Wetland conservation needs holistic approach

For two days, the State hosted a regional consultative workshop for restoration and integrated management of wetlands for the North Eastern States. This was not the first such workshop held in the State on conservation of wetlands. Many workshops and seminars were held in the past too on the same topic/issue but so far very little tangible action has been seen on the ground. On the eve of the two-day consultative workshop, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav went on record saying that the State Government has been advised to submit an action plan to mitigate the issues of changes in water regimes of Loktak Lake, phumdi proliferation, water quality deterioration, loss of migratory fish, degradation of Keibul Lamjao National habitat etc. In another word, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is asking the State Government to submit a comprehensive plan for effective management of Loktak Lake. So the onus of formulating a comprehensive plan to conserve Loktak Lake lies on the State Government and its agencies even if New Delhi is willing to extend financial assistance and technical support. One pertinent question arises here. Can a Loktak centric approach save Loktak? Definitely no. A topical treatment cannot solve the problem of Loktak. Rivers that drain into Loktak need to be identified and dredged on a regular basis. This also demands identifying the sources of the rivers and routes, so as to undertake aforestation.  Prevention of erosions can go a long way in rejuvenating the lake. Forestation is the only way out not only to control flood but also to prevent siltation. Equally important are the issues of hydro projects and other multipurpose dams, which have restricted the normal flow of rivers and streams. As emphasized at the consultative workshop, active involvement of all stakeholders is crucial for successful conservation of Loktak and for that matter other wetlands. No doubt, encroachers need to be punished but one also has to distinguish between an encroacher and a dependent on the lake.
Wetlands across the world have been increasingly facing several anthropogenic pressures and Manipur is no exception. Rapidly expanding human population, large scale changes in land use/land cover, multiple development projects and improper use of watersheds have caused serious impacts on wetlands.  Once lost, it would be impossible to retrieve or regenerate any of the wetlands which are closely associated with our world view and of course, livelihood. Therefore, there is a growing urgency to formulate a comprehensive action for conservation and management of the wetlands including Loktak. It is a common knowledge that Loktak is central to a vast portion of the State’s history, cultural evolution, mythology, folklores and undoubtedly ecology. Loktak Lake and the other wetlands which are now fast vanishing have been constant sources of varied aquatic food, in addition to water creatures such as fish, mollusk and others. Perhaps, people dependent on these wetlands might have harmed them inadvertently, out of compulsion to some small degree.  But it is largely modernisation and urbanisation projects which have taken a very heavy toll on wetlands. Unfortunately, almost all these modernisation and urbanisation projects are directly executed or patronised by the State. All the urbanisation projects and construction works executed after filling up wetlands were directly or indirectly exonerated by the State in the name of ‘development’ and ‘welfare’. However, it seldom bothers to pay attention to the structural violence unleashed in the process of undertaking development projects.  There are many Acts, laws and statutes enacted by the successive elected Governments of Manipur but one area where these elected Governments invariably fumbled or failed with regard to certain laws and Acts has been the implementation part. We hope any action plan for management of wetlands would focus the spotlight to these facts.