Loktak: Storm the brain before blasting the barrage
The Loktak Lake, the beautiful lake, the queen of lake at one time, is now facing an uncertain future thanks to the people who encroach upon it. It is always described as the largest soft water lake of the region. I faintly remember the BHUGOL (Geography) book by RK Sanahal Singh which I read in the ME School in the fifties, giving the size of the lake as 15 miles in length and 8 miles in breath ie. 120 sq miles or 312 sq km. Now different people or sources give different figures. The Google mentions the area as 287 sq km. In the fifties and even in the sixties the view of the lake was breath taking. It extended as far as the eye can see. The clear water reflecting the blue sky with scattered clouds above and the rolling waves was a sight to be seen. Come noon, the waves turned to tides just like the one in the sea. This only shows how vast was the lake. It was said that one cant reached the bed of the lake even with a full length of the longest bamboo pole. Now the maximum depth is only 15 ft only which is not even half the length of the bamboo. The lake is shrinking in size and gradually filling up from sedimentation and overgrowth of weeds and grasses, which are ominous tell tale signs of a drying lake.
Various organisations and individuals have been blaming the Ithai Barrage as the harbinger of death of the lake. But no scientific proof has been given. One of my learned professors once asked the class the difference between a lay man’s statement and a scientific statement. While we could not answer, he stated – a layman’s statement is a statement of facts whereas a scientific statement is with facts and figures. So people need to know the figures over and above the facts which is possible only when a proper scientific study is done methodically and properly. Needless to say that any scientific study should be verifiable and peer reviewed. If any such study has indeed been done by any scholar, it time to bring it in the public domain.
So before we raise cacophony over blasting of the Ithai barrage as an end to the woes of some people, let us storm our brain and search for an answer and an easier solution to the problem. Surprisingly the Hon’ble Governor of the State who is reputed to have a scientific temper, has also joined the band wagon.
What would have been the natural history of the lake had there been no barrage or for that matter, the Loktak Hydro-Electric Project? Practically all the lakes in the surrounding area which once formed part of the Loktak have dried up because of sedimentation and growth of vegetations to the glee of the encroachers. I believe the answer to this can be easily found by scientific study using modern technology. We have advance method of topographic study, aerial including satellite imaging techniques or and studying the rate of sedimentation from the study of the layers of soil and presence of microbes therein, by drilling in different locations before the construction of the barrage and afterwards. A comparison of the findings should be able to throw light to the problem.
Much has been said about the quality of water of the lake which is presumed to be the cause of deterioration of the ecosystem of the lake. It may be right. But one needs to remember that the rivers which fall to the lake are highly contaminated. There was a time when the water of rivers was clean and people used it for drinking and cooking not to speak of daily cores of washing and bathing. Unplanned development of the towns particularly Imphal leading to draining of sewage and other liquid wastes in to the river Nambul has made the river the most contaminated one. Dumping of the household waste particularly the plastic bags, has again added to present deplorable status of the river. About two decades ago the Nambul was literally on fire. The waste diesel from the power house at Keishampat dumped thoughtlessly in the river caused spillage oil sludge over the water which get ignited in the heat of summer along the stretch from Elangbam Leikai hanging bridge to Khagempalli which is half a kilometre in length. It was a ridiculously funny sight -seeing a river on fire. Then again there was a period when the river was dotted with massive growth of water hyacinth. At the same time the water became muddier because of the sand carried down from the denuded hills in the catchment areas. At the same time the lake itself is running its own course of natural decay. People may remember the overgrowth of water hyacinth all over the lake. Then came the proliferation of the Phumdies the Bio-mass which on degeneration led to further deterioration of the quality of the water of the lake. Interestingly Phumdies have assumed a political clout for the villagers of surrounding areas as if the lake belongs only to them. Those who dare have even colonised it without any sanction of the government. Some people have even eulogised it conveniently forgetting that the lake belongs not to them but to the state and the people of the whole state. At best they are the encroachers, at worse they are the plunderers. At one time the lake look so beautiful when viewed from the sky as the aeroplane descends to land. Now it looks more like a marshy land than a lake.
Is it not time now to do a proper study of the lake before one jumps to conclusion that the Ithai barrage and for that matter the Loktak Hydro-Electricity project is the only cause for the woes of the people. Is blasting the barrage the only solution? What if the lake water drained dry from the removal of the barrage, can anyone refillit in a life time? As it is, the area or the size of the lake has been given differently by different persons or organisations. The original area of the lake should be determined from the old government records like the Survey of India or available state records using modern technology and expertise. The lake should then be demarcated and find out the extent of reclamation, encroachment and or allotment of pattas around the lake made during the last four or five decades. The NHPC has made a modest claim of 263 sq. Km. as the size of the lake from the Topographic sheet of the Survey of India (N. Shyamsundar Singh, Sangai Express, 14-17 Sept ’17—Hydro Electric Power Industry: A must for Manipur). The Loktak project had been accordingly designed at Full Reservoir Level (EL 769.23). ‘This area includes the area of water body of lake and the submerged area around the Lake’ (ibid). That being so whether the areas being claimed as inundated by flood are actually within the area of 263 sq km as determined by the NHPC at the time of designing the project or outside it. The settlements along the new Moirang Sendra road looks very much recent. I remember a big water channel from the lake up to the Moirang Bazar.
Another interesting view point being made is that the eco-system of the Keibul Lamjao the abode of the Sangai is being disturbed because of perennial high level of water of the lake, by courtesy of the barrage. It has been said that the Phumdies need to settle to get nutrition from the floor or bed of the lake during lean season before floated up again during rainy season. If that is so, one expects the growth of the vegetations or the Phumdies to be more luxuriant at the periphery of the Phumdies nearer the coastal margin of the lake as the roots are always in contact with soil. In fact the Phumdies are being anchored by the roots at the shallow water. As a simple principle of formation of lake the bed slopes gradually towards the middle. That is how the beach is formed in the sea/ocean. Again if it is so important for the Phumdies to have regular contact with soil for its survival, one needs to explain how the Phumdies in the middle of the lake which has no chance to come into contact with bed of the lake because of the depth, grow so well even causing eye sore. Are the two Phumdies of different variety being found in the same lake?
Again water of the lake cannot be said to be stagnant as it being drained all the time for the hydro-electric project through the tunnels. Further the barrage is not a dam. It can regulate out flow as per the water level of the lake. If the bed of lake is dredged regularly as they do for Suez cannel, the holding capacity of the lake can be increased and this shall help in preventing flash floods. It may also be pertinent to consider whether bridges rather than the present roads connecting the Sendra and Thanga Karang with Moirang, will help increase the force of current of the water thereby help in better oxygenation of the water and also retard sedimentation.
There are thus various parameters to be taken into consideration before one jump to a conclusion that all woes of the people of the area will be solved by removing the barrage. The economic consideration needs also to be taken into account. Twenty crores of rupees of annual income being saved from free power is no mean amount for revenue starved state like ours. A beautiful Loktak shall be a boon for the people of the area as it can attract tourist with house boats, Shikar – like tourist boats to go around the lake as in Dal Lake or even a cruise in the evening with fun and frolics will attract many tourist both local and others alike.
In conclusion, there is an urgent need to undertake a scientific study of the lake with regard to (i) the original area of the lake, and extent of encroachment/ reclamation, (ii) rate of sedimentation before and after the barrage, (iii) likely history of natural death of the lake sane the barrage, (iv) role of the Phumdies of the lake, (with particular reference to Keibul Lamjao to know the truth) in the present eco-system,
The best brains are now available in the Manipur University and the National Institute of Technology or the National Institutes. Advance technology and other supportive facilities are available now. After collection of the data and analysis computer simulation may be done in the laboratory without touching the barrage. So let the scholars and experts storm their brain and come up with the best decision and make pragmatic recommendations to protect the lake which we love before we blast the barrage and repent thereafter. Let’s all be a little patient. Loktak should be saved but by the best available alternative.
Loktak: Storm the brain before blasting the barrage