The decision on foregoing Ningol Chakouba has been made. Responding to the clarion call from several CSOs and Meira Paibi units in every nook and corner of the valley, most families seem to make the decision to do away with Ningol Chakouba this year. Either by own accord in view of the crisis or responding to the call, there would not be Chakouba this second day of Hiyanggei. Besides the sanctity of age-old tradition and ritual, the occasion had been commercialised to a great extent in recent times leaving the poor families with little means in despair sometimes.
The race for high-end gifts and sumptuous feasts is not going to be, this year. Meira Paibis and local volunteers have made it their job of seeing through the abstinence of Chakouba. Of course, the foregoing of Ningol Chakouba have had great impact on the local economy of the state, most particularly in the growing fisheries sector. The state had never been able to meet the requirement of fish.
Annually, the state requirement of fish for consumption is about 52,000 metric tons while only about 32,000 metric tons are being produced by the fish farmers in the state annually. This year, the state had a target of 40,000 metric tons production. But, the state government has decided to do away with the Annual Fish Fair respecting the public sentiment. Question is, why should we cry over spilled milk? Why should not we think of turning it into an opportunity?
In the push for increasing production, vast stretches of swamps around the Loktak Lake were reclaimed for different forms of captive breeding of fish through the State Livelihood Mission and also opening of fish feed factories to cater to the needs of fish farmers of the state, who have had to buy feed brought from outside the state at a higher price.
The state government had not been able to fulfil the promise of self-sufficiency in fish production. What matters is the endeavour to upscale fish production in the state, where fish is a staple diet. It needs to be appreciated. Yet, we must also take into consideration that Manipuris are also very choosy in terms of the kind of fish they like to eat. It was not by choice that they are now eating the Indian carps whether imported or locally produced, but because indigenous fish varieties have become extremely scarce.
Indigenous varieties like Pengba, Ngaton and Khabak have completely disappeared from the riverine system of Manipur and Loktak Lake. Of course, some entrepreneurs have started captive breeding of these delicacies in fish farms and it is reaching the market during Chieraoba or Ningol Chakouba festivals.
Well, what caused these indigenous fish varieties to disappear? Scientists at Manipur University and Zoological Survey of India blame changes in the hydrology due to the construction of dams, blockage of migratory routes, drying up of wetlands from siltation, eutrophication and water quality deterioration, and overexploitation for declining indigenous fish diversity in the lake. Here in the state, the culprit is the infamous Ithai Barrage.
It was constructed in 1983 to elevate the water level of the Loktak Lake for the Loktak Hydroelectric Project. But it led to the destruction of this unique wetland ecosystem, permanently flooding over 83,000 hectares of farmland and pastures around the wetland, resulting in the loss of livelihoods and severely impacting the wetland’s biodiversity including indigenous fish varieties and vanishing of the age-old culture of the people living in and around the lake.As many as 16 species of indigenous fish are believed to have become extinct due to the blocking of water by the Ithai barrage.
And they forgot to construct the fish ladder in the Barrage. Pengba is the state fish of Manipur and is reported to be regionally extinct in the wild due to obstruction of its migratory route from Myanmar on account of the Ithai barrage. Now is the time to put our heads together to open up the highway for the fish to come and go.