Saving Nambul: Need of the hour

Rajendra Kshetri *

Nambul River in July 2016
Nambul River in July 2016 :: Pix - TSE

"Police would be deployed in civil dress to check improper disposal of garbage and pull up the culprits" – CM N. Biren, Sangai Express, Feb 2nd, 2018.

"….those responsible for disposing trash/wastes to the Nambul river will be arrested and exposed through/by media…" – CM N. Biren, Poknapham, Feb 2nd, 2018.

The above quoted two statements, coming as it did from no less a person than the honourable Chief Minister of Manipur, Shri Nongthombam Biren Singh himself, could not have come at a more appropriate time. These heartfelt statements coupled with anguished sentiments on the shocking conditions/state of Nambul represent the general but unheard voice of many a concerned citizens of the state.

No other Chief Minister in the political history of Manipur have ever said anything of this kind or something similar to this effect. It is in this contextual sense that it may rightly be said that Shri N. Biren is truly a Chief Minister with a difference with a capital D. The people of Manipur have in him a C.M. "of the people, by the people and for the people".

It needs no saying, no intelligence (ultra/artificial/otherwise), and no techno-knowhow to see, that Nambul that flows through the Imphal city is the most polluted, not one of the most polluted, river in the state. The river has been, over the years, practically reduced into a filthy garbage-ridden drainage. It has been polluted with garbage and excreta. This river is choking to death on its polluted water.

Nambul is literally poisoned by the criminal negligence of the State, monumental apathy of the powers-that-be, the short-sighted destruction of natural wealth and of course by the plain ignorance about environmental degradation. The river is not only polluted but over-exploited. The story of Nambul is a story of neglect and indifference, apathy and 'couldn't- care less attitudes' and a tale of utter disregard to the environmental needs.

Not too long ago, say some three/four decades back, Nambul used to serve people, particularly those residing on both sides of the river banks, for their daily domestic purposes and other household needs. It was (is??) the lifeline for the valley dwellers. Those were the days when Nambul river was so frequently used for navigation purposes.

I still remember very vividly the scenic sight of 'hi-honba' (row-boat) from Thanga Karaang canoeing up against the stream upto 'Thong Nambonbi' in the morning with their (organic) eatable items such as cabbage, thambou, heikak, kambong, koukha, egg etc,. How we loved and enjoyed buying them from the boat at our local 'heeden-tapham'.

It was a lovely sight (something to have had seen to believe) to see the rowing boat returning so effortlessly in the afternoon, what with the scenic mesmerizing image of sun setting reflected on the meandering water, (having bought what they want to buy from the 'Khwairamband Keithel')– canoeing back home down the Nambul stream. Where have that Nambul, that clean and navigable, rowable Nambul gone now???

Forty/fifty years down the line, Nambul today presents a pathetic picture of urban pollution. All thanks to the urbanised mindset of urbane people and their associated project-dam-centric activities. What is being witnessed in the soon-to-be 'smart city' of Imphal is not urbanisation but dirti-isation in and around the town. The valley rivers, particularly Nambul, are the first casualties.

One of the very common sights seen today in and around the city is people, particularly shopkeepers, vendors, meat/chicken/fish centres throwing garbage/kitchen scraps, plastic bottles and wastes and other non-biodegradable trash in the river. Nearby bridges are used as the most common platform for disposing the garbage. Come dusk and you will see this practice/habit at any given bridge nearby you.

Even well-dressed civic-sensed-looking people/couple are no exceptions. They all used their loan-bought four/two wheelers to carry their garbage and dump them on the river. Take a morning walk along the river banks and you will see Nambul or for that matter any other valley river, being decorated with plastic litters. To this should be added the daily sight of plastics floating on the river water.

The honourable Chief Minister's concern, expressed in no uncertain terms for the highly polluted Nambul made me revisit what I have suggested in one of my popular articles "Wanted: Manipur River Protection Force" published in the English edition of Sangai Express dated April 13th, 2017.

Four (4) points were listed in the said article as suggestive measures to protect/save the Nambul and other rivers flowing through the valley from further degradation/depletion:

1. Set up a Task Force by the name of Manipur River Protection Force (MRPF);
2. Keep 3 to 4 police personnel at every strategic point of all bridges in the valley to stop/check people from throwing garbage/wastes;
3. Impose fine/penalty on those found/caught throwing garbage;
4. Make garbage throwing (in the river) a punishable offence.

Needless to say, the aforesaid points are not exhaustive, only illustrative. One may add more, keeping in mind the exigencies and priorities of the State Policy Planning. This can be done/achieved properly and more appropriately by introducing/passing an Act in the House of Manipur Legislative Assembly.

The crucially important task of protecting rivers and saving them from further pollution has been and is one of the top priorities of the BJP led government at the Centre. That the Union government is very serious about river protection is clearly evident when it recently granted the status of "living entities" to 'Ganga' and two glaciers in the Himalayas, bringing them at par with humans. One wonders if something similar could be done, in tune with the Centre's initiative, by Shri N.Biren's BJP-led government in the State.

Coincidence or otherwise, the honourable Chief Minister's statements which hit the headlines on the leading local dailies gives me, as it would give every concerned citizen, moments of pride, pleasure, joy and happiness.

What remains to be seen, though, is whether Shri Nongthombam Biren's BJP-led government is serious enough and has the much-needed POLITICAL WILL to save Nambul and other rivers from further pollution and degradation.

Read poem on Nambul Turel by the Author here

* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Professor of Sociology at Manipur University, Imphal and the author of "The Emergence of Meetei Nationalism", "District Councils in Manipur: Formation and Functioning" and "Sociology: Perception and Conception". He is also the founding President of Manipur Sociological Society (MSS)
This article was webcasted on February 10, 2018.

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