Loktak lake, located in Moirang town, some 45 km south of the State capital, Imphal (Manipur) provides livelihood to many. In a symbiotic relationship, the fisherfolk also look after the ecosystem on which they thrive: their beliefs and folklore make it imperative to worship the waters and to take from the lake only what is essential for survival.
Authority vs People
Recently, Loktak Development Authority (LDA) announced that all homestays, huts, and athaphums(the famous green rings of Loktak, created by segregating sections of phumdis, or floating islands, and used for fishing) are to be removed so that the lake can be rejuvenated.
In 2006, the State government enacted the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act “to provide for administration, control, protection, improvement, conservation and development of the natural environment of the Loktak Lake”.
It restricts certain activities in the lake, such as the free-ranging fishery as traditionally practised by the local people.
The core zone as defined by the Act covers most parts of the waterbody used for fishing. Section 20 of the Act prohibits the building of huts on the phumdis, cultivationof athaphums, and athaphum fishing in the lake.
Livelihood from the Lake
The Manipur ecosystem consists of two interrelated biomes, wetlands and forests.
Loktak Lake, which acts as a natural reservoir for rivers and streams flowing from the hills, and its related wetlands are central to the State’s life.
There are 55 human settlements around the lake.
A recent study indicates that 54 per cent of the households are dependent on the lake for drinking water and other domestic purposes.
At least 57 per cent of them are involved in fishing, fish farming, and fish marketing; 24 per cent in fishing and agriculture; 6 per cent in weaving lake products; and 4 per cent in ferrying boats.
That is, more than 90 per cent of the households are dependent entirely on Loktak for sustenance.
The Pollutants brought by rivers into the lake
The rivers that flow into it, especially Nambul, which meanders through Imphal, bring with them a good amount of pollutants, including solid waste dumped into the waters by city-dwellers. This is killing the fish and aquatic plants.
The Loktak Power Project caused the disappearance of nearly 20 species of aquatic plants of commercial value. The Ithai Barrage blocked the passage of migratory fish, inducing a sharp drop in the fish population of Loktak and adjoining wetlands.
Manipur’s State fish Pengba ( Osteobrama belangeri) is reported to be regionally extinct in the wild now
About Loktak Lake and its Significance
The largest freshwater lake in Northeast India, the pristine Loktak Lake is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Manipur.
Known for its floating circular swamps, which are called phumdis in the local tongue, the lake invites tourists from far and wide for its ethereal beauty.
The lake houses the only floating national park in the world, the Keibul Lamjao National Park, which is the last refuge of the endangered brow-antlered deer orsangai/ dancing deer,Manipur’s state animal.
Considering the ecological status and its biodiversity values, the lake was initially designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on 23 March 1990. It was also listed under the Montreux Record on 16 June 1993, “a record of Ramsar sites where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur”.