Imphal, Jan 13:
The All Loktak Lake Areas Fishers Union, Manipur (ALLAFUM), has questioned the Government of Manipur’s arbitrary move to push ahead with its proposal for the Loktak Inland Waterways Project without consulting the local fishing community that resides within and around the peripheral areas of the lake.
In a statement, the ALLAFUM argued that this project is likely to have a negative impact on the lake’s ecology and the livelihoods of hundreds of fisher families who rely on traditional capture fishery and depend entirely on the lake for their living. The fishers union is concerned that the government did not invite them as primary stakeholders for the state-level discussion on the proposed project.
Oinam Rajen, the secretary of ALLAFUM, pointed out that the Transport Department organized interaction sessions on the inland waterways project at the Old Secretariat Conference Hall on Friday, January 12, and at the Loktak Development Authority office on Saturday, January 13. However, the department officials deliberately ignored the Loktak fishers and invited the unrelated All Manipur Entrepreneur Association (AMEA) to the sessions instead.
On the 9th of this month, an official communication from ST Rithung Anal, Joint Secretary (Transport), Government of Manipur, announced an interaction session on “Inland Waterways and the development potential in the State,” without directly referring to the State’s earlier proposal for the Loktak Inland Waterways Improvement Project. This proposal faced opposition from the Loktak fishers due to concerns about its potential negative impacts on the lake’s ecosystem and the fishers’ livelihoods.
The interaction session was organized at the request of the Member (Logistics), Inlands Waterways Authority of India, Government of India, based in Noida, Delhi NCR. The Transport Department, in association with the Loktak Development Authority, organized the session and invited representatives of AMEA, but did not consider inviting representatives of the Loktak fishers for discussion.
It is worth recalling that in February 2022, a division bench of the High Court of Manipur, consisting of Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice A. Bimol, instructed the relevant authorities to obtain the court’s permission before initiating any development works in and around Loktak Lake. This instruction was in response to directions from the Supreme Court of India to maintain the status of Ramsar sites throughout the country. The High Court of Manipur took action to conserve Loktak Lake and directed the authorities of the lake in July 2019 that no project or development program should be initiated without the court’s permission.
Furthermore, it should be noted that in 2017, the High Court of Manipur initiated a Public Interest Litigation (PIL No.24 of 2017) following an order from the Supreme Court of India in WP(C) No.230 of 2001. The Supreme Court had directed jurisdictional High Courts to supervise the management of wetlands designated as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Wetlands Convention 1971.
The PIL sought the State Government’s response regarding the management and conservation measures taken to restore the ecosystem of Loktak Lake while ensuring that developmental projects do not harm its overall status as a Ramsar site of international importance.
Loktak Lake has been embroiled in controversy due to the disruption of its hydrological regime caused by the regulation of water by the Ithai Barrage of the Loktak Hydroelectric Power Project since its commissioning in June 1983. The barrage has been criticized for contributing to ecological and environmental disasters within the Manipur River Basin, which includes Loktak Lake and its associated water bodies. Years of ecological degradation have led to biodiversity loss and have significantly impacted the fishers’ livelihoods.
ALLAFUM strongly opposes the Government’s decision to proceed with the inland waterways project without consulting the Loktak Lake dependent fishing community or considering the potential negative impact on the lake’s ecosystem.