The Loktak hydro-electric power project, commissioned three decades back, has reached electricity to thousands, but robbed thousand others of their livelihood.
The Loktak lake, which has to have water to the optimum, often causes flash flood in the agricultural land on its periphery, turning them into swamps unfit for cultivation.
The State government estimates that the Ithai barrage on Manipur river, constructed in 1979 as a part of the power project, has submerged 20,000 hectares of cultivable land while unofficial estimates peg the figure at as high as 83,000 hectares.
The only option for the thousands of poor farmers living around the lake, spread over 230 sq km area, is to switch over to fishing in the swamps, but that means huge additional investment.
“None of us have got any monetary help for this from the State government. For one hectare of land, you need to invest Rs 5-7 lakh to make it suitable for fish farming. Only the rich could afford this,” social activist Ch Chidananda told PTI here.
In the Mayang Imphal area, the worst affected in floods, around 5,000 hectares of arable land has been submerged permanently, rendering them unfit for paddy cultivation.
Besides this, large tracts of land and permanent ’phumdies’ (floating biomass) are also temporarily flooded during the rainy season each year.
“Due to the barrage, the water level of the lake is kept at an optimum level throughout the year resulting in flash floods,” said environmentalist R K Ranjan.
The situation is worsening by the day as heavy siltation has raised the river bed making the lake shallower and increasing inundation on the edge of the lake, he pointed out.
Over the years, the annual frequency of floods have increased from one to three.
“It is a major problem in the area. But we do organise relief camps for the victims,” said Mayang Imphal MLA Kh Ratankumar Singh.
Even fishing is not easy after floods.
“During floods the fish catch goes down drastically as the ponds overflowed with water and silt. At times I struggle to get even one kg of fish in a day,” complained Haishnam Singh of Ningthoukhong town of the nearby Bishnupur district.
Under the banner of Senior Citizens Forum, the victims have been demanding compensation since 1983 and have also urged the Loktak Development Authority to construct water channels to drain out excess water from their fields.
“The power project was commissioned without any planning by the State government. They have to give a rehabilitation package or stop flooding,” the forum’s general secretary Chirom Naolo said.
Under a pilot project four years ago, they dredged two water outlets and had successfully reclaimed large tracts of land for agricultural purpose.
“But due to no maintenance, we have lost that to flood once again. We need to have funds to drain out the water,” he said.
The altered ecology of the wetland and dwindling natural resources have resulted in increased migration to towns and cities in search of employment.
“Even the fish population has also declined tremendously. Traditional aquatic vegetation, once a main food item and source of income, has largely vanished from the wetland,” said environmentalist and activist Ramananda Wangkheirakpam.