Loktak Lake and Manipur in ecological disaster

M Asnikumar Singh *

Fishermen fishing at Loktak lake  :: February 02 2015
Fishermen fishing at Loktak lake in February 02 2015 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

Presently, Manipur is facing one of the worst man made ecological disasters in its history. Loktak lake is the largest natural fresh water lake in the North East with variable size and reaching upto 35*13 kilometres during rainy season. Being highly productive and rich in bio-diversity, the lake has been the cradle of Manipurís valley civilization and has played important roles in the socio-economy, ecology, culture and civilization of the state. Ithai Dam is the main reason for the flash flood disaster we are facing today.

Loktak is facing one of the worse floods since 1966. Since the commissioning of Ithai Barrage in 1983, there have been disastrous flash floods in and around Loktak. These floods have severely affected the socio-economic life of the people of Manipur. The Loktak flood is man made due to various reasons that are cited below.

One main reason for inundation of the Loktak is the Ithai Coffer Dam constructed on Manipur river in 1979 for the maintenance of optimum water level for the Loktak Hydro Multi Purpose Project owned by the National Hydro-Electric Project Corporation (NHPC). Loktak Lake is a major component of the Manipur river system and acts as its reservoir.

Naturally, Manipur river falls into Irrawady river which further meets Chinwin river downstream and hence, Loktak and its catchment areas receive varieties of migratory fishes from these rivers. Since the construction and commissioning of this dam, there have been drastic overnight changes in the hydrological path of Loktak that have in turn adversely affected the environment and socio-economic condition of the people of Manipur, Loktak dwellers being the most affected.

The dam has blocked the course of Manipur river that drains Loktak Lake. This blockage has brought irreversible losses to the health of this rich fresh water lake in the North East. Many flora and fauna have become scarce and on the verge of extinction. These are evident by the dwindling varieties of native endemic species, including fishes, edible plants like heikak yelli, heikak, Taothabee paddy, etc.

The Ungamel Channel drains out excess water from Keibul Lamjao, the floating National Park on Loktak Lake. Due to the project, the natural pathway of Ungamel Channel is completely altered. The resultant inundation has critically endangered the existence of the endangered Sangai (blow antlered deer) in Keibul Lamjao.

Another major threat to the health of the lake is the uncontrolled use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the catchment areas of the lake. Within minutes of use, these toxic chemicals poison the water body and affect all who depend on it. This is a continuous process with increasing intensity making the lake a living biological health hazard. Encroachment is another huge threat.

Dangerous level and rate of siltation. This is due to excessive deforestation in the catchment areas of the lake, dumping of plastic and other non-degradable objects in the lake directly or through its tributaries. The distortion has caused excessive eutrophication causing unprecedented pollution of the lake. Naturally, the Khordak channel connects the lake towards the east and south-eastern sides and functions as both the inlet and outlet of the water channel of the lake.

The Loktak Hydel Project has distorted the natural pathways of Khordak and allows only inflow of water to the lake causing as estimated of over 4.4 lakh cu.m of siltation that has practically swallowed the lake bottom.

These are the four main causes for the Loktak issue in hand that has resulted in this ecological disaster today. The Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Loktak Hydro Multipurpose Project was made in 1972. Loktak Hydel Project was corporatized and Ithai Dam commissioned in 1983.

In the DPR, several promises were made, some of which are mentioned herein. The project promised to distribute the 60,000/- hectares of agricultural land to the landless people of the state upon its commission. Now, over one lakh hectares of agricultural land have been submerged by the dam and lakhs of people displaced.

It also promised free Loktak drip irrigation for 40,000/- of hectares to enable multiple cropping. The irrigation has failed. The corporation promised an annual 12% of royalty to the Government of Manipur from the total amount of profit the National Hydro-Electric Project Corporation (NHPC) generated from the hydel project.

It promised to provide the electricity it generates at 10 paisa/unit to the people of Manipur. Now, the people buy electricity at Rs 3/unit. Thus, we are at an important point of history in which the people must know the total number of megawatts of electricity that the Loktak Hydel Project that has produced since its commission in 1983.

An estimate of over four lakh people who depend upon this lake for their primary source of income have lost their livelihood due to these projects. We have seen, felt and lived the negative impacts of these projects on the people of Manipur for the last 34 years. There is no need for more evidence to prove what these destructive projects have caused to the people, environment, economy and society of the people whose culture is intricately entwined with this lake.

Phumdi, the natural floating biomass is an important part of this lake ecosystem. However, too many politics over phumdi has resulted in multi crore scams of corrupt officials. The fact that the lake is systematically being destroyed is proven beyond all reasonable doubts by now.

In just 34 years, the destruction of the lake has brought untold sufferings to the people. It will take just another 15-20 years to kill the lake completely if the government does not intervene at this right critical time for development and peace in the state.

Modern technologies have produced many unsustainable means of energy production. The need of the hour in this violent ridden state is to save this Ramsar Site for finding a lasting peace by adopting eco-friendly and sustainable means of producing electricity.

Having discussed the causes and impacts of the Loktak Hydro Electric Project and Ithai Dam, it is amptly clear today that the most important challenge in the hand of the people is to decommission these disastrous projects that have brought Manipur into the present crisis today. The people of Manipur can live better without Loktak Project. We cannot develop without Loktak.

To find a peaceful solution to the violent situation in Manipur, there needs positive and sustainable development in the State. One of the major issues of the state is Loktak. For this, Loktak Project and Ithai Dam need to be reviewed at the earliest.

* M Asnikumar Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is vice-chairman of Manipur Infrastructure Development Agency (MIDA) and vice-president of BJP Manipur Pradesh This article was posted on July 28, 2017.

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