Against the active uneven development programmes initiated by the government of Manipur, Champu Khangpok floating villagers and members of the All Manipur Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union, Manipur (ALLAFUM) on Saturday resolved that they would prepare to face any possible state-sponsored arsons in the near future like the one they witnessed 11 years ago.
TFM Ground Report
Hundreds of Champu Khangpok villagers and members of the All Manipur Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union, Manipur (ALLAFUM) held a public meeting followed by a canoe rally to commemorate the 11th anniversary of what is now popularly known as the Loktak Arson.
ALLAFUM secretary Oinam Rajen while highlighting the agenda of the meeting recalled the sequence of events of the Loktak Arson in 2011. He stated that the fisherfolk who were living on the floating huts were “treated like insects” and their democratic form of protest was brutally suppressed. He said that since the successive governments have followed anti-fisherfolk policies, it was time that the people should be prepared to face another officially sanctioned onslaught on the Champu Khangpok floating village. This, he said is despite the fact that the current ruling party in Manipur promised to convert the village into a heritage village with the objective to aid development.
Rajen also expressed apprehension that governments of all hues will continue to pursue anti-people policies given the global flow of money for state-initiated development projects. “Currently, the fisherfolk of Champu Khangpok floating village are experiencing some relief due to the fact that the matter is taken up by the High Court”, he said and added that the status quo at the moment is because the fisherfolk of Loktak Lake challenged the government projects in the court of law since it threatened their livelihood.
Well-known environmentalist and journalist Salam Rajesh also pointed out that fresh initiatives taken up by the government is not likely to bring succour to the plight of the fisherfolk of Loktak Lake as nothing came out of the BJP manifesto that promised to convert Champu Khangpok floating village into a heritage village. He also clearly delved into how the Government of Manipur is trying to exclude Loktak Lake from the purview of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 by circumventing certain issues and by taking recourse to Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006. The authorities deemed that the since the Loktak Lake is administered, controlled, protected, improved, conserved and developed by the government authority under the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, there is no presumed need to follow Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 notified by the Government of India.
Salam Rajesh also said that there had some news and information being circulated that all the indigenous athaphum (floating circular bio-masses of Loktak Lake where fisherfolk use their main fishing technique by trapping and harvesting fish). This, he felt was done to discourage the indigenous method of fishing and to replace the same with a new technique under the state government’s initiative considered alien to the culture of Manipur. He also expressed his inability to influence the course of the state’s policy on Loktak Lake despite being a key member of committees set up by the government itself as there has been a tradition of setting up High-Powered Committees to supersede the suggestions noted by lower committees.
Representing LOUSAL, a key farmers’ association in Manipur, Churamani Mutum also informed the villagers that their experience has many similar characteristics to how a mega tourist centre was planned by the government at Khongjom Kheba hill. He said these so-called development plans may benefit the people but the immediate objectives of such plans are to fatten the coffers of land sharks and contractors.
Rakesh Meihoubam of the Human Rights Network, Manipur delved into how people’s faith in the judiciary has dwindled over the years. He alleged that many of those in the business of delivering justice tend to think in terms of their “next post-retirement assignments” they would be benevolently given by the state for favouring those who run the state apparatus. He said the legal recourse to injustice should be the final form of challenging the state.
Other village members who took part in the protest against the action of the government also spoke on the occasion. Indigenous Perspective convenor Ram Wangkheirakpak while giving the vote thanks also mentioned that “the fight for justice” is not over yet. He requested those present in the public meeting to be ready for any eventualities if the state continues to behave the way it did 11 years ago. “There is the need to unify and organise and seek the help of other democratic forums to continue the struggle for justice by the fisherfolk community of Champu Khangpok floating village and others”.
It may be recalled that over 500 floating dwelling huts were torched and burnt down in November 2011 by the officers from the Loktak Development Authority and the Manipur state police. Since the All Manipur Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union, Manipur (ALLAFUM) had received the help of many individuals and organisations in their struggle for justice. Those who had rendered support include civil bodies, student bodies, NGOs, Human Rights Groups and National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers, Environment Support Group, Human Rights Law Network, Human Rights Alert etc. The LDA also issued eviction notices on November 11, 2011 to the residents of Khuman Yangbi, Nambul Machin and Karang Sabal within the Loktak Lake.