Barak: Our economic and ecological security

Mani Charenamei
The Barak is the second largest river in the North East Region after the Brahmaputra.  Barak has a length of about 900 kilometres out of which 564 kilometres fall in India  and it runs through Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, Meghalaya and Bangladesh.
Veorii is the Poumai name for Barak and it originates as a small stream  in the midst of  the lofty hills covered by the thick  forests of the Liyai village in the Poumai country. This stream is latter joined by Deirii stream and Makhan stream as it flows down south through the Biiso valley. The  Khiiri stream joins the Barak before reaching Karong. Interestingly, a small stream originating from T Khullen flows towards the North to join Barak as Barak takes a turn towards the North and flows into the Maram country. After crossing the Maram country  the Barak  flows southwards into the Zeme, Liangmai and Rongmei territories of Manipur and Nagaland. As it runs further south it passes through CCP and Jiri district and enters the  plains of Cachar in Assam.  Finally, it flows into Bangladesh to join the Brahmaputra and Ganga. Barak changes its name as it flows down the territories different communities.  The Marams called the Barak Mbii Karii,  the Zemes Mbeuki, the Liangmais Mbiuki, the Rongmeis Ahu, the  Hmar Tuiruong  and so  on.
Some of the salient features of Barak are  as follows.
1. Wildlife of Barak:  Barak is said to be the second richest river in terms aquatic biodiversity. Barak is  home to more than 2000 aquatic species of fishes. The  highly endangered Siamese Crocodile, Susu Dolphin and Smooth coated Otter.    Barak is  not only a haven for aquatic species but is also a home to many mammals, reptiles and  birds. The thick lush green  forests of Chakha- Rienta forest, the Piulong forest, Tousem- Phoklong forest, Chingkou- Makoi forest are some of the important catchment forest of Barak and its tributaries. The bamboo brakes and tall grasses along the bank of Barak is the favourite roosting place of the migratory bird called the Amur falcon. Some of the important tributaries of Barak are Irang, Makru, Jiri, Leimatak/ Aga etc.
2. Waterways: Barak provides excellent and cheap water ways for transportation mainly for the people living in the Barak valleys.
3. Economy: The fresh water fish of varied species provide an excellent source of income for the poor people living along the course of Barak. The fresh water fish also has high nutritional values. Fishing industry of Barak river is a thriving business. The Fishing industry provides jobs  to many people and also earns a huge revenue for the Assam Government.
Fishing in the upstream of  Barak is an important source of income for the people living in the catchment areas. Angling, throwing nets, laying traps, throwing spears, using fish stupefying leaves and barks are some of the traditional methods practised by the tribal communities. Fishing is not only a source of income but also leisure activity.
4. History and Legends: Barak is not only rich in the aquatic life but it is also very rich in myths and legends. Many tribes of Manipur, Nagaland, Assam  have their migration histories, folktales, legends and folksongs  linked with Barak. Tribal myths and legends praise Barak river as  gentle,  benevolent and human friendly river, hence,  as the legends go many streams and rivers joined  Barak.
According to the tribal myths and legends  beautifully curved  cosmic formations are believed to be the Barak river and its tributaries.
Threat to Barak: Today, Barak, the most important river is at the brink of becoming a dead river. More than half of its aquatic animals and fishes have  become extinct and many species are struggling to survive due to excessive human intervention. The water flowing in Barak is not only drying up but has become highly polluted by human activities. It is alarming to see Barak being polluted right from the source area. The chemical effluents flowing into Barak from the Steel factory in Senapati town and the human waste produced by the Senapati denizens have become  a serious  threat to the health of Barak.
Fishing in Barak and its tributaries by using detonators, chemicals, electric currents have led to destruction of many aquatic species and the river ecosystem.
One serious threat to Barak was an attempt to Construct a mega dam known as the Tipaimukh Dam on  Barak river at Tipaimukh in the  early the part of  the eighties.  However, now, due to strong public protest in India and Bangladesh the Project has been abandoned. If the construction had gone ahead many precious aquatic wildlife could have been wiped out and huge cultivable land areas could have been submerged.
Another serious threat to the health of Barak is the Unregulated timber extraction by timber mafias in the Catchment areas of Barak tributaries. Heavy timber extraction  has contributed in hastening the drying up of water in the Barak river.
We, the tribal people who have benefited from the  Barak river system have completely failed to realise the importance and benevolence of Barak.
If we had followed the sustainable practice of forest management practised by  our forefathers or had timely sought the intervention of the experts to help us manage our forest, we could have saved the rich natural heritage which we have inherited from our ancestors.
We must also be aware that Clean air is the basic right of every human being as enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.   No individual, group of people or Company should   be allowed to indulge in any activities which can  destroy the source of clean air and also  pollute the environment and rivers. As responsible citizens we must not fail to point out and  report all the illegal  activities to the authorities for immediate necessary action.
Barak has nurtured us and still has many good things to offer us. Barak offer us a good life, sound economy and a  clean environment,  provided we are ready to adopt  sustainable methods  of utilising  our rich natural resources.
We must also remember that the first step to conserve Barak is to conserve the catchment forest of its tributaries.
If we continue with our undmindful habit of destroying our forests we will only be contributing towards the drying up of Barak  and adding on to the  woes and miseries to the sufferings of the  people who face devastating floods every year.
One significant thing we need to know is that, the health of Barak reflects the life of those  who  depend on it. If the Barak is healthy it is evidence of the  healthy symbiotic relationship between the river and the people. However, on the other hand if Barak is drying up and the fishes are disappearing it shows that the people have become thoughtless and indigent. This bond  between man and river applies to every river.
Some Ecosystem services  Barak can provide  are:-
1. Clean and cool environment
2. Clean drinking water
3. Stable riverine ecosystem
4. Enhance Cultural and Esthetic values
5. River Rafting
6. Angling
7. Boating
8. Traditional and recreational fishing
9. River tracking
10. River Camping
11. Healthy food supply, and the list goes on.
Of late, the Barak Heritage Foundation an NGO based in Senapati  has come up with a brilliant idea to conserve Barak and its tributaries. It is an idea whose time has come. This noble needs  to be emulated by every village and town which are situated along the Barak.
Here are some activities recommended for immediate implementation in order to conserve Barak river.
1. Identify catchment forest of Barak and its tributaries and motivate the villagers to declare them as Community Reserve or Village forest reserve.
2. Announce rewards and incentives for those villages which diligently conserve  forests.
3. Set up "Watch Barak Volunteers".
4. Check Pollution activities polluting Barak.
5. Press Manipur Government to carry out resource mapping of Barak and its tributaries at the earliest.( Identification and documentation of flora, fauna and aquatic species)
6. Provide modern sewerage system and solid waste disposal system in the villages, towns  and cities  to prevent the wastes from flowing into Barak.
7. To tell the state  Forest Department to immediately stop issuing permit for extraction of timbers from the catchment forest of Barak and its tributaries.
The writer is former Lok Sabha MP (Manipur Outer Parliamentary Constituency)