involvement in creating a harmonious relationship with nature came to an end. On the other hand, as a continuous part of the colonization project, there was the parallel phenomenon of overt commercialization and exploitation (unmindful) of the natural resources. Holistic understanding of the universe, where every being and innate object has a role to play came to an end during the era of British colonialism.
However, it would be wrong to assume that there were no resistances against such form of alien rule and practices. Chronicled incidences such as the Thoubal Resistance against water tax and denial of fishery rights is an indication of the hardship faced by the people during those days. Unrecorded but popular stories of resistance, passed down from this repressive and exploitative era, are stuffs of legends, which can even draw the attention of scholars like James Scott who theorise on “weapon of the weak”. Our grandfather fondly remembers Amuchoubi of Yaiskul and her antics.
During the times when Maxwell flexed his muscles not only as the Political Agent of Manipur but also as one who made sure that colonial subjects paid their taxes (water, kapok, chilly, etc.) on time, Amuchoubi of Yaiskul was a major challenge. When the wave of water tax struck hard upon the people, Amuchoubi of Yaiskul was also one among the victims. Grandfather says:
She cleaned her Sanabul (brass pot with narrow ends at the top which the Meiteis conveniently used for fetching and storing water) until it glittered. After the morning bath, daily, she fetched a Sanabul of water from the Imphal River and leaves it at Maxwell’s gate. Mind you, the Goras are polluted, neither did we allow them to enter our homestead nor did we enter theirs! At the end of each month, when Maxwell is on the errand to collect water taxes, Amuchoubi used to demand money as charges of fetching water for (from) Maxwell. Although, Maxwell forbade her, she continued and never paid water taxes.

Dawn of a New Age: Replication of Colonialism or Globalism?
Modern state is pervasive in its action. Its power lies not only in its ability to exercise violence at will in the Weberian sense of the term but also in its ability to “enthuse” hope to its citizens. This dawn of the new age, associated with the idea of freedom and justice, attempts a break from colonial state, in the sense that it promises (through periodic elections) responsibility and accountability. Welfare is the catchword, wherein, it promises that arenas presumably unlooked or exploited or even uncared would be paid attention. Every available means would be used in the name of development for welfare and justice, yes, in the name of the people. However, it never bothers to pay attention to the structural violence unleashed in the process of undertaking development or preservation and protection project. As Ashish Nandy puts it, however, the modern state in terms of practices in formerly colonised societies, only ends up emulating the erstwhile colonial state. The Loktak Protection Act 2006 and consequent deprivation of people of their livelihood means through eviction (displacement) and is one such practice, which undeniably is an emulation of a colonial act, and jeopardizes the people who have traditionally depended upon the lake.
However, the story of despoliation of Loktak begins with the construction of the Loktak project in 1971 under the control of Ministry of Irrigation and Power, as a central sector project. The project was handed over to the NHPC six years later and commissioned in 1983 at an estimated cost of Rs.115 Crores, with a capacity of 105 MW (3×35 MW). According to projections, lift irrigation facilities were to be provided to 24,000 ha. of land and as in most cases of paradoxical ‘multipurpose’ projects, irrigation promises were never fulfilled. This dam has ‘permanently’ raised the water level of this wetland and has blocked the natural flow of water to and/or from the wetland, severely altering the hydrologic cycle of a delicately balanced system. Before the construction of the Ithai barrage, the natural dredging process continuously cleared the silt brought down by the various streams and rivers from the valley and the hills. The roots of phumdi and other aquatic vegetation during the lean season touched the bottom. During the monsoon, the water level and the vegetation rose, bringing silt up with it. Much of this silt was drained out through the Manipur River with the current, together with some of the vegetation or phumdi.
In the post-barrage scenario, the water level is sought to be maintained at a particular level throughout the year, resulting in the silting up of the wetland at an unprecedented rate. Other changes to the floating phumdi have led to the endangering of native aquatic vegetation, the extinction of native fish species and the thinning and proliferation of the phumdi, which now covers more than half of the total area of the present water body. Remote sensing studies conducted jointly by the Manipur Remote Sensing Application Centre and the Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad (1999) shows that the area under phumdi has increased from 10,499 ha. in 1990 to 13,506 ha.in 1994. Consequently, the water mass has reduced from 15,441 ha. in 1990 to 7,875 ha. in 1995. According to the Survey of India, prior to the dam, in 1970, the water mass was 4,882 ha., with no indication of seasonal variations. The hydropower multipurpose project had already submersed around 83,000 hectors of cultivable land leaving thousands of farmers unemployed.
Water and Power Consultancy Services Ltd. (WAPCOS), Delhi, a consultant for the Loktak Development Authority (LDA)1 , has pointed out that the rate of siltation has increased due to “jhumming, deforestation and unscientific land-use practices in the catchment areas”. The present siltation rate is approximately336, 325 tons annually. This, as in the case of most reservoirs, is greater than what was projected during the project’s conception. At this rate, the reservoir will reach Dead Storage Level much before the 160 years estimated in Loktak Lift Irrigation Project (Revised), Vol.1, May 1980.
Another problem caused by siltation, weed infestation and proliferation of the phumdi is the gradual reduction of water-holding capacity, which results in reduced power generation capacity. In addition to this, a recent study under the aegis of the government of Manipur found the water to be chemically ‘unpolluted’, but the levels of microbial pollution in the Keibul Lamjao area have increased beyond permissible limits for drinking water (Strategic Option Study, government of Manipur, 1999). This has been caused in part due to the faecal discharge by phum-dwellers and the decay of phum, but primarily due to the daily draining of effluents by the rivers and streams and agricultural residue, which is not washed off.
This has major health implications for the local people who depend on the water for their daily requirements.

In the face of the despoliation of the Loktak Lake, the Government of Manipur came out with the Loktak (Protection) Act 2006 subsequently amended in 2007. Salient features of the Act are given below2.
This is an ACT “to provide for administration, control, protection, improvement, conservation and development of the natural environment of the Loktak Lake and for matters connected with as incidental thereto”.
Chapter – I. 1. (3) of the Act states: The Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 shall extend to the whole of 236.21 Sq. km, comprising of large pockets of open water and marshy land formed at the southern part of the Imphal valley upto the confluence of Manipur river and Khuga in the districts of Imphal West and Bishnupur, Manipur located between 93 degree 46 minute & 93 degree 55 minute E-longitude and 24 degree 25 minute & 24 degree 42 minute N-latitude… Provided that the Act shall not apply to the Keibul Lamjao National Park covering an area of 40 Sq. Km. and Takmu Fishery Farm covering an area of 5 Sq. Km.
3. Division of Loktak Lake- For the purpose of this Act, the Lake shall be divided into two zones, namely:
(i) “Core Zone” which will be the No-Development Zone or Totally Protected Zone consisting 70.30 Sq. Km. Affected areas include: North, Mayang Imphal, Imphal West, Northeast, Hangul, Imphal West, East, Phubakchao, Imphal West, Southeast, Phubakchao, Imphal West, South. KeibulLamjao National Park &Takmu, Bishnupur, Southwest, Sunusiphai Bishnupur, West, NingthoukhongBishnupur Northwest Khoijuman Khunou Bishnupur (italics added)
(ii) “Buffer Zone” means the remaining area of the lake excluding Core Zone area (italics).
4. Prohibition of alienation of Loktak Lake: No part of Loktak Lake whatsoever standing within the Loktak Lake together with all additions thereto or alterations thereof which may be made after the commencement of this Act, shall be sold out or leased out or let out on hire or exchanged or mortgaged or otherwise transferred or conveyed or allotted or converted in any form whatsoever to any person or organization or society or agency or trust.
5. Previous approval of the Authority. – (1) No person shall without the previous approval of the Authority obtain any lake resources or knowledge associated thereto for research or for commercial utilisation or for bio-survey and bio­utilisation.
(2) No person shall, without the previous approval of the Authority, transfer the results of any research relating to take resources.
Explanation: – For the purpose of this section, “transfer” does not include publication of research papers or dissemination of knowledge of any seminar or workshop it such publications are as per guidelines issued by the State Government or Authority.
17. Power and functions of the Authority:- Subject to such rules as may be made under this Act, the powers and duties of the Authority (Loktak Development Authority) shall be
(a) to administer the affairs of the Loktak Lake and to protect and improve the natural environment of lake;
(b) regulate by granting of approvals or otherwise requests for commercial utilization or bio-survey and bio-utilisation of any lake resources (italics added).
19. Prohibition of the following activities within the Buffer Zone :-The following activities are prohibited within the Buffer Zone, namely:
(i) Setting up of new industries and expansion of existing industries.
(ii) Setting up and expansion of fish processing units
(iii) Setting up and expansion of units, mechanisms for disposal of wastes and effluents.
(iv) Discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities or towns and other human settlements.
(v) Dumping of city or town waste for the purpose to land filling.
(vi) Land reclamation, bunding or disturbing the natural course of drainages, lake water with similar obstructions except those required for control and erosion and maintenance or cleaning of waterways.
(vii) Construction activities in ecologically sensitive areas as specified in the notification, and
(viii) Dressing or altering of hills, natural features including landscape drainage for beautification, recreational and other such purposes.
20. Prohibition of certain activities in Core Zone :- No person or occupier shall:
(i) discharge or emit any sewage or domestic waste into the lake;
(ii) plant or cultivate athaphum;
(iii) deposit or fix any stones, bamboo, log, net etc., into the lake for the purpose of rearing fish;
(iv) build any hut or house on phumdis inside the lake.
(v) engage in athapum-fishing in the lake;
(vi) use any fishing feeds and pesticides into the lake; except with the prior permission of the authority constituted under this Act.
2 Loktak Lake Development Fund :-(1) The Authority shall establish a fund to be called “Loktak Lake Development Fund” there shall be credited thereto
(b) Any grants or donations that may be made to the Authority by any other person/institution including external funding agencies / Central Government for the purposes of this Act (italics added).
Right to fisheries :- The Authority may, with the approval of the State Government and by notification in the Official Gazette, declare any part of the Lake, to be a fishery, and no right in any fishery so declared shall be deemed to have been acquired by any person or group of persons, either before or after the commencement of this Act, except as provided in the rules framed under this Act (emphasis added).
Development under plan Scheme etc :- The Authority shall, subject to previous sanction of the State Government, be competent to undertake and execute plans, Scheme protection and improvement relating to or in connection with the matter to be financed wholly or partly by the State Government or any other funding Agency.
35. General superintendence and direction of this State Government: Non-application of the Act: The provisions of this Act shall not apply to the Department of Power, State Government of Manipur dealing with electricity generation in pursuance of any Memorandum of Agreement or similar agreement entered into between the Department of Power and the National Hydro-electric Power Corporation Limited or any similar establishment.
First point worth considering is the replication of the idea of “core” and “buffer” zone in the Act by virtue of which restriction is placed upon the people in terms of access to the Lake for livelihood purposes. “Core Zone” as highlighted above is No-Development Zone or Totally Protected Zone. “Buffer Zone” means the remaining area of the lake excluding Core Zone area. However, the point is the buffer areas are too small to accommodate the people who have been traditionally dependent on the Lake. In this denial mode, what is being suppressed is use of one’s knowledge and skills, which ultimately form the core of one’s occupation and source of livelihood, passed down from generations, and the related issue of transformation of one’s identity, for example from a fisherman to an agricultural labourer. Encroachers need to be punished but one also has to distinguish between an encroacher and a dependent on the Lake. The irony about the Act is that still there is room for commercial utilization of the lake from any sources of funding.
Using various provisions of the Act, Government of Manipur started forcefully evicting the fishermen from their habitats at the Lake in the name of environment protection of the Lake. Within five days starting from November 15, 2011, state forces burnt down around 500 floating huts as result of which more than 2000 fishermen including women and children became internally displaced people.1 More than 500 huts were reduced to ashes, fishermen claimed that property worth lakhs of rupees including implements used in fishing such as fishing gears, nets, domestic articles, cloths, and ornaments were lost.2The victims were not even allowed to travel to Imphal or other places to voice their grievances. There was no public hearing, peaceful democratic process, nor any workable rehabilitative plan prior to the violent act of eviction. The State announced only a package of Rs 40,000 as compensation to each family. The State served notices to the villagers on November 11, 2011 and began burning down of the huts from November 15, 2011. The fishermen denounced such notice and compensation. They submitted a memorandum to Shri O. Ibobi Singh, the State Chief Minister, requesting to review the order, which was turned down by the Chief Minister himself.3 Fishermen stated that the order was unacceptable since it could not ensure them any alternative livelihood. They demanded repeal or amendment of Loktak Lake (Protection) Act. 2006, in order to assure their right to fishing and dwelling on the phumdis, which were practiced by their ancestors since time immemorial.
What we witness at Loktak is the inroad made by not only by western ideas but also by technology, which in fact is implemented by the state. Simmering voices of resistance have emerged against the Loktak Protection Act. The Government while denying the affected people a place for their voice, which they raised in response to the disturbances to their life, work and deportment, has also horrendously misrecognised these voices. They are now framed within the volt of state’s own language and categorized as anti-development, anti-government and anti-state. In this habitual framing, the victims are now identified as a security threat, not as ones demanding their rightful places. Within this order, also developing is a body of legalities and illegalities. Loktak is now more than a lake. It has already transgressed the nature that it was once lovingly understood with. It has been now metamorphosed into something that closely looks like an economy of “illegality” built around to check anti-government and anti-state elements. Cleaning the Loktak is cleaning these elements off, not about saving a heritage.
Finally, can a Loktak centric approach save Loktak? Definitely no. In the above sections of this paper, we have identified the holistic approach to environmental concerns followed by our ancestors. To reemphasize, a topical treatment cannot solve the problem of Loktak. Rivers that drain into Loktak need to be identified and dredged on a regular basis. This also demands, identifying the sources of the rivers and routes, so as to undertake afforestation. Prevent erosions; forestation is the only way out not only to control flood but also to prevent siltation. Equally important are the issues of Hydro Project and other multipurpose dams, which have restricted the normal flow rivers and streams. Participation of people is also denied in the Act, for example, one has get permission even to undertake research in the Lake. 

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