Shrinking wetland in Manipur: Culture constraints

Mamta Lukram
Water bodies and wetlands have an edifice in the socio-cultural fabrics of Manipur. Folklores, myths and mythology are imbibed with values coded with the wetland ecology. From community fishing down to rituals, in diverse forms, the multi-myriad communities inhibited in the state eulogises the intrinsic core of wetlands’ relevance to their lives. The Meitei cosmology is described to have faith in sky-water syncretisation, where water; the ultimate sacred sanctity, God dwelt upon. Manipur is a land whose narratives blended perfectly with natural water bodies.
The fragile ecology of the state is inbuilt with numerous wetlands and riverine ecology. ‘Pat’ a local nomenclature of the word wetland is a word of frequent parlance with its multiplicity in number and limited cover like the Waithoupat, Wairipat, Loushipat, eekoppat, eeshokpat, pumlenpat, heinganag pat, Porompat, Lamphelpat, Yaralpat and so on. Every single wetland entails a transit of myths and narratives, accounting to history. Life ways, food habits, trade and commerce, transport, belief systems, socio-cultural aspects and many more life patterns could easily be reflected from the backdrop history of the lakes. Through the survivorship claimed by the wetland ecology, the matrix of the social-economic and cultural life could be unplugged.
One Hyderabadi environmentalist from ‘Save Our Urban Lake’ (SOUL), Dr Lubna remarked “Lakes are our lives, men fish, women sell the fish on the lake side, families with children would come in row to buy the fish. Local transactions circulate and community life saturated around the lakes, dying lakes gulped our culture”. A conceptual parallelism with Manipur can be laid where ‘pat’ in recent days are being internalised community names. Porompat in Imphal East district is a community name where important government office, institutional buildings, hospitals, settlement sites are available and vis-à-vis Lamphelpat in Imphal West. Instances are abundant of ‘pat’ becoming integral community names. The modern day’s concept of development and tourism bring in urban values to the rural scape. The expanding urbanisation demand more spaces for which wetlands are the soft targets for landfills. Concretised structures are considered parameters of urbanisation/modernisation. Every inch development steps attacked the water bodies multidimensionally. Unhygienic dumping, construction debris, sewerage, pollutants, wastes and garbage finds water bodies as the ultimate destination, thereby degenerating the purity through pollution. The wetland reclamationthrough landfillsfor expanding development purposes demolishes the cultural entirety.
The theme of International Wetland Day 2018, by the standing committee of the Ramsar Convention, “Wetland for a Sustainable Urban Future” bear utmost significance in Manipur where wetland day is observed by diverse groups both from the urban and the rural, ‘Loktak Wetalnd’ as the centrality. National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC)’s Ithai Barrage commissioned over the Manipur River, blocking the natural inflow-outflow system of the Loktak Lake, transforming the lake into a reservoir for the hydropower generation has irreparably destroyed the lake ecology, submerging many thousands prime agricultural land of the valley that constitutes 10% only out of the total physical area of the state, jeopardising the food security in the name of development. Disrupting the natural replenishing system is the epitaph for advancing stage of Loktak Lake’s natural death.
Waste mismanagement in the expanding urban centres utilising naturally flowing rivers and streams as direct dumping spaces generated crucial polluting factors of the Loktak Lake. Feeder streams and small tributaries meander through the urban centres scoop up tonnes of waste before finally conjoining rivers that drain directly into the lake. The insensitive perception of water bodies as uninterrupted dumping zones in absence of effective waste management system pollute and destroy the wetland ecology. When Nambul river that cut across the heart Imphal city become the unattended dumping zone, the conservation awareness of the Loktak Lake amongst the lake dwellers bear less resemblance. Yangoi Maril where the Nambol and Nambol River enter the lake is the vivid example where pile of floating untreated waste validates the tragic testimony. Urban waste management failure is one of the prime factor for the sporadic increase of pollution in the Loktak wetland ecology.
The legal version towards lake conservation connotes a uniquenotion. The fisherfolk whose livelihood solely rely upon the lake are alleged responsible for deteriorating the Loktak Lake’s ecology. Fishing community dwelling in the floating huts are held responsible for polluting the lakes. Nevertheless, the fact is, from centuries back, the indigenous communities have been managing the wetland ecology through the traditional knowledge system transmitted orally from the forefathers/ancestors. Apart from it, the lake has been sustaining wholesomely propelling prosperity to the mankind, before the blocking of its natural drainage system, the critical health threat of the lake.
The identification tips of the transgressing factors for plundering the wetland ecology is rated over the activities of the fishing community, nurturing a blind sight over the culmination of the cumbersome acts deteriorating the lake ecology. The Loktak Protection Act (LPA) 2006, was hence adopted and enacted to evict the ‘phumshang’ (floating hut) dwellers around a demarcated ‘core zone’ in the name of conservation of the Loktak Lake. The International Wetland Day 2018, observation at Langol Sabi Leikai, Chaphu Khangpok Leikai, the fishing community shared stern concern over reliable information of re-enacting the same act.
The shared responsibility of NHPC and the urban dwellers to preserve the Loktak wetland ecology for a sustainable urban future need be overemphasised on the International Wetland Day observation, rather than naming and blaming game of the fisherfolk solely. The Loktak Lake is specifically tied up with tangible and intangible aspects of the culture. Therefore, the shrinking wetland thereby demolishing the cultural constructs of the traditional community need be ponder upon.

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