Climate change, a phenomena that takes place over a period of 30 years, is noticeable now in Manipur. Adoption of villages, water resource management, innovative agricultural practices, and policy decisions on collaborative fightback are measures which could save the day. We have R.K. Lakhi Kant speaking to Brajakumar Tourangbam, Deputy Director at the Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, to know how serious are the concerns engaging us, and how the government plans to lead us out of the global crisis.
Lakhi Kant: What are the instances and symptoms of global climate change visible in Manipur?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: The complete analysis of climate change for the last 100 years is available with the environment directorate. We study the change in temperature for every 10 years period, and what we noticed was that Manipur is warming at a higher rate than the global average. There has been a .4C increase in temperature in Manipur every 10 years. The nights have become warmer in winters, which means regardless of season the temperature remains on the higher side. That also means, whereas everything should be getting a chance to cool down during nights, especially in winters, it is not happening so.
There’s a difference between climate change and climate variability. The increase in water yield due to melting snow in the higher regions, which are also getting hot, affects the rivers and streams in the 13 Himalayan regions, which accounts for what is called climate variability. For instance, the cause for the rains in Manipur last week was this variability. Climate variability occurs in a period up to 30 years, after which period it is called a climate change phenomenon.
In case of variability, it can’t be predicted and catches you unprepared, like the unseasonal rains here in recent days that caused quite some amount of damage. In physical terms, the landslides and floods that took place, like in the last 4-5 years, due to pre-monsoon and post-monsoon rains, are instances of climate variability.
Rising sea levels in the global context of climate change, seen through a regional lens, can be explained as an increase in the volume of water as a result of high intensity rains over short periods of time in the Himalayan belt, which Manipur is part of. As seen in Manipur, heavy showers over some days stop as abruptly as it starts. Another factor is that underground seepage of water is less, as there is less time for that to happen, because water from the heavy and short duration rains drains off equally quick. The impact is different in mainland UP, Kerala or Karnataka.
Lakhi Kant: Can you name some nature based solutions to arrest climate change in Manipur?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: There are two nature based solutions to climate change in Manipur – the mitigation and the adaptation approaches. There’s no running away from climate change or the adverse rainfall pattern, so it’s better to adapt likewise. If post-monsoon rains occur farmers can plant crops that are more likely to survive under the weather conditions. And if water level recedes during the monsoon, crops that do not require so much water would be a better choice. Also its advisable not build a house in the flood plains that get drenched by floods. A lifestyle change may be necessary by changing our natural way of life.
The mitigation approach involves lowering the rising temperatures, for which the recent Paris Convention set a target of 2C reduction in temperature. Mitigation are policy based moves. The idea is to reduce emission of greenhouse gases like CO2 by putting industrialisation under control. Trees and forests are a good carbon sink and maximum green cover means the CO2 will be absorbed by it. Pit lands shouldn’t be dug out and wetlands should be conserved as its only greenery and water bodies that can absorb and store CO2 from the atmosphere, thus helping in reducing temperatures.
Lakhi Kant: Is there monitoring of climate restoration? How many monitoring stations does the government have for this work?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: Monitoring emissions is a policy based India government responsibility, where a planned estimate is made for greenhouse gases. The government measures emissions where we know an industry to be harmful. Like in plastics, others cannot ask for a phasing out, whereas the government can.
All action is decided at the Government of India level and its state level monitoring is done at district level offices. A database for Manipur is made available and it is also part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change under the Prime Minister, for all the national level ministries. At the state level, a State Action Plan on Climate Change, with a similar structure as the national plan, was published in 2013 for 22 state departments. It has been revised again this year and will be out by December. It’s an implementable climate sensitive action plan, to be strategically introduced in every department.
Lakhi Kant: How can government policy and corporate ambition be balanced for a sustainable habitat?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: Corporate as a stakeholder is mentioned in the government policy. We can go together in climate change sensitive areas. What the corporate takes up by way of funds, implementation or execution, if they are climate sensitive, can go along with the government’s action plan. They don’t have to go it alone. It’s all highlighted and maximised in the plan.
Lakhi Kant: Is there penalisation for unsustainable agricultural practices? What about jhum cultivation?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: There have been no penalisation cases that I know of. All over the Himalayas, including Manipur, agriculture is based on traditional knowledge. Now there’s a scientific approach also added that tells us of modern technology. For instance, jhum is traditional, but we are trying to blend it with technology like 3-tier system, pisciculture cum agriculture, and introduction of horticultural crops.
Then there’s slope agriculture and plains agriculture, where slope agriculture depends on rains. A good option under current conditions is pisciculture with agriculture, which may in future outlive itself in another 10 years. Planting citrus plants spaced with large trees, and habitation not at hill tops but preferably at foothills are being advised under the mountain policy. Manipur is 90% hills area and policy at the moment seems to be a little lacking here.
Each and every village has to be recognised – where the agriculture will take place, where the dwellings will be and the areas to be reserved for conserving water as streams dry up due to climate change. In the valley we need village knowledge centres, and in the hills, mountain policy. It has some of the best of what we can give and it’s all reflected in the state action plan.
Lakhi Kant: What can the private sector do to regenerate forests and farmlands in Manipur? Are businesses aware of their environmental role?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: Depends on their adaptation capacity to environmental protection. In the actual field we do not know in certain terms, but from the response and activities we come to know that it is still too less. Frankly, environmental ethics is not working.
One indication is that the youth is very involved and joining in. They are coming to know more because of the impact of climate change. Also, community based forest management did evolve in recent years. A trend is noticeable in the extent of awareness, but in comparison to the overall population it is still less.
Lakhi Kant: Has climate change affected foodgrain production and the quality of foodgrains in Manipur?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: Since pesticides and fertilizers are used it’s usually assumed that foodgrain quality must be getting affected; but unless laboratory tests are done we can’t be sure. There’s availability of green pesticides and even if large amounts are used no harm is caused. Green agriculture is in vogue now, but one area is packaged foods. The packages from Myanmar, China and Bangladesh are uncontrolled and in comparison to that veggies from our farms are far more reliable. We can’t be sure of the non-certified packed foods like sausages from China, but then it’s part of the urbanisation and the attempt to capture markets. Unknown foods need to be looked into. The stress should be on reworking a green revolution in Manipur.
Lakhi Kant: How much land in Manipur is marked as forested, deforested, and afforested?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: The FSI has said 76% geographical area in Manipur is forested. The quality of forests is also important, meaning there are many open forests, which are patches of forest land that do not have any trees. There are not too many high density virgin forests in Manipur. We can see from a count of big, small, or the absence of trees in the forests, there is a high number of open forests at the moment. These are deforested areas. We can also see that inhabitants in the hills usually like to travel up in the hills causing deforestation for either business purpose or habitation.
Lakhi Kant: Manipur being a sub-tropical rainforest, what responsibility does it have in controlling global warming?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: Emission which contributes to global warming is sizable from deforested areas, and next comes, from agriculture. Manipur does contribute to global warming. Afforestation can take place and water bodies can be enhanced. It’s happening under the government policy also.
Lakhi Kant: Does the government compensate damage caused by landslides, floods due to heavy rain, house collapse etc.?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: Compensation should be given under the Disaster Management Act, but I am not sure or too aware of the details.
Lakhi Kant: Is environmental advocacy a tough job? Do you get enough ground support?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: The funds for the environment are still less compared to other areas and government components. People’s response is still less, but as I said the trend is increasing with more people coming to know and be aware.
Lakhi Kant: Is money a problem? What’s the budget for the environment and climate change department?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: Fund constraints are always there. Mostly people think of awareness campaigns, but along with that dissemination has to be a reality. We have to showcase working models of pilot projects, where we are able to enthuse by showing how oxygen will be released when the forests are in place, and that in turn reverse climate change by reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. We have enough money for awareness campaigns.
For watershed management and climate proof infrastructure, like climate proof canals, which are flood free, we need to show the way practically. There the money is required. Then there’s village development to protect it from landslides etc., which we are able to do only if we adopt a village and build its church, ground, and roads.
Lakhi Kant: Which areas are badly affected in Manipur, and what broad-based plans can we follow for fighting climate change?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: We do climate vulnerable assessments. The most affected areas are Thoubal and Chandel. The priority for this assessment is socio-economic condition of the population. When the economic profile is low, climate gives impact on the economy first, as people lose their livelihoods. A fisherman, when the wetland is lost, will move over to daily wage work, and this shifting of livelihood in such cases is nothing but an economic crisis.
Based on current climate variability and socio-economic profile, Thoubal and Chandel are most vulnerable in the state. We also do sector-wise assessment for water resources, agriculture and forests in these departments.
Lakhi Kant: We know public transport systems like buses, metro trains do help in containing global warming. Does the government have any plans for starting these?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: It is discussed, but it’s not there yet as a written policy in black and white. Every state is required to enhance public transport. The MSRTC and inter-district buses are visible now after some gap inbetween. Surely a revival is required. If diesel vehicles are phased out, the CNG and e-vehicles can come into the picture.
Lakhi Kant: Activists are always protesting in the matter of consent of locals and benefit sharing. Don’t you think their campaign is limited to getting a share in the stakes?
Brajakumar Tourangbam: There was a gap some 10 years back. The public trust was less. Actually any government development is for the people, although the benefit was not there in those times. About 25-30 years back, when I started working, the approach during that time was top to bottom. The ministers used to spell out what they wanted, and that would travel downwards. Without assessment they would say make a bridge in their kendras, or a road.
The approach has changed now with people understanding more. Even personally, when I work for the good of some scheme, I start from the village level. I consult the village, know their vulnerable issues, and try to reflect on what they want, then take it up as an action plan, in a bottom up approach.
Not to say that the top to bottom approach is not required. Global knowledge has to be brought down from that level, to be made available in the action plan. People are now consulting the government agencies more, because of the bottom up approach that manifests in consent of locals and benefit sharing. Local groups are tying up with us and in 5-10 years it will be more visible to all, with the process already started now.