Dams · Wetlands

North East Wetlands Review 2017: “Remove Ithai Barrage on Loktak Lake”

MANIPUR

Loktak lake is the largest freshwater lake near Moirang in Manipur state. In local language Loktak means end of stream. The lake is referred as the “lifeline of Manipur” as it is highly productive and provides habitat to biota and livelihoods to people. The lake is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is widely famous for the phumdis (heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter at various stages of decomposition) floating over it.

In 1990, the lake was included under Ramsar Convention as a ‘Wetland of International Importance’. But over the years, NHPC’s hydropower projects specially Ithai Barrage have led to severe impact on the lake eco-system and serious disturbance in local community.  Despite this, NHPC has been pushing more hydro projects on the lake streams. As a result, local people and concerned have univocally and repeatedly started protesting against proposed hydro projects and demanding removal of Ithai barrage. And the demand have only grown louder in 2017.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loktak_Lake

Loktak Lake developments in 2017

Documentary Shows Impact of Loktak HEP on Fish In his debut feature film, director Haobam Paban Kumar has boldly straddled a fictional tale and the real-life struggle of the fishermen of Loktak Lake. One must salute the award winning director Haobam Paban Kumar of Manipur for making first and award winning documentary Floating Life on struggle of affected people of Loktak and now a feature film Lady of the Lake also on the same back drop, involving the local people as actors. However it’s a bit strange that the article does not mention Loktak Hydroelectric Power project (HEP) of NHPC, cause of the problem. http://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/entertainment-others/the-water-runs-deep-4507494/ (The Indian Express, 05 Feb. 2017)

Do not Allow Hydro Project to Destroy Loktak Lake In another video report, India Water Portal called for wise use of Loktak lake, rather than allowing hydropower destroy it. According to report, a poor understanding of the seasonal flows of water and a narrow focus on hydropower generation has transformed the naturally fluctuating lake into a reservoir. Regulating the wetlands for hydropower generation has led to an alteration in the ecology of the lake’s ecosystem resulting in the long-term damage to the wetland. http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/floating-national-park-calls-help (Indian Water Portal, 13 July 2017)

 

Further, in a detailed report Iboyaima Laithangbam explains how Loktak HEP and other threats are leading to the slow death of the lake…..

 “The phumdis float during the rains and sink during the dry months, sucking nutrients from the lake bed to replenish their roots and float again when the next monsoon cycle begins. This has been their life cycle for centuries but it is now at grave risk as the Loktak HEP constantly keeps the water level in the lake high thus hampering the nutrient supply to phumdis.

Unable to feed from the nutrients on the bed, the phumdis are thinning out and even breaking away. Worse, local residents themselves are breaking off pieces of the biomass to sell elsewhere as rich fish culture soil. Edible plants, fruits and roots endemic to the phumdis, and once a thriving food source for Manipuris, are slowly dying. http://www.thehindu.com/society/can-hope-float-loktaks-phumdis/article19276922.ece  (The Hindu, 14 July 2017)

CM Calls For Review Of Loktak Project, Removal Of Ithai Barrage In most important development, in August 2017 Chief Minister (CM) Nongthombam Biren Singh urged Prime Minister (PM) Narendar Modi to review the Loktak Project as a permanent solution for frequent floods in the State.

The Ithai dam has become the main cause of flood in the State and in needs to be removed. It further says that Loktak project was taken up long before only to get some power but now the State is having sufficient power. Damages done by the flood is leading to higher  losses to the State. http://kanglaonline.com/2017/08/cm-biren-calls-for-review-of-loktak-project-removal-of-ithai-barrage-ne-floods-pm-announces-rs-2000-crore-relief/ (Kangla Online, 2 Aug. 2017)

Civil Societies Demand Removal of Ithai Dam In Sept. 2017, speaking at a public meeting civil society representatives stated that Ithai dam has caused loss of agriculture land and led to extinction of several native fish species. The barrage was also held responsible for recurring floods and damage to biodiversity in upstream and downstream of it.  They said that the barrage and HEP were doing more harms than good to the people of the State. It was also stated that there was absence of MoU between the NHPC and the government on the operation and functioning of the Loktak HEP and NHPC has been given a complete free hand without any monitoring, regulation and accountability mechanism.

The meeting resolved to appeal the central govt to decommission the Loktak HEP immediately. NHPC should compensate all the destruction made since the commissioning of the project and it must be punished according to the rule of law. After the public meeting a silent rally was taken out in Ningthoukhong bazar area demanding decommissioning of Ithai barrage and Loktak project and to investigate against NHPC. https://cramanipur.wordpress.com/2017/09/04/cries-for-decommissioning-ithai-barrage-get-shriller/ (CRA Manipur, 4 Sept. 2017)

Villagers Demand Removal Of Ithai Barrage Following the meeting, the villagers of Nongmaikhong, a small village located about 55 km south of Imphal, on the southern part of Loktak lake in Manipur’s Bishnupur district demanded removal of Ithai barrage for the revival of their sustainable livelihood.

 “We experience worst ever flood in the past one decade as flood water entered our fish farms three times in a row”, says 47 year old housewife N Bidyarani Devi of Nongmaikhong Awang Leikai. “So whatever we have in the fish farms has gone.”

According to another villager, more than 80,000 ha of arable land was destroyed by water inundation and frequent flash flood through the year after the project was commissioned in 1983. http://www.easternmirrornagaland.com/villagers-demand-government-remove-ithai-barrage-in-manipur/

Governor Lends Support To Remove Ithai Barrage Campaign In Sept. 2017, Manipur governor Najma A. Heptulla said that she was trying hard for removal of the Ithai barrage as it was polluting and choking Loktak. She had reportedly met the Environment Ministry on the issue. She further said that the Centre and the State Govt are considering the removal of Ithai Barrage. https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170921/jsp/northeast/story_174214.jsp (The Telegraph, 20 Sept. 2017)

Devise Mechanism To Deal With Post No Ithai Barrage Situation In Oct. 2017, in an informative blog Salam Rajesh writes “Imagine Loktak minus ten or more feet of water level sunk. Overnight the picture could be that of another Yaralpat – with just some portion of water body retained at the central parts (perhaps around Karang and Thanga islands where the water is deeper) and exposed land (read wasteland) extending inwards at least around four to five Kilometres from its present shoreline. Other than the ecological ‘disaster’ in the water depressed areas, there probably could be a rush by locals to occupy the exposed land for various purposes, whether for agriculture, pisiculture, settlement or for ‘developmental’ activities. In the absence of a regulated mechanism to protect the boundary of the lake, there could be a free-for-all scramble to reclaim parts of the lake which was once under water.

It, therefore, is clear that with the question popped open on ‘de-commissioning’ of the barrage, there has to be serious deliberations on the outcome of such a move. It, of course, is another story whether NHPC or the Central Government will readily oblige to what CM Biren is proposing, whereas, the State should have a working mechanism in place to protect and conserve Loktak in all respects in case the decision to de-commission the barrage becomes a reality.”  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ithai-barrage-tales-sorrow-anger-social-economic-salam-rajesh (Linked In, 3 Oct. 2017)

Removal of Ithai Barrage To Affect Ecology: Experts In Dec. 2017, suggesting proper consultation with the experts in diverse fields, another report warns of drastic change in the environment and ecology of Manipur if the Ithai barrage is removed at the existing condition of the Loktak Lake.

Ithai barrage at Loktak lake (Image Source: North East Now)

The observation was made by Former Vice Chancellor Prof H Tombi of Manipur University while addressing a day-long discussion on wildlife conservation at Karang, a lake Island located in the middle of Loktak Lake. He further said that otherwise there are chances of cutting down the lifespan of Loktak Lake as the depth of the lake has been comparatively reduced in the recent past. https://nenow.in/removal-of-ithai-barrage-at-loktak-lake-to-affect-ecology-manipur-experts/ (North East Now, 27 Dec. 2017)

Fallacies Of 66 MW Loktak Downstream HEP Project Revealing the negative impact of Ithai dam on people and environment, Jiten Yumnam in his Dec. 2017 detailed report urged the state govt and NHPC to become accountable to the people of Manipur to redress and end the prolonged and unresolved multifaceted implications of Loktak HEP, considered as a curse for Manipur. Concluding the report he writes that respecting the voices and aspirations of communities would be crucial steps for fostering true democracy in Manipur. http://kanglaonline.com/2017/12/fallacies-of-66-mw-loktak-downstream-hep-project-in-manipur/ (Kangla Online, 20 Dec. 2017)

CRAM Decries Proposed Loktak Downstream HEP In Dec. 2017, the Centre for Research and Advocacy (CRAM) expressed its grave concerns over the continued pursuance by the NHPC for the construction of 66 MW Loktak Downstream HEP across the Leimatak River. CRAM termed the NHPC pursuance as untimely and a complete disregard for the indigenous peoples of Manipur who have long been demanding the review and decommissioning of the Ithai Barrage. http://kanglaonline.com/2017/12/cram-decries-the-proposed-loktak-downstream-hydroelectric-project/ (Kangla Online, 20 Dec. 2017)

In May 2017 NHPC planned to start the 66 mw Loktak Downstream HEP within six months at an estimated cost of Rs 1250 crore. A dam at Tousang Khullen upstream, three power generating units in the downstream are to be built under the project and it would affect around 211.5 ha land. https://www.northeasttoday.in/loktak-downstream-project-to-take-off-soon/ (North East Today, 9 May 2017)

Here is one more informative blog by R.K. Ranjan on why Ithai barrage should be removed. http://www.ifp.co.in/page/items/20746/20746-ithai-barrage-a-fatal-threat-to-natural-drainage-system-of-manipur-valley

Other Loktak Lake Related Developments In 2017

First Floating Elementary School Inaugurated In Feb. 2017, a first of its kind Floating Elementary School was inaugurated at Langolsabi Leikai of Champu Khangpok village in Manipur. It was initiated by All Loktak Lake Fishermen’s Union in collaboration with People Resources Development Association (PRDA). The aim of the school is to provide education to drop outs students, who were rendered homeless due to the recent evacuation of phumdis.

Manipur floating school, Manipur school, floating school, India best schools, India floating school, Manipur school education, Manipur education, India education, education news, indian express news, phumdi evacuation, phumdi school
The school was recently inaugurated at Langolsabi Leikai of Champu Khangpok village in Manipur. (source: ANI/Youtube video capture)

The honorarium of the volunteers will be sanctioned by the PRDA, under the project called ‘Empowering vulnerable local communities for sustainable development’. The Loktak Development Authority had removed more than 700 floating huts as part of clearing the lake after the introduction of Loktak Lake (Protection) Act 2006. http://indianexpress.com/article/education/indias-first-floating-elementary-school-inaugurated-on-manipurs-loktak-lake-4522383/ (The Indian Express, 13 Feb. 2017)

A Rare Bird Species Sighted At Loktak The oriental white ibis or black-headed ibis (threskiornis melanocephalus), a near-threatened water bird, which is locally known as Mayang Urok, was sighted after a gap of 16 years at Loktak and its associated wetlands in Manipur. It is listed as a near-threatened bird species under the Birdlife International and IUCN Red list. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/near-threatened-water-bird-spotted-after-16-years-in-manipur/story-VQFPuu8YBDX4mTqZVKPShL.html  (Hindustan Times, 22 Jan 2018)

Similarly, scientists have discovered six new species of water beetle in water bodies of Manipur during a 3-year study on importance of aquatic beetle (coleoptera) in fresh eco-systems of Manipur. Although these species are new to Indian science, locals popularly call them Tharaikokpi macha (means beetle in local language) and have known them for years. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/six-new-species-of-water-beetle-found-in-manipur-wetlands/story-9bohx9qPCRf5s5b2jpN4hO.html  (Hindustan Times, 28 Dec 2017)

The water beetles’ scientific names (from left): Enochrus nigropiceus, Chasmogenus abnormalis, Paracymus Sp, Elmomophes brevicornis, Hydrocanthus guinuoti, Helochares atropiceus.
The water beetles’ scientific names (from left): Enochrus nigropiceus, Chasmogenus abnormalis, Paracymus Sp, Elmomophes brevicornis, Hydrocanthus guinuoti, Helochares atropiceus.(HT Photo)

ASSAM Wetlands Review 2017

Deepor Wetland Guwahati’s Smart City Dreams Dependent On Wetlands In a bid to develop natural heritage and monetise it, there are plans to develop Deepor Beel into a wetland park and a birding destination on the lines of the Hong Kong Wetland Park under Guwahati’s smart city project. This provides an overview of challenges of Guwahati as a smart city with water front and emphasises the need to protect the wetlands and water bodies and not just convert them to money making machines. https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/03/17/guwahatis-smart-city-dreams-dependent-on-wetlands/ (The Third Pole, 17 March 2017)  

On the other hand, in the wake of 26 greater adjutant Storks death at Deepor Beel Wetland Neha Sinha points out that no effective steps have been taken to protect the Ramsar site from growing garbage and pollution. https://thewire.in/105613/adjutant-storks-garbage-deepor/ (The Wire, 3 Feb. 2017)

Piled up garbage at Deepor Beel. Credit: Neha Sinha
Piled up garbage at Deepor Beel. Credit: Neha Sinha

Other Wetlands Developments 

Of Rare Birds & Vanishing Wetlands Assam Remote Sensing Application Centre has identified 3513 numbers of wetlands in the state. However, many of these wetlands are fast disappearing. In a survey carried out in 2015 by Nature’s Foster, a local NGO, it was found that many Asian water fowls are now on the brink of danger due to degradation of wetlands. The survey also found that over 20 wetlands in western Assam have by now vanished, either due to climate change impacts or conversion of these wetlands for other activities. Siltation is another major cause for the loss of wetlands. Due to heavy siltation, many wetlands are now turning into woodland. https://www.assamtimes.org/node/18368#sthash.N0TgPAzT.dpuf (Assam Times, 2 Feb. 2017)

Deepor beel. Pix: Biju Boro

1,367 Wetlands Facing Serious Threat A study by Prof Kaliprasad Sarma of the Dept of Environmental Science, Tezpur University has found that, out of its total 3,513 wetlands, 1,367 are facing serious threats to their existence and warns that these water bodies will become myths in the near future. Wetlands have been occupying around 7, 64,372 hectare land, covering around 9.74 % of its area. http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=dec2617/state050 (Assam Tribune, 25 Dec 2017,)  

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com )

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