Saving Nambul: Convergence of divergent views

Rajendra Kshetri *

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

Nambul in the News:

Nambul Is In The News. The river that flows through the Imphal Valley, the river that is the face of Imphal city and of course the very river that we, the Imphalites, all see everyday but didn't notice, is in the news. For all the wrong reasons though. The river is in the news not because it has been cleaned and is clean. Not because it has been accorded a 'heritage' tag by the UNESCO.

Not because a National/State Project by the name of "Project Nambul" (a la PROJECT TIGER) has been launched. Not because the river has found an entry in the Guinness Book of World Record (or Limca Book of Records) as the most polluted river on planet Earth. And certainly not because it shall be given the status of a 'living entity'.

Yes! Nambul Is In The News for no other reason than the simplest plain and highly visible fact that it is the dirtiest and most polluted river in the state of Manipur. Perhaps in the country. It is not as though this extremely dangerous level of pollution have taken place overnight. The pollutants, both biodegradable and non-biodegradable, have been accumulating over the years/decades.

We have been seeing it, saw it and see it every seconds of the three sixty five days. Rather than taking note of the increasing degree of pollution and expressing concern, people kept/keep on throwing wastes/trash without any sense of guilt, responsibility and civic sense. Nambul river has been taken for granted by the people and the State as well. The State has failed to protect the environmental needs of the river.

The people have failed to discharge their duties/responsibilities as responsible citizens. We all, as free citizens of a free Country, wanted/want to enjoy/get "rights" as enshrined in the Constitution. Too often we flared up and took to the streets if and when certain rights are denied to us. Quite understandably so. Do we, however, perform/discharge our duties/responsibilities towards the State/society? Do we act/behave in a responsible manner as expected of/from concerned/responsible citizens? Are we 'subjects' or 'citizens'?

Why do we always have this (unhealthy) tendency of blaming the state for anything and everything, right or wrong? Especially when we do not want and failed to discharge/perform our duties/responsibilities. 'Rights' without 'responsibilities' is akin to (read meaningless) throwing stones at the glass house forgetting that we too live in the glass houses. This will reduce any issue into a 'blame-game' game which serves no purpose to/for anyone.

Saving Nambul: Divergent Views

It is through this prism that the whole issue of protecting Nambul river or for that matter any other river, from further degradation/pollution, needs to be addressed. As is apparent (from a few write-ups, statements/action plans from the ruling dispensation and a couple of Editorials on Nambul), two lines of thinking could be discerned vis-à-vis the pollution of Nambul.

The first puts the blame on the People, particularly the residents on both flanks of the river who kept/keep on throwing wastes/kitchen scraps/garbage, biodegradable and non-biodegradable trash in the river in so irresponsible a manner without any sense of guilt and conscience. A sizeable number of households even resorted to throwing the kitchen scraps from the window.

Add to that the common sight of shopkeepers, chicken/meat vendors in the town throwing their wastes/trash from the bridges (not excluding a few well-dressed-civic-sensed looking people carrying the garbage in their four-wheelers and dumping them in the river). Such highly deplorable and un-civic practices on the part of these people must have prompted; I am pretty sure, those strong but timely statements/sentiments from the Executive Head of the State, Shri Nongthombam Biren Singh (Sangai Express, Feb.2, 2018; Poknapham, Feb.2, 2018).

The honourable CM have even gone on record to taking up punitive actions against the garbage throwers. The same/similar idea(s) were suggested/expressed by yours truly in two of his articles published in the English edition of Sangai Express ("Wanted: Manipur River Protection Force", April 13, 2017 and "Saving Nambul: Need of the Hour", Feb.7, 2018).

The second view, so to say, squarely blames the government for the ever-increasing pollution of Nambul. The main argument associated with this view, as evident from and reflected in a Letter to the Editor (of Sangai Express, English, dated Feb.7, 2018), is that when the state-owned civic body (read Imphal Municipal Corporation) have failed to perform/discharge its assigned duties in terms of collecting garbage and trash and disposing them off, why point the accusing fingers at the people (tax-payers).

The Imphal Municipal Corporation (IMC), ill-equipped as it is, in terms of infrastructure, manpower, vehicles etc., is ill-prepared (or is it 'unwilling'?) to collect/clean the garbage that in turn led/leads the people to throw them in the river. This line of argument /thinking is not entirely wrong and quite understandable but only upto a certain point.

Just because the civic body/authority doesn't collect and clean the garbage does not/should not mean that people have every right and could resort to throwing piles of garbage in the river. This is nothing short of righting a wrong by another wrong. But two wrongs do not/cannot make a thing right. This is where the question of 'morality', 'ethics', 'civic sense' and 'social values' come in the picture.

Convergence of Divergence:

Divergent views, as they are, but not contradictory to one another. Both are complementary, and if not, should be made so if Nambul is to be saved/protected from further degradation. What is urgently required/needed is the convergence of divergent views (a point underlined by the Editorials of both English and Manipuri editions of Sangai Express, Feb.8, 2018) for and in the larger interest of saving Nambul and other rivers flowing through the Imphal valley.

A two-pronged strategy could/should be adopted for the purpose – 'short term' and 'long term' strategies. Suggestive ideas/opinions/grievances as contained in the two schools of thought mentioned above, including that of the honourable Chief Minister's 'statements' pertain to short term strategy.

In fact, all the 'cleaning drives' and 'campaigns', 'one-off' small time projects that we all have witnessed/heard over the years are all short term measures. What is most unfortunate is the all-too-familiar stories/instances of how most of them are half-hearted, half-executed, half-finished and thus failed to serve the real purpose for which they were sanctioned/launched.

Need for a Long-Term Policy:

Be that as it may, any kind of short term measure is and should serve as a precursor to the long term strategy/policy. A long term strategy involves formulating a comprehensive, composite, integrated and holistic policy taking into account the history (of the river's origin), catchment areas, settlement pattern of the urban dwellers along the river banks, structure of urban town planning, solid-waste management system, proper sewerage system (what happened to the decade old French sponsored Imphal Sewerage Project???) and most importantly the socio-cultural life of the people on both sides of the river banks.

This is where the state of Manipur is terribly found wanting. Successive state governments have shown only lackadaisical attitudes towards formulating a long-term plan Policy for protection, preservation and conservation of Manipur rivers and their riverine eco-system. There is therefore, an urgent need today to initiate/formulate a MANIPUR RIVER POLICY given the pathetic, highly polluted filthy state of rivers, particularly Nambul, in the Imphal valley.

Rivers are the life-lines of people and cradle of civilization. Such a comprehensive long term policy will definitely go a long way in saving Nambul and other rivers from further pollution and degradation, if not completely restoring them to their pristine pure forms.

Why Nambul: All the rivers flowing through the valley are equally important and should be treated so. So why Nambul in the first place and/or of all the rivers??

Nambul has the unique distinction of being the one and only river in the valley which empties her water straight to the Loktak lake – the biggest/largest fresh water lake in the entire North-East India. Nambul is the only river which has an UMBILICAL relationship with, an UMBILICUS link to, the Loktak.

The preservation and conservation of Loktak- the pride of North-East – and her surrounding eco-system, rich bio-diversity, myriad varieties of fishes and endangered species of flora and fauna depend on the health of Nambul. The very survival of the critically endangered Sangai – the Jewel in the (Manipur) Crown– the only brow-antlered (dancing) deer, rucervus eldii eldii found nowhere else in the world, is intrinsically linked to the "shape of water" flowing from the Nambul.

Saving Nambul is asine qua non to saving Loktak and Sangai.

* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, Manipur University, Imphal.
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 March 18 , 2018.

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