Loktak Issue: Projects versus rights in Manipur
Date: 3 May 2013 | Delhi /
A delegation of All Manipur Thanga people’s Welfare Association and All Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union Manipur appeared before the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi on 29 April 2013. They appealed to intervene to defend their rights to fishing and livelihood on Phumdis in the Loktak Lake.
It is word mentioning that Loktak Lake, 236.21 sq km in area and the largest fresh water lake in the Northeast is a Ramsar designated site (1990) and entered the Montreux Record (1993). The controversial Loktak Protection Act 2006 classified the lake into Core and Buffer Zones. The Core which comprises of 70.30 sq km is abound in floating phumdi created by decomposing mass of vegetation, soil, and organic matters. Several phum-huts were built on the phumdis for fishing activity and as primary home of the landless fishing community.
The Loktak Development Authority created under LPA has taken up measures to strengthen the grips of the Government on Loktak. It implemented projects in the name of 'saving' the lake from pollution, contamination and human pressure. However, the projects have become contentious. It is being charged that the LDA issued ultra vires eviction notification on 11 November 2011 and carried out forced eviction of about 777 phum-huts out of 1147, inhabited by about 10,000 persons, in and around Loktak Lake from November 15 till 23 November 2011. In addition to the phum-huts, the LDA have destroyed Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan schools and National Rural Health Mission centres. Students and the local medical sector got affected by it.
Arsoning and dismantling of phum-huts was justified by adopting half hearted compensation model, i.e., Rs 40,000 per family. The amount was too less to cover up destructions of homesteads and fishing equipments and for rehabilitation. Most families refused to accept the money; while some who do not own or live in phumdis received back door compensation share. Despite protest, the LDA went ahead with destruction of 14 Phum-huts in January 2012 without any notice. Between 8 March 2012 and 29 March 2013 the LDA destroyed 56 phum-huts in contravention to the Gauhati High Court order of 25 January 2012. On 16 February 2013 a contempt notice was issued against the concerned authorities for violating court order. However, another arbitrary eviction effort was made on 29 March 2013.
In this scenario many have cited reasons against LPA. Firstly, the Act was enforced without free prior informed consent of the people who for several generations are dependent on the lake. It is ironical to discover that most technical terms mentioned in the Act are not properly defined for open debate and consensus. Secondly, increasing volume of phumdis, chemical contamination, and human pressure in the lake are the result of the controversial Ithai Barrage that had blocked natural flow of water and rendered thousands into landlessness due to submersion of vast track of the land under the water. Thirdly, the ongoing cleansing and displacement project is primarily designed by project monger politicians, contractors, and their middle class agents whose back door income is dependent on management of projects. They are in a rush to scramble for projects at any cost to the extent of violation of rights and contempt of court order. It led to the destruction of property and displacement of the vast chunk of the lower class fisher community whose homesteads, economic livelihood and socio-cultural system are connected to Loktak.
This is not the first time that there is project versus rights in Manipur. The Manipur government remains highly corrupted and irresponsive to the democratic demand against destructive projects. For the present issue the affected families are being added the burden of raising fund to send a delegate to the NHRC to raise their issue. On 29 April they submitted a memorandum with list of demands which include among others: to repeal Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006; to allow to rebuild Phum huts as before; to enact Manipur Loktak Lake Fishermen’s Rights and Welfare Act; to review Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project for possible decommission of Ithai Barrage; etc.
The Chairperson of the NHRC Justice Shri K.G. Balakrishnan, who headed the Full Commission hearing, took serious note of the issue. He assured the delegation that the NHRC will institute an enquiry in Manipur where affected victims would also be invited. It remains to be seen if the assurance is being materialized and the goals of the affected families are being achieved. In the meanwhile, the Loktak Issue should be the food for thought of the concerned authorities at the state and central levels. The leadership and higher officials need to respond so that projects do not add to displacement and unrest. Peoples want peace!
Dr. Malem Ningthouja Chairperson
Campaign for Peace & Democracy (Manipur)
* This info was sent by Dr. Malem Ningthouja who can be contacted at mningthouja[AT]yahoo[DOT]com
This Press Release was posted on May 04, 2013
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