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Piping a pied dream for 24×7 water supply system

Thoubal Multipurpose Project

The 12th State Assembly Election is barely a week from today, and aspiring political parties in Manipur have pronounced their mandate for the ‘welfare and progress’ of the State in post-poll scenario, albeit the so-claimed ‘people-centric’ manifestos.

By Salam Rajesh

With deliberations on climate change a global issue currently, focus on impacts of changing climatic conditions on both the natural and human environments globally, and the concerns ranging from food insecurity to water scarcity and out-migrations of local communities to urban areas are plaguing the global community. Manipur is not an exception to this process, and the State is already feeling the crunch of changing climatic conditions and other human induced negative influences.

Scientists in India have already forecast predicted shift in rainfall pattern in the entire Northeast, cautioning impacts in different sectors including agriculture, health, and livelihoods due to the erratic rainfall. Added with the spice of large scale deforestation and drying up of water sources as a consequence to this, the State is poised to face challenges in food and water security in the coming days, and years.

Availing hygienic potable drinking water is and has been an issue for both rural and urban populations in the State during these past several years, with consecutive Governments unable to provide immediate solutions to the issue. Both rural and urban populations currently are forced to purchase drinking water from commercial vendors at relatively high price in the absence of regular tap water.

The 12th State Assembly Election is barely a week from today, and aspiring political parties in Manipur have pronounced their mandate for the ‘welfare and progress’ of the State in post-poll scenario, albeit the so-claimed ‘people-centric’ manifestos.

Taking to the call of the electorates for better efficiency in governance and to deliver the goods, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have outlined commitments in its Manipur Manifesto 2022 to fulfill one of the basic demands of the people for availing 24×7 potable water supply system.

The BJP takes the onus to commit to this fundamental demand, wherein it says, “We will embark on a mission to develop all the villages of the State on the line of Smart Village with all modern facilities including access to 100% pied water supply” (p.19) under its commitment for rural development.

With the same breathe, the saffron party states that, “We will ensure the provision of clean pied drinking water to every household under the Jal Jeevan Mission” (p.20) under its commitment for ensuring basic amenities, for both rural and urban populations.

The BJP’s manifesto promises much for securing safe drinking water for all households across the length and breadth of the State in post-2022 election scenario, whereas, this basic and fundamental amenity has not been secured during the preceding five year-term of its rule in the State.

The commitment was very much there, too, in the BJP’s Vision Document 2017 which outlined targets to be achieved by the year 2020. The crux of the matter is that the commitment has not been fulfilled till this day. The party has again taken up the mandate in its 2022 commitments, and it has to be seen whether this indeed becomes a reality by the year 2024 as promised by the State’s chief minister.

The issue has also been well taken up by BJP’s former ally, the National People’s Party (NPP) as assurance to the electorates for its 2022 campaign. Conrad Sangma’s party commits thus, “NPP will create better infrastructures and improve upon existing ones through scientific interventions to ensure efficient water distribution in towns, cities, rural areas & the hills. NPP will create Hybrid Water Grids by tapping in available streams, rivers & rainwater harvesting mechanisms; will support rainwater harvesting projects to aid water conservation and ground water recharge; and will support building of environmentally friendly small scale irrigation dams for sustainable terrace farming” (12.4 Water Resource Management, pp.22-23).

Concurrently with these commitments, NPP stretches its arms further by stating that, “NPP shall work towards enactment and enforcement of legislations to protect wetland systems, and it will set up constituency coordination committees for better management of river systems & wetlands” (pp.10-11).

The Indian National Congress (INC) is in the fray, too. In its Pledge 6 (Drinking water and rainwater harvesting) of the party’s election manifesto for 2022, it commits to: (i) Provide universal access to potable drinking water, (ii) Conserve catchment areas of rivers, lakes and wetlands, (iii) Rejuvenate neglected water supply schemes, and (iv) Construct more public retention ponds (p.3).

The Congress, perhaps in tune with this particular objective, stresses certain points on the environment front, although the party’s manifesto does not specifically addresses climate change issues as such. In its Pledge 10 (Environment, Forest and Climate Change) the party commits to “provide fuel wood economy, cooking stoves & technology to the hills and the adjacent areas to reduce deforestation, smoke-borne diseases and pollution”.

At the same time, the Congress will “recognize village authority as stakeholder in forest development and sustainability schemes in the hills”, and “prohibit environmentally hazardous plantations in forest and non-forest areas” (p.5).

Subjective discussions on climate change issues point fingers at several human induced activities that have negatively impacted forests, wetlands and rivers to the extent where these have been reduced to a high level of degradation and depletion. The consequence is that watersheds have depleted extensively and this fundamentally reduced the environmental flow of many of the rivers flowing from the uplands and nourishing the central plains.

To tackle this worst-case scenario, the NPP commits to “review, redraft & update the State Action Plan on Climate Change according to the changing needs” (4.6.1). The understanding, perhaps, is to re-look at the State’s policy and planning process to find solutions to the issue of forest depletion and the subsequent state of crisis on the water front.

The BJP, too, is not far behind in committing to the issue. The party commits to “create empowered committees to closely monitor the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals” under its commitment for effective governance (p.16). The SDG goals 1 and 2 specifically focuses on eradicating poverty and hunger for the world community, with targets on erasing food and water insecurity particularly for the marginalized sectors.

Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh did promised that the State will accelerate the Thoubal Multipurpose Project and the Dolaithabi Multipurpose Project to address the shortages on potable water supply for the Greater Imphal areas some years back, but this ‘commitment’ is yet to be fulfilled till date.

Meantime, watching the developments are the electorates who have largely been upset by the unfulfilled ‘promises’ of past instances where Governments made commitments that are yet to see the light of day, literally speaking.

It is not only about the urban residents of Greater Imphal in question, whereas, it is equally true of both rural and urban populations in the hill districts where the common men have to dig deep into their pockets to avail the one basic need in human life – water.

Many of the hill areas in Ukhrul, Kamjong, Chandel, Tamenglong, Noney, Kangpokpi for that matter are suffering from the lack of regular potable water supply due to reasons of spring heads drying up and the rivers’ e-flow reduced to low ebb. Like Imphal residents, local people in the uplands have to purchase mineral water and tap water from commercial vendors to fend for themselves.

It is in this scenario of have-nots that the commitments, or the promises, outlined in the election manifestoes of the aspiring political parties are awaited to be seen translated into actuality in post-March power transition scenario. Until then, purchasing potable water from the commercial vendors at relatively high price is the only option out for the people.

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

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