Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

A fisherman at the Loktak Lake

Manipur Needs to be Extremely Wary of its Dying Water Bodies

A lot many water bodies have died out from the Imphal Valley. The phenomenon though as yet less acute is very much the reality in the case of water bodies and mountain springs in the hills. If this problem is left unaddressed and no means to overcome them is found, much of our land would likely become unhabitable in the not to distant future. This receding of wetlands is most stark in the valley area, and understandably too, for this is where most of the state’s river systems flow into, therefore bringing with them tonnes of silts to deposit. Even in the course of one lifetime, we have seen this unfold everywhere, not the least in the Imphal capital area. Anybody about 50 would have seen that places like Lamphel Pat, Porom Pat, Sanggai Pat, Khongam Pat etc., were all wetlands, “pat” being the term for wetand, including lakes and swamps. In their footsteps may follow the rest of the remaining natural water bodies in the valley, including we dare say, Loktak Pat. Purely from common sense, the lifespan of a lake in a land-locked valley, with little or no drainage system to flush it continually, cannot be that very long in terms of geological scale. For regardless of whether a river system drains water away from a valley, there will always be rivers that drain into it bringing down tonnes of silt perennially from the surrounding mountain catchments areas. It can quite well be imagined why the battle to save fresh water lakes in small valleys have been almost always a losing battle. The best that can be and have been done is to delay their deaths, but the cause for optimism is, advancements in science have come up with ever better techniques to increase the longevity of these lakes. Perhaps someday, it will become a reality when this delay of lake decay can be infinite. But the fact remains that without such an intervention from science, valley lakes cannot live forever. This is what Manipur should be cautious about.

Rivers can change their courses, and so when silt deposits raise their bed high enough for the water to find another alternative path of least resistance, it will take that path. This phenomenon is not altogether unknown even in Manipur’s recorded history. In fact there have been records of artificial dredging of river beds through compulsory contributory labour under various kings, and even of artificial diversions of river courses. Considering the sizes of the rivers here, these projects could not really have been too awesome or daunting. We did se some initiative from past governments trying to emulate this feat, but such a dredging cannot be arbitrary or its benefits hoped to be achieved by digging at some places along the river’s course only. It will have to be a coordinated affair that takes the entire length of the river into consideration. Otherwise, what can happen is, in saving Imphal from floods caused by these progressively shallow rivers overflowing their banks, the paddy fields further down south towards which all rivers in the valley flows can be where these floods are transferred. That arguably will be a bigger disaster. All the same, this is a matter worth investing government energy. What also should be taken seriously is the idea of river linking. Despite what the critics of the river linking proposal say, we do feel it will be an experiment worth the while in Manipur. Just one case should suffice to illustrate. Diverting the Nambul River from the heart of Imphal city would do miles to the health of the river as well as in flood control within the Imphal municipal area. The water too may acquire more irrigational value in the process. The stretch of the river bed thus dried up can become part of the master plan of an Imphal city sewerage project, as and when such a project comes up.

Saving our lakes, most particularly the Loktak, will be a far more difficult proposition. But perhaps this will also have to be linked up with a grand river management project, and definitely not merely with a tourism outlook. Perhaps the solution is in devising a way to have our rivers safely deposit their alluvium loads they bring down from the hills in special reservoirs along their meandering courses before they empty into the Loktak. But it is not only silt or the fate of its lakes that the ecology of Imphal Valley is threatened by. The inescapable fact also is, whatever material is introduced into its soil will remain there forever precisely because there is very little draining out of the valley. Take for instance chemical pesticides or chemical fertilizers, or for that matter chemical effluents from factories and hospitals. Most of the residues from these are simply going to continue to accumulate in the soil. Who knows what effect such residues will have on the soil in a couple of hundred years. Just suppose it begins turning acidic or alkaline, or in the worst-case scenario, poisonous. Considering pesticides are poisons, this is not altogether impossible. Again in the absence of a flushing mechanism, it will take eons before such toxic soil conditions can be naturally cleansed and neutralized. This will indeed be a nightmarish scenario.

Abolishing chemical pesticides or fertilizers can also mean present day disasters and it would indeed be stupid to recommend such a measure unthinkingly. What must however be done is to make sure that to the extent possible, only bio-degradable alternatives are used. Or even if there are no real substitutes to chemical agriculture boosters, their long-term consequences must be closely monitored and regulated. While we all celebrate the fecundity of the alluvial soil of the valley and its salubrious climate, it is now time to have the obvious fragility of the valley ecology in serious reflection in both the unofficial intellectual circuits as well as among official policy makers. As in any healthy democratic rule by debate, both must be alert and sensitive to such matters, nudging each other to do their bits to make sure the society as a whole is saved from avoidable traumas.

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