E-Pao! Robert Baite - A visit to Loktak

A visit to Loktak

By: Robert J Baite *

Loktak Lake never fails to fascinate me.

The vast shimmering water with floating bio-mass locally known as phumdis, the fisher-folks casting their nets expertly from their canoes, the migratory birds dancing ag-ainst the back-drop of sun-set, the glinting waters playing with the sun-rays, the Sangai hopping up and down at the Keibul Lamjao, floating restaurants, floating churches…makes Loktak a treat to one’s eye.

Indeed, it is marvellous Mother Nature at its best. Obviously, it’s a different civilisation for the people who depend on the lake for their livelihood and sustenance.

But of late, Loktak has started showing signs of neglect and apathy. Twenty years ago, one could see the vast horizon of the lake. Today, one can see the lake covered with greenery rather than the water.

I have had opportunity of travelling on boat on the lake on a few occasions. The people living in the area, informed us of how the rapid multiplication of phumdis have threatened the existence of the lake thereby affecting their lives as well. On the other hand, there was no outlet for disposal of the phumdis.

The breath-taking Loktak Lake

Sensing the dangers faced by the lake which could even lead to the extinction of it, the Government set up Loktak Development Authority. It had even started weeding out phumdis using cranes and machineries. But then, it seems it to be a job that requires much more than that.

The authority also became a hot-bed of controversies and allegations with regard to financial mismanagement. Questions were asked on why the Government felt necessary for the need of the Authority when it could not accomplish its given task after all these years.

Notwithstanding the allegations, the Authority from time to time has been trying real hard to convince the people that they are there for a purpose.

One can also understand the constraints of the LDA. Loktak Lake is known to be a sanctuary for militants due to its strategic locations. The number of operations mounted on them from time to time by security forces is a testimony to it.

In fact, militants are known to even patrol the lake and its fringes openly with sophisticated arms slung over their shoulders. LDA also had to face the brunt of the militants with their machineries being burnt down to ashes. Understandably, the atmosphere under which LDA is forced to work is not very encouraging.

This time the LDA came up with a new game-plan to weed out the phumdis from the lake. The Ithai Barrage under the custody of National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) was made to open up its gates so that the phumdis may be pushed down the Manipur River through Myanmar. The phumdis are cut into small pieces and the water current made to carry them away.

Last Tuesday, the Chief Minister was invited to see the activities of the LDA and the clearing of the phumdis. The invitation was also extended to the media-persons to get a first hand account of the activities. I readily jumped at the offer as I have mentioned in the beginning that Loktak holds a special place in my heart.

The D-Day arrived and we started our journey from the Chief Minister’s bungalow gate. The convoy of more than fifty vehicles zoomed past the wide paddy fields and non-descript villages on the Mayang Imphal Road. Obviously security was tight and fool-proof with the State and Central security forces manning the route which spanned for more than 100 kms.

The pot-hole filled roads were not a deterrent for the determined CM and his team. The sight of the long line of vehicles zooming in top speed with full security bandobast must have been a spectacle for the hundreds of people lining up on either side of the road.

If memory serves me right, I am sure the people of the area must have never seen such spectacle in their lifetime. As soon as we reached Sekmaijin Bridge, the Imphal West SP Clay Khongsai who accompanied the team left and the Thoubal SP Dr. S. Ibocha Singh took over charge.

The convoy snaked through the dusty and bumpy road towards Sugnu when we abruptly turned on the right just a few kilometers after crossing Waikhong. Our first stop was at Moramba Maril where some labourers were painstakingly driving down the phumdis with strong sticks. Bigger phumdis were cut down to size with a specially made knife which was attached to a stick. One by one, the phumdis floated down the river.

The Chief Minister and his team were briefed by the officials of the LDA and seeing the hard work; one cannot help but appreciate the labour. We then headed for Ithai Barrage. On the way, the convoy came to an abrupt halt. The team climbed a hillock to offer prayer to a local deity. From atop the hillock, one could see the Loktak Lake covered with greenery only.

After the customary offers were paid, we then continued our journey. Before we could continue our journey, the team stopped again this time at Topa Ching. It was already past 12 pm. Our stomach begins to growl. Food was the only thing that kept our mind obsessed.

At Topa Ching, the CM and his team were accorded a small reception. The locals poured out their grievances to the CM who was all this time listening to them patiently. We were also given a banana each, I believe, as a temporary arrangement for our ailing stomachs.

After about half an hour, we reached Ithai Barrage. The imposing barrage gates were opened and the water flowed freely. Along came phumdis of different sizes. Pleased, the CM decided to once again visit the periphery of the Lake. We came to Khordak river.

The water level, we could see, was going real down with the banks clearly showings its mark before the water was released. Phumdis which was supposed to coming rushing down was missing. It did not seem to please the CM. The NHPC officials were concerned over the low level of water since the water was used for transmission of power.

On the other hand, there was no phumdis and it was felt that the water was released unnecessary. Some opined that the LDA should have cut the pumdis for weeks and released them collectively. This could have saved water for power transmission.

We then headed towards Kumbi. On the roadside, silver pots of different shapes and sizes greeted us. It was a maiden visit for the CM and the Kumbi representative Mangi had tried his best to spruce up his Kendra. At Nongmaikhong, we stopped where the local people submitted a representation to the CM.

Nongmaikhong is a beautiful place to say the least. The area is covered with fish farms; some as big as the size of a football field. On the other side the Khuga River flows silently with people commuting on it with canoes. We asked a small boy who was watching the entire melee, what he had for lunch. Obviously the reply was ‘Nga thongba chai’ (fish curry).

We took another round of Kumbi. I suspect this was the game plan of the affable MLA N. Mangi who was proud to show his people that the CM has come to their constituency. We then headed towards Moirang from where we stopped for a lunch break at NHPC Guest House at the Loktak Project campus.

‘A little minute longer, I would have surely fainted due to hunger and fatigue. I have been drinking water to keep my stomach busy. Now it no longer can,’ rued a young journo. The lunch was, by any standard, a royal treat.

I could see the Chief Minister taking the vegetarian while others flocked at the non-vegetarian counter. Obviously, the rice and the non-vegetarian items disappeared in a blink of a second. Some were eating as if there was no tomorrow.

With our stomach filled, we felt we were not afraid of anyone then. The CM and his convoy zipped out while our team decided to ride peacefully. We were following them in a Maruti Van and you can imagine how our driver tried his best to avoid pot-holes and at the same time keep up with the speed of the convoy.

The cassette rack inside the van broke free and we also had to take some generous bumps on our heads. But then, it was a fulfilling journey for me. I look forward to see Loktak again, this time with its emerald waters welcoming us.

* Robert J Baite wrote this article for The Sangai Express. He can be contacted at robertbaite(at) . This article was webcasted on 22nd July 2007.

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