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Bringing Loktak at the forefront of Manipur assembly election 2022


Election manifestoes come and go, with or without the commitments and promises being adhered to in the long run, whereas, for the Loktak fishers there is the glimmer of hope that with political parties committing to review the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, the adherence to the proverbial saying, ‘silver lining amongst the dark clouds’, does hold hopes for better times.

 By Salam Rajesh

With less than three weeks for the countdown to the Manipur assembly election 2022, sparring political parties in the State have started coming out with their statements on policy matters for the State in post-election scenario as and when their parties come to power.

Among many issues confronting the State in the immediate past, currently and in the future, political parties have come out with statements on addressing development paradigm, economies, human rights and livelihoods as core to citizens’ welfare and progress.

The issues are myriad, and picking on real-time concerns is perhaps a challenge for the political parties. Yet, in the midst of the call for transparency, vitality and progressive outlook of the ruling class, thousands of fishers and farmer communities in the State apparently has something positive to look forward to the policy statements being committed to by political parties as they go to the polls on February 27.

The Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee released the Indian National Congress’ Election Manifesto-2022 (Policy Statement) the other day, with a slew of pledges for the electorates to digest. Criticism is there, of course, that election manifestoes are hardly translated into action in post-election scenario when political parties ultimately assume power and control of administration of the State.

The INC’s manifesto is loud with pledges that the party would commit to during the years 2022 to 2027 in the eventuality that it comes to power. For the fishing community of Loktak, its Pledge 25 captioned as ‘Protection, Conservation and Development of Loktak Lake’ could have implications in their future lives.

Pledge 25 commits that the Congress will, “(i) Review Manipur Loktak Protection Act, 2006 with provision to restructure Loktak Development Authority, and (ii) Establish Loktak Research and Training Centre” (page 9).

The Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 had since become notorious for the outright human rights violation committed upon hundreds of fisher families thriving upon Loktak Lake. Commencing November 2011 and continuing up to the year 2013, the Loktak Development Authority hounded the residents of Champu Khangpok floating village, tearing down their shelter huts and reducing these to cinder.

The one aspect of the Act that is not clear is on the status of the pre-existing rights of the fishing community in terms of their claim that they had access to the water spread of the Loktak as their commons much before the Loktak hydro project came into existence or before the Act of 2006 was promulgated.

For the fishing community, Loktak is their indigenous territory upon which they depend entirely for their living and sustenance by sourcing the resources from the lake. Fishing is their primary and only occupation by any yardstick. Limiting them off from the lake, as is being enforced under the Act of 2006, is the crudest form of human rights violation that can ever take place.

The National People’s Party (NPP) in their ‘People’s Action Document 2022’ that was released on 23 January has taken stock of this concern, too. The party’s manifesto for the ensuing election commits that, “NPP will review the Loktak Protection Act of 2006 and amend the legislation to make it more scientific and people centric and align it with Ramsar Convention and the National Wetlands Rules 2017” (4.5.1).

Similarly as the Congress’ commitment (as in Pledge 25), NPP’s manifesto clearly states that, “NPP will restructure the Loktak Development Authority to ensure its functioning is based on environmental and scientific concerns, and community needs” (4.5.2), and that “NPP shall ensure more inclusiveness in the management of Loktak lake area with adherence to Ramsar Convention guidelines” (4.5.6.).

The reference is basically on the allegation that since its inception in 1987, the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) had lost track on its founding principle, which is to ensure competent and scientific management of the lake with due consideration of all stakeholders who depend directly and indirectly on the lake for their living.

The United Nations had gone on length to conceive new approach to conservation wherein it emphasizes on the proactive participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in meaningful and successful conservation and the management of vital ecosystems – mountains, grasslands, wetlands, peatlands, mangroves, coastal reefs, oceans, and many more.

The UN did say that ecosystems conserved by local communities are far better managed than under States’ governance. This concern find reflection in the Congress’ manifesto wherein its Pledge 13 (Governance and administrative reforms) commits to, “(i) Bring back credible, transparent, responsive and accessible governance, and (v) Hold regular public consultations to improve administrative reforms”.

The top-down model of policy planning and execution is at the centre of controversy currently where civil society organizations, scientific organizations and IPLCs (indigenous peoples and local communities) have contended that this model is at the root of conflicts of interest all over the globe.

The call is for bottom-up policy planning where right from the idea stage IPLCs and the structure of local governance are involved in the process, to avoid conflicts of idea and interest in later stages of implementation. This calls for a process of transparency and openness on the part of the State. This is what is being referred to the Congress’ Pledge 13, and hopefully committed to in spirit and in letter when the party does come to power ultimately.

Coming back to the fairly controversial Loktak Protection Act, 2006, it nonetheless becomes relevant for the Loktak fishers on the party’s Pledge 23 wherewith the Congress commits that it will, “Ensure citizens constitutional rights and guarantee civil liberties”.

This pledge essentially reflects upon the violation of the fundamental rights of the marginalized Loktak fishing community in the backdrop of the Act of 2006. The highly controversial statement of the LDA that the fisher families are “illegal encroachers” does certainly intrude upon the civil liberty of the fishers for whom the Loktak commons was open to access to resource use for decades on end, generations after generations.

It is said that election manifestoes come and go, with or without the commitments and promises being adhered to in the long run, whereas, for the Loktak fishers there is the glimmer of hope that with political parties committing to review the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, the adherence to the proverbial saying, ‘silver lining amongst the dark clouds’, does hold hopes for better times in the years to come.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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