Each year, March 14 marks the day of action for rivers, where on this day people across continents come together to reinforce their commitments to protect rivers to sustain life. Rivers are interconnected with the everyday life of humans and all other forms of living beings, depending either directly or indirectly upon rivers for their existence.
Let Manipur River flow free, was the call by Arong Nongmaikhong villagers in Kakching District on Sunday as part of the global observation of the annual International Day of Action for Rivers. Spearheaded by the global organization International Rivers, the day marks the call for people across continents to step forward for the cause of rivers, with the broad objective of protecting rivers from destruction by human activities. Construction of dams over rivers is the most demanding protest by activists across nations, more on the line that dams cause multiple negative impacts on ecosystems, lives of river-dependent communities, and loss to biodiversity.
The call to let Manipur River flow free arises from the intense protest by local communities of the adverse negative impacts of Ithai Barrage upon the natural e-flow of the river and considerable degradation of its ecosystem during these past four decades. The barrage is built at the confluence of Manipur River and Khuga River near Ithai Khunou village in Bishnupur District of Manipur, and it was commissioned in 1983. Since then, the barrage had impounded the water of the river at a constant height of 768.5 metre above mean sea level. This is primarily to achieve required volume of water storage in Loktak Lake for generating electric power by the 105 megawatt capacity Loktak hydroelectric power project.
During these past 38 years, there has been a continuous process of conflict of interest between the project proponents and the local communities over loss of indigenous fish population, inundation of agricultural and settlement lands, loss of crops and livelihoods. There has been a long standing demand by local communities to decommission the barrage so that the natural ecosystem of Manipur River will be restored and Loktak will regain its natural vitality. It would also encourage the migratory fish population to return and which would enable local communities to regain their livelihoods by fishing activities.
Each year, March 14 marks the day of action for rivers, where on this day people across continents come together to reinforce their commitments to protect rivers to sustain life. Rivers are interconnected with the everyday life of humans and all other forms of living beings, depending either directly or indirectly upon rivers for their existence. Rivers feed floodplains and nourishes water bodies that support life and livelihoods, furthering the survival and existence of species.
On this day, six fundamental rights of rivers as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Rivers are re-emphasized to remind humanity that rivers too have their rights – The Right to Flow; The Right to Perform Essential Functions within its Ecosystem; The Right to be Free from Pollution; The Right to Feed and be Fed by Sustainable Aquifers; The Right to Native Biodiversity; and The Right to Regeneration and Restoration.
The Declaration fundamentally looks at the rights of a river from the generic viewpoint that “recognizing the rights of nature, and in particular recognizing those river rights contained in this Declaration will foster the creation of a new legal and social paradigm based on living in harmony with nature and respecting both the rights of nature and human rights, particularly with reference to the urgent needs of indigenous communities and the ecosystems, they have long protected”.
Disputes on rivers have long haunted the world, where damming of rivers have been challenged as the major factor that destroys the natural ecosystem and e-flow of rivers. Damming rivers changes the nature and character of rivers entirely, often leading to total blockage of its natural flow and loss of biodiversity that the rivers support. Some of the disputes over rivers have simply been on the question of deprivation of livelihoods and means of sustenance for Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) when the population of migratory fish that thrive in sea-flowing rivers is cut off leading to a situation where IPLCs who solely depend on the fish catch for their living loses their sole means of livelihood.
Acknowledging this factor, the Declaration broadly outlines that “rivers are essential to all life by supporting a wondrous diversity of species and ecosystems, feeding wetlands and other aquatic habitats with abundant water, delivering life-giving nutrients to coastal estuaries and the oceans, carrying sediments to river deltas teeming with life, and performing other essential ecological functions”.
The event at Arong Nongmaikhong was organized by the Pumlen Pat Khoidum Lamjao Kanba Apunba Lup under the aegis of Ngamee Lup, a confederation of fishing communities in Loktak, Pumlen, Khoidum Lamjao, Kharung and Ikop wetlands. Bengaluru-based Environment Support Group (ESG) representative Sana Haque, Indigenous Perspective representative Ramananda Wangkheirakpam, IUCN CEESP member Salam Rajesh, environmental activists Mamta Lukram and Donald Takhell were amongst those attending the event. Sunday’s event also featured among 126 events happening in around 30 countries worldwide, and finds a spot in the 2021 Global Day of Action Map.The day was also observed at Champu Khangpok floating village in Loktak Lake, organised by the All Loktak Lake Fishermen’s Union, Manipur.Arong Nongmaikhong, let Manipur River flow free