Looking at Loktak from different perspectives
- Part 1 -

Oinam Nabakishore Singh *

 Loktak Lake - Largest Fresh Water Lake in North East India :: First Week of June 2013
Loktak Lake - Largest Fresh Water Lake in North East India :: First Week of June 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

Loktak lake, the pride of Manipur, is the largest freshwater lake in the north-east India.

Its beauty is enhancedby moon light, by the vast expanse of water dotted with green vegetation, islands of Thanga and Karang and surrounding blue mountains forming the backdrop of the lake. During windy and stormy time, one gets to see high waves. The migratory birds and other birds, which are normal inhabitants available round the year add to the charm and splendor of the lake.

Ballads of Moirang(Moirang Parva, Khuyon Haoba, etc.), handed down from generation to generation and popular among the people in the valley, narrated through various art forms-Pena, Khongjom Parva, Khunung Eshei/Khullang Eshei, etc. , profusely mention Loktak lake. Hero and heroines of the romantic ballads had romantic anecdotes in Loktak.

They also exchanged romantic duets in Loktak lake. Subsequent generations associate Loktak with romance. Being born and brought up on the edge of Loktak since the late nineteen fifties, I have some first-hand personal knowledge and understanding of Loktak lake.

The lake had a cycle of flooding in the monsoon pushing the boundary of the lake right upto the edge of habitation areas in the surrounding villages and receding boundaries in the winter season.

This cycle influenced the ecosystem of the lake in various ways. People living in the islands of Loktak lake, Thanga and Karang, and villages along the edges of the lake adapt to the s of volume of water, accompanying vegetation, fishing mode and gears, etc. Domesticated animals like cattle and horses also adapt to the availability of fodder and grass for grazing due to change of wet and dry areas of lake.

Loktak is also a source of livelihood for more than one lakh people living in Thanga island, Karang island, and all other villages situated along the boundary of lake in four districts of Bishenpur, Imphal West, Thoubal and Kakching.From time immemorial,people havebeen catching fish in Loktak by using dugoutcanoe made locally available trees in the hills of the state.

Huge tree trunks of Uningthou, Teiren, Cham, Tolhao, etc. were used to make dugout canoes by using simple tools of axe and side axe. Local carpenters work on the rough dugout canoes to remove the rough edges, smoothen the surfaces using jack plane, chisels, etc. The skill of indigenous people of making reliable dugout canoes used for fishing, boat race and transportation on water is evidence of an old civilization able to make tools and fishing gears required to support their survival. They also know the maintenance of boats as they age and need repairs.

Catching fish has been the main source of livelihood of people of Thanga and surrounding villages, even though some people are engaged in agriculture and allied activities. In the past, some 70-80 years back before the inauguration of Loktak hydro power project, fish was found in abundance in Loktak lake.

The catch was so abundant that fishing community had to develop the skills and process of preserving fish for future uses by drying in the sun and smoking in the fire. Bamboo baskets having lower storage space and removal cover of various sizes were used to keep dry fish over long period and transportation for sale.

People of Thanga, being entirely dependent on fishing, learn different techniques of catching fish over the ages. Fish traps, mainly made of bamboo strips, of different sizes to suit various fish are made and used in Loktak lake. Similarly, fish nets for different fish sizes are made locally and used. Both lifting and dip fishing nets are used.

Besides, many other fishing gears made of iron and steel, called “Long”, a bunch of harpoons arranged cylindrically and fixed on a long bamboo handle, are used. Line fish hook fishing is also common. Encircling an area allowing fish to collect and live there for some time and catching them by creating a turbulence, locally called, “Phum Thaba”, is also used on a large scale. One can see a large number of circles on the lake while flying over the lake.

When Loktak hydroelectric project was conceived, and implemented, there was euphoria in the state as it was the largest central government financed project to generate power. Loktak lake is used as reservoir, from where water is taken to the other side of the hills through water channel and tunnel. By exploiting the potential energy from difference in water levels on either side, three turbines are used to generate 3×35 MW=105 MW of power.

The power station was inaugurated in 1984 and since then, power has been generated in varying amounts depending on water volume in Loktak. The major benefits of the power station now go to the National Hydro Power Corporation(NHPC), a government of India enterprise, except the royalty power of 12.5% share in power generation for Manipur, employment of some local people, CSR activities and local development works. In financial terms now, the benefit to the state from the power station is insignificant.

State government also buys some power from the power station at a cheaper rate. If one looks at the total power purchase by the MSPDCL, the share of Loktak Hydro Power station is not substantial. On this day, even if Loktak Hydro Power Station is abandoned for socio-economic and environmental grounds, the loss to the state will not be very large, whereas the economic and environmental adverse effect of Loktak Project is enormous. Loktak lake is like a living being. Small rivers originating from the hills abutting the eastern and western edges of the valley fall into Loktak.

They fill the lake with fresh rain water whenever there is rain in the catchment areas. During the period of heavy rains in monsoon, the flow of water is fast and furious. Because of continuous deforestation of catchment areas, the volume of silt brought by these rivers has been increasing leading to large scale siltation and shallowing of Loktak. In the past, vast areas of the lake had depths more than twenty feet. With increasing siltation, holding capacity of the lake is decreasing day by day.

Nambul river, which goes through crowded city of Imphal brings a lot of pollutants and plastic articles to Loktak. Apart from siltation, another major threat to Loktak lake is deposit of pollutants in the lake rendering the lake unfit to support plant and marine/aquatic organisms of the lake. However, the major rivers of the state, Barak, Imphal river which becomes Manipur river after merger with Iril, Sekmai, Khuga and Chakpi do not fall into Loktak.

While Barak goes to Assam and Bangladesh to fall in Bay of Bengal, Manipur river joins Chindwin river in Myanmar, which joins Irrawady river to fall in Bay of Bengal. Imphal river is connected to Loktak through a channel called Khordak,which acts like a two-way valve. In order to have adequate water storage to meet the requirement of Loktak Hydro Power station, a dam was constructed over Manipur river at Ithai to allow diversion of water to Loktak through Khordak channel. This dam has altered the natural life cycle of Loktak and its ecosystem as well ecosystem of surrounding areas.

Before the dam was constructed, as mentioned above, the excess water of Loktak used to be discharged to Manipur river through Khordak. It helped in preventing flooding by submergence in the river basins and villages adjoining Loktak. In the last few years, when there was flooding of settlements near the rivers of Imphal, Iril, Kongba, etc., there was a hue and cry to open the gates of Ithai dam. Some including the leaders of the state thought of dismantling Loktak hydro power station blaming it for the flood and sufferings of flood affected people.

Phumdis or thick biomass created over time by decaying weeds in the Loktak have created a huge problem as it started almost covering the lake. Before, the Ithai dam obstructed the flow of water, the weeds of Loktak were carried away by flow of water through Khordak to Manipur river and onwards to Bay of Bengal. After the water became stagnant due to stoppage of flow, weeds in Loktak grew luxuriantly.

Weeds posed a serious threat to the ecosystem of Loktak. The state government set up Loktak Developmment Authority to take care of clearance of Phumdis and desiltation. There has been considerable success in clearance of Phumdis though desiltation was held up due to disturbance in the works.

To be continued......

Views expressed are personal.

* Oinam Nabakishore Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on 02 October , 2018 .

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