Manipur’s floating lake occupants mourn environment loss

| Updated on August 16, 2019

The Meiteis of Manipur fight all odds to continue living on the floating huts of the Loktak and demand the removal of the Ithai Hydropower Dam that results in flooding of nearby areas, destroying livelihoods

They call it the “floating lake” for the numerous phumdis or biomass of vegetation and other organic matter that float on the lake’s surface. Thanks to its rich biodiversity, Manipur’s 287 sq km Loktak Lake was recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1990.

The lake is home to the indigenous fishing folk Meiteis, who live on the phumdis in phumsangs or floating huts, upholding their age-old way of living and fishing in the face of tremendous hardship.

Aside from the environmental degradation that is impacting the biodiversity of the lake, the Meiteis live in constant fear of eviction. In 2011, the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) burnt down more than 200 phumsangs and evicted their occupants, citing the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006. Rajen Oinam, a lake-dweller on the Loktak, says, “Over 700 huts were dismantled by 2013. Several of those who resisted eviction found their huts burned down. The Act prohibits dwellings on the phumdis and the dwellers were termed occupiers.”

The fisherfolk of Loktak build phumsangs mostly for fishing, which is a tax-free occupation in the region. But things have been steadily deteriorating for the locals over the years. The construction of the Ithai Hydropower Dam in 1983 flooded over 80,000 hectares of farm and pasture land in the vicinity of the lake, besides impacting the fish population and its breeding cycle. Climate change has further aggravated matters.

“These days, we really need to make an extra effort to catch fish. Numerous native species have disappeared from the lake,” says Suresh Laisaram Singh, a lake-dweller. The Meiteis are demanding the removal of the dam.

Tanmoy Bhaduri is a Kolkata-based independent photojournalist

Published on August 16, 2019

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