A series of events has been lined up to commemorate 10th anniversary of the razing of over 500 floating huts built over Phumdis of the fishing families living in Loktak Wetlands area.
The Manipur government burnt down more than 500 floating huts or Khangpokshang built over Phumdis of the fishing families living in Loktak Wetlands area in November 2011. The officers from the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) and the Manipur state police carried out the arson attack floating huts from November 15, 2011 after the former had issued an eviction notice on November 11, 2011 to the inhabitants of Khuman Yangbi, Nambul Machin and Karang Sabal within the Loktak Lake.
The razing of the floating huts took place under the controversial Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, in particular Section 19 and 20 of the Act, which divides the 236.21 sq.km Loktak Lake into two zones — a core zone comprising 70.30 sq.km, which is a ‘no development zone’, or ‘totally protected zone’, and a buffer zone of other areas of the lake excluding the core zone.
A vital aspect of this division is the prohibition on building huts or houses on Phumdis inside the lake, or Athaphum fishing, a destructive form of fishing using vegetation enclosures in the core area. The implementation of the Act has adversely affected over 10,000 people living in Phumdi huts, as well as others dependent on the lake.
The Manipur government, through its LDA, has been blaming the indigenous peoples dwelling in Loktak Lake for polluting and causing contamination of the Lake. However, the impact of the Ithai Barrage of the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, commissioned in 1984, which led to a huge scale devastation of the Loktak wetlands ecosystem, loss of indigenous plant and faunal species, disturbance of the wetlands’ natural balance and cleansing system leading an accumulation of pollutants in the lake, has been ignored and deliberately sidelined.
Each household was offered Rs 40,000 as compensation before their huts were burned. However, most of the villagers rejected this amount as too meager, and not able to compensate for their livelihood and survival needs. Moreover, there is no process to rehabilitate the affected villagers and their right to free, prior and informed consent has not been complied with.
Affected peoples on several occasions had been raising vehement opposition to the introduction of the controversial Loktak Protection Act, 2006, which they feared would break the age-old bond between the lake and its people. Indigenous peoples depending on the Loktak Lake for survival continue to demand the complete scrapping of the Act.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS:
The burning of the floating huts and the destruction of livelihood of the indigenous people dwelling in Loktak Lake constitute a serious violation of the “right to life”, “right to adequate housing” as guaranteed by the Constitution of India and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which India is party to and has pledged to uphold and practice. The failure to obtain consent of the affected communities also constitutes a serious form of discrimination targeting the marginalised communities and violates the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.
Since 2012, residents of floating huts of Loktak have been commemorating the Loktak Arson day/week. This year also with the support of several CSOs, students’ bodies, NGOs, Human Rights Groups and National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers, Environment Support Group, Human Rights Law Network, Human Rights Alert etc, several events will be held from November 15 to November 23, 2021 to mark the 10th anniversary. The reason for remembering those days of evictions is because the system has not changed, the laws remain the same despite numerous appeals and the LDA continues to be a threat to the fishing villages of Loktak.