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Placing Loktak Ramsar Site at the Centrestage of Sustainability


Loktak Development Authority (LDA) issued a notification asking people living in the Loktak Lake area to remove the shelter huts built on the floating biomass and the circular open water fish culture ponds.  LDA says these huts have violated the provisions of The Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, citing specifically that these were impacting the ecology of the lake. However, the LDA notification itself is in contravention to the guidelines of the UN.


By Salam Rajesh

Wetlands International’s chief executive officer Jane Madgwick in a recent briefing had asserted that the potential of wetlands to mitigate climate change and extreme weather events has been neglected for decades.

Making her stand clear, Jane reasserted that wetlands are versatile climate and biodiversity assets and for this reason ‘quantified targets are needed for policy-makers to protect wetlands’.

Her statements, obviously made to leave an imprint in the mindset of policy-makers across the globe, however seemed to have missed the target with think-tanks back home in Manipur, as is somewhat implied in the conceptualization of far-reaching objectives as in the Manipur Vision 2047 document.

The Vision Statement (2.1) in the preamble of the Manipur Vision 2047 document commits Manipur State “To be a vibrant, carbon-neutral and economically, socially and ecologically sustainable state”.

This assertion is supplemented by the important statement for Manipur State “To evolve into a people-centric state that is liveable, affordable, healthy, safe and resilient, providing equitable growth opportunities for all”.

In Chapter 5 of the vision document, with respect to promoting tourism (5.1) particularly, it is stated that “There is immediate need for positioning Loktak Lake as a unique sustainability tourism site”, and further, the document promotes the idea of an “Integrated tourism planning with various objectives like poverty alleviation (SDG1), economic growth (SDG8), sustainable communities (SDG11) and reduced inequalities (SDG10) along with a comprehensive Tourism Master Plan”.

Like Jane asserts, there is a missed goal in the vision document when it does not consider planning a sustainability roadmap for Loktak Ramsar Site in line with SDG 13 (Climate Action). The general focus has been more on an economic planning with conventional model of tourism without a focused thrust on tourism that fits into the ecological and environmental character of the fragile freshwater lake, and with the expressed idea on wetlands as good carbon sinks.

There is, however, an innovative suggestion on the establishment of a ‘Manipur Climate and Sustainability Institute’, possibly on the line of ‘An institution focused exclusively on climate resilience and adaptation in Manipur, preservation of forests and water bodies in the state, and research on sustainable biodiversity systems like the iconic Loktak Lake to be set up by 2030’.

When the vision document stresses for the State “To become a carbon-neutral state by deploying integrated climate action strategies in development through engagement of all stakeholders”, it is being envisioned that the policy document is thinking on the line of a multi-prong strategy to incorporate both forest and wetland ecosystems in the larger climate action strategy.

This is emphatically in line with the suggestions on strategizing Natural Climate Solutions (NCS), that is, the investment in conservation and land management programs that increase carbon storage and reduce carbon emissions, and which offer an important way of addressing both crises and generate additional environmental and social benefits. The issue is to incorporate wetlands too in the broader action plans.

Suggesting solutions to achieve environmental sustainability, the vision document states that “Policies and factors enhancing environmental sustainability are an important aspect of ensuring state’s future attractiveness as a destination”, while also suggesting the feasibility of a Carbon Stock Augmentation Plan in meeting with the nation’s climate goals.

The vision document does talk of making ecology part of the tourism plans along with designing alternate livelihood schemes for the locals to “reduce regional and economic disparities”. This, however, is not working out well on ground where in the case of Loktak Lake there are myriad issues of conflicts of interest between State and local communities.

The major issue is the failure of the State to accept the local fishing community as an integral component of the lake ecosystem, wherein the lifestyle and different activities of the fishers are very much relevant to the thriving ecosystem of the lake. In part, the locals are actually regulating the biomass and the flow of the water in the lake as this is important for their fishery activities to support their livelihoods.

The concept of commons as the ‘territory of life’ for the locals who directly and indirectly depend on the commons – here referring to the lake water body – for their living, livelihoods and sustenance is largely being misunderstood by the State, wherein the State views the locals’ activities as ‘intervention’ within the lake area – broadly defining the local fishers as ‘occupiers’ which is rather unfortunate and broadly misunderstood.

To define a Loktak fisher as ‘occupier’ the State needs to re-examine the pre-Loktak project era on how the locals were utilizing the resources of the lake for their living. Re-defining the pre-existing rights and privileges of the local fishers, and the agricultural workers, as it was a century back, needs to be explained now on what context the State is defining the locals as ‘occupiers’.

The new thinking process as defined by the United Nations, and global organizations like the World Conservation Union – is that locals who thrive within and in peripheral areas of forest and wetland ecosystems are integral to these ecosystems.

The broad indication is that the new system of management and conservation of the forest and wetland ecosystems should be such that the locals who directly depend on these ecosystems for their living must be integrated into the planning processes. Meaning, the locals must be considered as part and parcel of the natural ecosystems and the management design must incorporate this new thinking process to achieve sustainability in the correct measure and perspective.

The Loktak Development Authority issued a notification on the 18th of this month asking locals living in the Loktak Lake area to remove the shelter huts built on the floating biomass and the circular open water fish culture ponds which the Authority says are in violation to the provisions of The Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, citing specifically that these were impacting the ecology of the lake.

The notification itself is in contravention to the guidelines of the UN, and which has been emphasized by Wetlands International which guides LDA’s activities, wherein it has been stressed that the locals thriving and dependent on natural ecosystems – herein read as Loktak Lake – should not be viewed as alien to the conservation strategy but rather should be considered as integral to the conservation process.

It, therefore, is rather ironical that LDA should now be seeking to renew the sense of conflict of interest with the locals as its latest notification is going to impact immensely on the lives of the local fishing community.

The strategy should have been on coming up with a working module that seeks the active participation of the local fishing community in strategizing means of control of the biomass proliferation, control of the invasive species of weeds and grass, stopping the inflow of pollutant loads, rejuvenation of the declining population of original fish and aquatic plant species, and so forth.

The strategy could also come up with the means to limit the uncontrolled increase of the shelter huts built on floating biomass and to limit these within specific zones so that maximum space is available for open water body. ‘Sustainability’ is the key word and Loktak Lake dwellers need to be considered at the centrestage of sustainability in the State’s scheme of things.

In short, the State could do well to reflect on its own principle that is spelt out in the Manipur Vision 2047 document, “To evolve into a people-centric state … providing equitable growth opportunities for all”.

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

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