Imphal: The majestic Loktak Lake in Manipur is being cleared of all floating fishing huts that have mushroomed encroaching upon the core zone of the wetland.
"We have given them a notice to vacate the lake and have also given them a proper compensation package. Those who are not accepting it, we are dismantling their settlements and burning the huts. Without doing that, we cannot protect the ecology of the lake," Manipur`s DGP Joykumar Singh told PTI.
Inside the 286 square km lake, a designated Ramsar Site, which is spread across three valley districts of Imphal West, Bishnupur and Thoubal, local people engage in fishing by erecting huts on floating biomass known as `phumdies`.
According to a report by Wetlands International, the proliferation of `phumdies` and detrimental fishing practices like `atha phums` have resulted in the degradation of the lake.
The Loktak Development Authority (LDA) had issued a notice on November 11 announcing a livelihood package of Rs 40,000 for each `phum` hut dwellers, who were asked to vacate it after receiving the payment.
The LDA started its eviction drive on November 16 citing section 20 and 21 of the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, under which building floating huts inside the core zone of the lake is prohibited.
"Around 1000 huts have encroached upon the lake in the core zone. Besides choking the waterbody, they use detrimental fishing practices. We have already removed 400 huts and will clear the remaining in the next 2-3 days," LDA`s project co-ordinator Sanajaoba Meitei said.
However, the fishermen are still allowed to fish in the lake. "All we want is that there should be no permanent settlements inside it. They can come, fish and go back home," he said.
There are about 5,000 family members living in these floating huts in localities like Khuman Yangbi, Nambul Machin and Karang Sabal within the Loktak lake.
Local people say that more than a thousand people have already been displaced as a result of the eviction drive in the core zone comprising 70.30 sq km, which is a no development zone.
The affected family members including women, children and elderly are seeking refuge at Ningthoukhong Makha Leikai community hall in Bishenpur district.
"Having lost all their belongings, including books, uniforms and school bags, many children can no longer go to school. With the winter already setting in Manipur, the displaced villagers are left to fend for themselves during the harsh weather," the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said in its report.
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, it said.
The National Association of Fishermen has already submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting him to instruct the Manipur government to stop burning down of huts of fishermen at Loktak Lake.
Police and LDA officials, however, say that there has been no displacement due to the eviction drive as all fishermen have permanent houses on the mainland besides `phum` huts.
"The issue is getting politicised unnecessarily. All fishermen have huts in the mainland also, so where is the question of displacement?" DGP Singh said expressing surprise.