July 18, 2022
Here’s a story: The inhabitants of Loktak lake – among India’s largest freshwater lakes, home to lakhs of people, mostly from the indigenous Meitei community – have been directed by the government to remove their homestays within 15 days, or they will be destroyed. #Thread
On July 18, 2022, the Loktak Development Authority, a state authority tasked with administering & conserving the lake, issued an order directing all homestay operations (except in Champu Khangpok village) to be removed from Loktak’s phumdis, giving the people 15 days to do so.
Why is this being done? Supposedly, to rejuvenate the lake. This, from a state government that has been pushing for 2000+ crore Mega Tourism and Inland Waterways projects on the same lake. Among others, the tourism project envisions the construction of resorts & a golf course.
On the other hand, Loktak’s homestays are run by local communities. Some are built on "phumdis" -- floating islands of vegetation that Loktak is known for the world over. Loktak’s inhabitants have been living on, and living off these phumdis for centuries. Photo:
But this is not the first time the lake’s inhabitants have faced eviction. In 2006, the Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act (LDA Act) came into force, setting up the Loktak Development Authority to administer and protect the lake.
The LDA Act classifies the people who live in the "core zone" of the lake, or practice traditional fishing there, as encroachers and directs for their removal. The July 18 order has been issued under the LDA Act as well.
In 2011, the LDA had carried out brutal evictions on Loktak with the help of the police: 500+ floating huts were burnt down. To this day, November 15 is observed as Loktak Arson Day by its inhabitants. Some even call the LDA Act a “second AFSPA”.
But since November 2019, the state government, including the LDA have been pushing for thousands of crores' worth of development projects on the lake - a Mega Eco Tourism Project and an Inland Waterways Improvement Project.
Both projects have faced opposition from local communities & environmentalists alike. While the Mega Tourism project came under fire for the small tourism operations it would potentially destroy, the Inland Waterways Project has been criticised for destroying the phumdis.
For starters, the proposal for the waterways project calls the phumdis a “growing menace". It seeks to clear the phumdis using shredders and excavators. The implementing agency for the project is -- no prizes for guessing -- the Loktak Development Authority itself.
To push for these mega projects, the state govt had asked the High Court's permission to initiate them, because the funds sanctioned by the Asian Development Bank would lapse. But when we checked, turns out the ADB hadn't even examined their proposal, let alone sanction funds!
And last we checked in February 2022, state authorities had still failed to prepare a "Brief Document" -- one of the most basic requirements under the Wetlands Rules, 2017, which must be complied with to ensure that the lake can even be notified as a wetland for its protection.
So Manipur's state authorities are removing small homestay operations on the one hand, while bulldozing the mega tourism and waterways projects through, on the other -- all in the name of conservation.