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From Loktak to rented place in Imphal : Survival story of displaced fisherfolks told
Source: The Sangai Express / Ng Liklaileima Arambam

Imphal, November 29 2020: When a plant is uprooted from its natural habitat and planted in an alien environment, it will surely struggle to survive or wither, if not strong enough to stand the change.

Such is the case to a couple who once had abundant resources given by the Loktak lake to feed their family and children but are now facing harsh conditions of city life just to survive.

Chandrakumar and Pramila, the couple from Thanga Heisnam Liekai now have a very different life today at a rented place at Keishampat with their two children.

Few years ago, Chandrakumar would sail the Loktak lake and catch fishes and Pramila would sell them (fishes) at Ningthoukhong bazar.

The couple would thank 'Loktak Lairembi' (Goddess of Loktak) and they would feed their family, send their children to schools.

Fishing was all Chandrakumar was very good at and for many years it was enough for the family to meet ends.



Survival story of displaced fisherfolks told
Survival story of displaced fisherfolks told


But all changed when the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project came and deprived him of his only means of earning income and feeding his family.

His floating farm hut in the middle of the lake along with several hundreds were razed to ground and phumdis (floating biomass), which held the fishes were removed.

All these changed their course of life and forced the couple to move to the city in pursuit of a new life.

The magnificent Loktak lake in Moirang, Bishnupur district is about 52 kilometres from the capital city Imphal.

After construction of the Ithai Barrage, the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project was commissioned in the year 1983 and subsequently, the Manipur Loktak Protection Act 2006 was enforced.

The Loktak lake was divided into two zones - 'Core Zone' and 'Buffer Zone'.

The core zone was further subdivided into 'No Development Zone' and 'Totally Protected Zone' .

The Loktak Development Authority, starting from November 15, 2011 burnt down as many as 777 floating farm huts which fall under the Core Zone.

More than 80 Phumdis (floating biomass) which were used by the farmers to farm fishes were removed.

Above this, the Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006 also restricted use of fishing equipment when farming inside the Core Zone.

All these had affected Chandrakumar and Pramila and hundreds of other local farmers who were dependent on the lake for their survival.

Hundreds of people who were skilled fishermen were turned into unskilled labourers and forced to move out to other areas and cities in search of jobs.

Expressing how the' family is surviving in the city, Pramila, 55, told The Sangai Express that they have been staying at rent in Imphal since the past 8 years.

"As fishing was no longer possible, we searched for other jobs.

Before moving here, for a short period of time, my husband used to work at a dam construction site.

He had no skills other than fishing.

Life was hard and we moved to Imphal with hope to find jobs.

Through one of his friends, my husband is now working as a construction worker.

But due to coronavirus, he is not working at present," Pramila said.

Pramila added she sells fish at Khwairamband bazar to earn extra money and help feed the family and send their children to school.

Her daughter is pursuing BSc Nursing (final year) and her son has finished three years engineering in Electronics after clearing Class XII.

Recounting the past, she asserted that they never received any compensation for their farm hut, which was burnt down.

"We are poor.

We couldn't afford to sit idle waiting for the compensation money.

We have to work daily else we would starve," she said.

"Even though we were struggling, life on the lake was somewhat easy for us as we were raised there.

We knew how to fish.

We would catch all kinds of fish and I would sell them in the market," she said, adding that the city life is hard to cope with everything 'moving fast' .

Selling fishes at Ningthoukhong bazar is different from selling fishes at Khwairamband bazar, she said recalling that her mother used to sell fishes at Khwairamband bazar and she would accompany her.

Loktak Fishery Welfare Association, secretary, Heisnam Chaoba said even though the Loktak Lake Protection Act 2006 aims at protecting the water body, it is an 'aggressive' Act against the farmers.

The burning down of the farm huts and restrictions in place have robbed the livelihood of hundreds of locals.

Many were displaced and moved out of the villages and they are now staying in rents at Imphal and other places in search of jobs.

As they are unskilled, they could not find good jobs.

Many are now driving auto-rickshaws, pulling carts and engaged in construction works, he said adding that the Government has not yet compensated the farmers (owners) for the Phumdis (floating biomass) it removed.

Centre for Organisation Research and Education, president, L Debbrata Roy said displacement of people due to development projects is increasing in Manipur.

The Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project and the Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006 had forced many to move to urban areas in search of livelihood as unskilled labourers.

Such development projects not only displace the people but affect their lifestyle, means and way of earning income and drag them down below poverty line, he said.

This is report is filed under the fellowship of the Khelen Thokchom Trust .


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