Secretary of All Loktak Lake Areas Fishers Union Manipur (ALLAFUM) Oinam Rajen on Tuesday said that threats to Loktak lake and its fishing communities still exist in the name of various developmental projects while the fishermen still continue to struggle for their livelihood, years after their floating huts were torched in 2012.
He was speaking in a public meeting organised by ALLAFUM at Sinam Shyam Town hall located in Chingmeirong Maning Leikai.
Rajen said that the residents of floating huts of Loktak have been observing the Loktak Arson day and week, since 2012. This year marks the 10th year of the Arson day which is being observed from November 15 to 23, he said. “The struggle to enable people to continue living and earning their livelihood, primarily fishing at Loktak, is indeed everlasting and we have been able to meet the challenges till today,” he said.
It has been possible with continued support from several civil bodies, student bodies, NGOs, Human Rights Groups, farmers groups and also from the people within the government, who understand the plight of the fishers of Loktak, and he urged them to continue support.
“The reason for recalling those days of evictions and burning of the huts is because of the existing threats to Loktak and its fishing villages that exist even today. The system has not changed; the law remains the same despite numerous appeals. LDA continues to threaten the fishing villages of Loktak. We call upon other like minded groups, organisations and individuals to support and uphold the fishing community of Loktak,” Rajen said.
Indigenous Perspective Manipur convenor Ram Wangkheirakpam said that the government of Manipur started burning down floating huts or ‘Khangpokshang’, built over Phumdis of the fishing families living in the Loktak Wetlands area from November 15, 2011.
He said that the officers from the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) and the Manipur state police carried out the deliberate burning down of the floating huts. The LDA had issued an eviction notice on November 11, 2011 to the residents of Khuman Yangbi, Nambul Machin and Karang Sabal within the Loktak Lake. More than 500 floating huts were burnt in November 2011, he added.
Ram said that the burning down of the floating huts took place under the controversial Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, in particular Section 19 and 20 of the Act, which divides the 236.21 sq.km Loktak Lake into two zones - a core zone comprising 70.30 sq.km, which is a ‘no development zone’, or ‘totally protected zone’, and a buffer zone of other areas of the lake excluding the core zone.
“A vital aspect of this division is the prohibition on building huts or houses on Phumdis inside the lake, or Athaphum fishing, a destructive form of fishing using vegetation enclosures in the core area. The implementation of the Act has adversely affected over 10,000 people living in Phumdi huts as well as others dependent on the lake,” he said.
He further said that the government of Manipur, through its LDA has been blaming the indigenous peoples dwelling in Loktak lake for polluting and causing contamination of the lake.
However, the impact of the Ithai Barrage of the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, commissioned in 1984, which led to a huge scale devastation of the Loktak wetlands ecosystem; loss of indigenous plant and faunal species; disturbance of the wetlands natural balance and cleansing system leading an accumulation of pollutants in the lake, has been ignored and deliberately side-lined, he further said.
The participants on public meeting expressed that the burning of the floating huts and the destruction of livelihood of the indigenous people dwelling in Loktak Lake constitute a serious violation of the ‘right to life’, ‘right to adequate housing’ as guaranteed by the Constitution of India as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which India is party to and has pledged to uphold and practice.
The failure to obtain consent of the affected communities also constitutes a serious form of discrimination, targeting the marginalised communities and violates the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, they expressed.
The public meeting received solidarity from various organisations and human rights activities. Some of them are executive director of Human Rights Alert Babloo Loitongbam, LOUSAL chairman Mutum Churamani, Pumlen Pat Khoidum Lamjao Kanba Lup secretary Salam Joy.