Almost after 30 years, Manipur's Champu Khangpok village of Loktak Lake was approved as a Polling Station on November 11, 2020 by the Election Commission of India. However, just a year later, the polling station was shifted to Karang Junior High School.
During the approval, joint Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Manipur Ramananda Nongmeikapam said the decision was taken following a detailed inquiry. The polling station has been shifted to another place looking into the ecosystem of the area and the cumbersome it could be for officials while performing their duty with voting machines, the Joint CEO clarified.
The joint CEO also stated that the polling station is being shifted to another place following DC's report and concern.
When this Imphal Free Press reporter spoke to Ejas Hassan, Election Officer of Bishnupur and inquired about the station, the officer said that an objection application from Loktak Development Authority (LDA) has also been submitted for further inquiry about the polling station with various claims.
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Rather than performing election duty, taking the required number of manpower, security and also electoral machines or ballot paper to that floating station will be very problematic. Therefore, the polling station has been shifted to Karang Junior High School, the officer said.
In connection with the matter, secretary of ALLAFUM, Oinam Rajen said that the residents of some floating villages were very happy when they found out polling stations had been approved. About 312 residents of Champu Khangpok had to travel for at least one and half hours by boat to cast vote and these people in fragile, temporary huts which stand on delicate 10-feet thick spongy mats of organic waste, natural vegetation and soil courtesy, locally called Phumdis (biomass), in the middle of the lake. The residents were stuck from the electoral records in the mid 1980s, Rajen informed.
Until November 11, 2020, the 312 families did not exist in any government records, except for the census of 2011, he added.
He said the residents had to register for their voting rights and other government amenities in the village of Thanga, two hours away. When the polling station was approved at the Champu Khangpok, the residents were very happy, Rajen said.
"Shifting of polling station to Karang Junior High School will be a big problem for casting votes as it will take one and half hours to reach the polling from Champu Khangpok areas”, Rajen said lamenting that the trust of casting vote without struggles has been snatched again.
Indigenous Perspective Manipur convenor Ram Wangkheirakpam said that after detailed enquiry the approval was given for the polling station at Champu Khangpok. Now that the polling station has been shifted to Karang side, there could be a hidden agenda, he alleged. The Indian constitution has given every citizen above 18 years of age the right to vote and in a democracy every citizen has the right to vote in a comfortable booth. It is the duty for ECI officials to make the polling station a comfort zone for citizens, he added.
It should be noted that the LDA has submitted an objection application regarding the polling station at Champu Khangpok.
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With regards to the objection, the LDA stated that as per the Representation of people's Act, 1951, every citizen of India having adult franchise has the right to vote as fundamental rights. However, under the provision of the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, it strictly prohibits certain activities in specified zones including building any huts or houses on Phumdi inside the lake.
In this regard, it is worth referring the provision of the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 under section 1(3) wherein the jurisdiction of Loktak Lake extends to the whole of 236.21 sq km comprising large pockets of open water and marshy land formed at the southern part of the Imphal valley upto the confluence of Manipur River Khuga in the districts of Imphal West and Bishnupur, Manipur, located between 93 degree 46 minute and 93 degree 55 minute Longitude and 24 degree 25 minute and 24 degree 42 minutes N-latitude, and divided division of two zones namely, (a) Core zone and (b) Buffer zone; Having regard in the "Core zone" which will be no development zone or totally protected.
This zone consisting of 70.30 sq km and "buffer zone" remaining area of the lake excluding core zone consisting of an area of 165.91 sq km under provision to section 4 of the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 strictly prohibits any part of the Loktak Lake whatsoever standing within the Loktak lake together with all addition there to or alteration thereof which may be made after the commencement of the Act should be sold out or lease or let out on hire or exchanged on mortgage or otherwise transfer or conveyed or allotted or converted in any form whatsoever to any person or organisation or agency or trust.
It also mentioned the ecological status and its biodiversity value Loktak Lake, notified as a Wetland in the list of international importance under the provision of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention) on March 23, 1990 by the Government of India.
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For the protection and improvement of natural environment of Loktak lake having notified as a State Wetlands under Ramsar Convention of International importance, opening of Polling station is unauthorized and illegal occupancy in the Core zone which is under protected area/zones is paramount violation of the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 and Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, the objection application from the LDA added.
LDA appealed to ECI to reconsider any decision for opening of polling station on the protected sites at Champu Khangpok, situated at Loktak lake if any, likely to induce adverse changes in Wetland Ecosystem in structure and ecological functioning in the future.
Oinam Rajen further told this IFP reporter that the approval of the polling station was given after detailed inquiry through the DC of Bishnupur, who made a further inquiry through the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) concerned. Then, what is the main reason for shifting it to another place, Rajen questioned.
First published:2 Dec 2021, 5:42 pm
floating villagemanipur assembly electionchampu viallgeKarang Junior High School
IFP Reporter, IMPHAL, Manipur