TODAY -

Government burning homes of 1332 families in Loktak Lake, Manipur
- Asian Human Rights Commission -

November 18, 2011,

Government burning homes of 1332 families in Loktak Lake, Manipur
Government burning homes in Loktak Lake, Manipur on November 15 2011 :: Pix - Rameshchandra/ Karnajit Maibam - Hueiyen Lanpao



Asian Human Rights Commission
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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME
Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-237-2011
18 November 2011
INDIA: Government burning homes of 1332 families in Manipur
ISSUES: Right to life and housing; corruption; impunity


Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from human rights groups in Manipur concerning the state government's forced eviction of families living on Loktak Lake since 15 November 2011. The state police has used brute force to chase people away from their homes, including burning nearly 200 huts. Government security agencies for some time have been accusing the settlers of being illegal, and there have been reported cases of armed militant groups operating in Manipur and neighbouring states seeking the settlements as their refuge. It is alleged that the present eviction is in fact a security operation, and not to preserve the environment under the controversial Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, as claimed.

CASE NARRATIVE:

The State Government of Manipur has started burning down floating huts, Khangpokshang, built over Phumdis (floating plant mass) of the fishermen living in Loktak Wetlands in central Manipur from 15 November 2011 up to the present. The officers from the Loktak Development Authority and the Manipur state police carried out the deliberate burning down of the huts. The Loktak Development Authority had issued an eviction notice to the residents on 11 November 2011. Nearly 200 floating huts were already burnt by November 17, and the remaining 1,132 floating huts are to meet a similar fate. There are about 5,000 persons living in the floating huts located in Khuman Yangbi, Nambul Machin and Karang Sabal within the Loktak Lake.

The burning down of the floating huts is in accordance with the provisions of the much controversial Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, in particular Section 19 and 20 of the Act, which divides the 236.21 sq.km Loktak Lake into two zones - a core zone comprising 70.30 sq.km, which is a ‘no development zone’, or ‘totally protected zone’, and a buffer zone of other areas of the lake excluding the core zone. A vital aspect of this division is the prohibition on building huts or houses on Phumdis inside the lake, or Athaphum fishing, a destructive form of fishing using vegetation enclosures in the core area. This however, will adversely affect over 10,000 people living in Phumdi huts, as well as others dependent on the Lake.

The burning down of nearly 200 floating huts has led to the displacement of nearly 950 community members so far who has been living in these floating huts for generations. The number of affected families is expected to increase since the burning down of huts is continuing. The victims, including women, children and the aged have sought refuge at the Ningthoukhong Makha Leikai community hall in Bishenpur district, Manipur. The fishing gears and nets of the communities, their only means to catch fish from the Loktak wetlands were also burned and this has left the community having no means to find food for survival. Having lost all their belongings, including books, uniforms and school bags, many children can no longer go to school. With the winter already setting in Manipur, the displaced villagers are left to fend for themselves during the harsh weather.

Each household was offered Rs. 40,000 as compensation before their huts were burned. However, most of the villagers rejected this amount as too meagre, and not able to compensate their livelihood and survival needs. Moreover, there is no process to rehabilitate the affected villagers and their right to free, prior and informed consent has not been complied with. The Manipur police commandoes are threatening and intimidating the affected villagers before burning their huts. In many cases, the police also forced the displaced family members to burn their own huts.

The burning of the floating huts and the destruction of livelihood of the indigenous people dwelling in Loktak Lake constitute a serious violation of the “right to life”, “right to adequate housing” as guaranteed by the Constitution of India and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which India is party to and has pledged to uphold and practice. The failure to obtain consent of the affected communities also constitutes a serious form of discrimination targeting the marginalised communities and violates the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

Affected peoples on several occasions had been raising vehement opposition to the introduction of the controversial Loktak Protection Act, 2006, which they feared would break the age-old bond between the lake and its people. Indigenous peoples depending on the Loktak Lake for survival continue to demand the complete scrapping of the Act.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The Government of Manipur, through its Loktak Development Authority has been blaming the indigenous peoples dwelling in Loktak Lake for polluting and causing contamination of the Lake. However, the impact of the Ithai Barrage of the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, commissioned in 1984, which led to a huge scale devastation of the Loktak wetlands ecosystem, loss of indigenous plant and faunal species, disturbance of the wetlands' natural balance and cleansing system leading an accumulation of pollutants in the lake, has been ignored.

There is no comprehensive government policy to protect the environment in Manipur. Under the pretext of protecting wetlands to mitigate climate change and also to conserve wetlands, there is an increasing effort to evict poor fishermen and villagers who depend on the Loktak Wetlands and Lamphelpat Wetlands. The Loktak Wetlands Ecosystems has already been destroyed by the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric project. Furthermore, the government has been adopting an indiscriminate policy of converting the Lamphelpat Wetlands for heavy and widespread construction, including several government offices, military camps, Imphal Sewerage Treatment Plant, National Information of Technology buildings, National Games village, Langol Housing complex and the Police Housing complex, all of which has led to widespread destruction of the Lamphelpat Wetlands.

Development policies and projects have been pursued along with the militarisation of the state, whereby indigenous peoples' right to land and resources are denied with assistance from the military. The indigenous peoples' cry for help and calls for sustainable development and the respect of their rights are increasingly met with military might, suppression and violation of their human rights. Military operations in Loktak Lake are a common feature and on several occasions have led to displacement and human rights violations of people living in and around the Loktak Lake.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the authorities listed below asking for their urgent intervention in this case.

The AHRC is also writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context seeking an intervention in this case.

To support this appeal please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Burning down of houses in Loktak Lake should stop until adequate steps to fulfil evictees’ rights, particularly to housing and livelihood, are taken

Name of victims:
Meitei people residing in floating huts over Phumdis in Loktak Lake, Manipur, estimated to be 5000 residing in 1332 houses, of which 200 have been burned
Names of alleged perpetrators:
Loktak Development Authority, Government of Manipur and Manipur Police
Date of incident: 17 November 2011 and continuously thereon
Place of incident: Loktak Lake, Manipur

I am writing to express my concern regarding the burning down of houses at Loktak Lake in Manipur, India.

I am informed that the State Government of Manipur has started burning down floating huts, Khangpokshang, built over Phumdis (floating plant mass) of the fishermen living in Loktak Wetlands in central Manipur from 15 November 2011 until today. The officers from the Loktak Development Authority and the Manipur state police carried out the deliberate burning down of the huts. The Loktak Development Authority had issued an eviction notice to the residents on 11 November 2011. Nearly 200 floating huts have already been burnt by November 17 and the remaining 1,132 floating huts are to meet a similar fate. There are about 5,000 persons living in the floating huts located in Khuman Yangbi, Nambul Machin and Karang Sabal within the Loktak Lake.

The burning down of the floating huts is in accordance with the provisions of the much controversial Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, in particular Section 19 and 20 of the Act, which divides the 236.21 sq.km Loktak Lake into two zones - a core zone comprising 70.30 sq.km, which is a ‘no development zone’, or ‘totally protected zone’, and a buffer zone of other areas of the lake excluding the core zone. A vital aspect of this division is the prohibition on building huts or houses on Phumdis inside the lake, or Athaphum fishing, a destructive form of fishing using vegetation enclosures in the core area. This however, will adversely affect over 10,000 people living in Phumdi huts, as well as others dependent on the Lake.

The burning down of nearly 200 floating huts has led to the displacement of nearly 950 community members so far, who have been living in these floating huts for generations. The number of affected families is expected to increase since the burning down of huts is continuing. The victims, including women, children and the aged have sought refuge at the Ningthoukhong Makha Leikai community hall in Bishenpur district, Manipur. The fishing gears and nets of the communities, their only means to catch fish from the Loktak wetlands were also burned and this has left the community having no means to find food to survive. Having lost all their belongings, including books, uniforms and school bags, many children can no longer go to school. With the winter already setting in Manipur, the displaced villagers are left to fend for themselves during the harsh weather.

Each household was offered Rs. 40,000 as compensation before burning down their huts. However, most of the villagers rejected this payment as the amount is too meagre and cannot compensate their livelihood and survival needs. Moreover, there is no process to rehabilitate the affected villagers and their right to free, prior and informed consent has not been complied with. The Manipur police commandoes are threatening and intimidating the affected villagers before burning their huts. In many cases, the police also forced the displaced family members to burn their own huts.

The burning of the floating huts and the destruction of livelihood of the indigenous people dwelling in Loktak Lake constitute a serious violation of the “right to life”, “right to adequate housing” as guaranteed by the Constitution of India and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which India is party to and has sworn to uphold and practice. The failure to obtain consent of the affected communities also constitutes a serious form of discrimination targeting the marginalised communities and also violates the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

Affected peoples on several occasions had been raising vehement opposition to the introduction of the controversial Loktak Protection Act, 2006, which they feared would break the age-old bond between the lake and its people. Indigenous peoples depending on the Loktak Lake for survival continue to demand complete scrapping of the Act.

The Government of Manipur, through its Loktak Development Authority has been blaming the indigenous peoples dwelling in Loktak lake for polluting and causing contamination of the Lake. However, the impact of the Ithai Barrage of the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, commissioned in 1984, which led to huge scale devastation of Loktak wetlands ecosystem, loss of indigenous plant and faunal species, disturbance of the wetlands' natural balance and cleansing system leading to an accumulation of pollutants in the lake has been ignored.

There is no comprehensive government policy to protect the environment in Manipur. In the pretext of protecting wetlands to mitigate climate change and also to conserve wetlands, there is an increasing effort to evict poor fishermen and villagers who depend on the Loktak Wetlands and Lamphelpat Wetlands. The Loktak Wetlands Ecosystems has already been destroyed by the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric project. The government has also been adopting an indiscriminate policy of converting the Lamphelpat Wetlands for heavy and widespread construction, including several government offices, military camps, Imphal Sewerage Treatment Plant, National Information of Technology buildings, National Games village, Langol Housing complex and the Police Housing complex, all of which has led to widespread destruction of Lamphelpat Wetlands.

Development policies and projects have been pursued along with the militarisation of the state, whereby indigenous peoples' right to land and resources are denied with assistance from the military. The indigenous peoples' cry for help and calls for sustainable development and the respect of their rights are increasingly met with military might, suppression and violation of their human rights. Military operations in Loktak Lake are a common feature and on several occasions have led to displacement and human rights violations of people living in and around the Loktak Lake.

I therefore urge you to:

1. Immediately suspend the burning of the remaining floating huts at Loktak Lake;
2. Allow and support the affected villagers whose houses are being burnt and destroyed to rebuild their floating huts in the phumdis;
3. Provide adequate resettlement for affected fishermen near the lake with their free prior and informed consent so as to enable them to catch fishes and depend on the Loktak Wetlands for their survival;
4. Pay adequate compensation for the loss of properties of affected villagers, such as fishing nets and other equipments;
5. Repeal the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 as this Act has been formulated without the participation and consent of the affected communities and this Act has failed to address the root cause of the persisting and increasing problems of Loktak Lake caused by the Ithai Barrage of the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project;
6. Review the Loktak Multipurpose Project and consider decommissioning of the Ithai Barrage in accordance with the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams;
7. Recognise the indigenous peoples’ community rights over their land and resources and their right to define their development priorities using their land and resources;
8. Implement indigenous peoples right to free prior and informed consent before introducing any mega development policies and projects in Manipur in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
9. Stop all forms of displacement of indigenous peoples in the name of protection of wetlands which lead to the destruction of their survival and livelihood;
10. Stop the militarisation of indigenous peoples’ land, and stop using the military and law enforcing agencies on the pretext of promoting development projects in their territories without their consent.

Yours sincerely,


PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. The Prime Minister of India,
South Block, Raisina Hill,
New Delhi, 110 101
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 2301 2312
Fax: +91 11 2301 9545 / 11 2301 6857

2. Mr. P. Chidambaram
Home Minister
Griha Mantralaya
Room No. 104, North Block
Central Secretariat, New Delhi 110001
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2301 5750, 2309 3750, 2309 2763
E-mail: hm@nic.in

3. Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission of India
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi-110001
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 23340016
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

4. Mr. Y Joykumar Singh
Director General of Police
PHQ Imphal Manipur
795001 Imphal, Manipur
INDIA
Fax + 91 385 2223829
E-mail: dgp.mnp@hub.nic.in

5. Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh
Chief Minister of Manipur
New Secretariat Building
Bapupara, Imphal, Manipur
INDIA
Fax + 91 385 2451398
E-mail: cmmani@hub.nic.in

Thank you.
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission - ua(at)ahrc(dot)asia

Visit our new website with more features at www.humanrights.asia.




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