<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The picturesque Loktak lake, populated with small floating islands, and with the Keibul Lamjao wildlife sanctuary, is one of Manipur’s most identifiable tourist spots. Yet, this poll season, its at the centre of a storm that has come to haunt the ruling Congress government.The Congress government had taken up a project in 2009 to clear some of the phumdis — bodies of biodegradable mass that float along the lake. The project was awarded to a company called KPro, a subsidiary of Progressive Construction, a Hyderabad-based firm. Under the project, the company was to clear over 132 lakh cubic metres of the 236 square kilometre wetland.A total of Rs 400 crore was eventually sanctioned for the project. While Rs 244 crore was to be used for the phumdi clearance, the remaining Rs 176 crore was to be used for developing waterways, bringing in motor boats and jetties, a floating dispensary and a livelihood package for the displaced fisherman, etc.The BJP has, however, in its ‘charge sheet’, alleged that the Congress government has embezzled the funds meant for the project. In September last year, BJP MP Prahlad Singh Patel had also written to the Centre for an inquiry into the alleged scam, following which the Central Vigilance Commission forwarded the complaint to the Union cabinet secretariat.Yet, poll skirmishes aside, for the 333 odd houses of the fishermen who live in the phumdis, hope hinges on the upcoming elections. The Loktak Development Authority, as part of its clearance scheme razed down over 777 houses located on the phumdis. Rs 40,000 was given to some families as compensation.For the traditional fishermen who have been fishing on the wetlands for hundreds of years using the athafun method, the problems started with the building of the NHPC’s hydro-electric dam in 1983, submerging over 83,450 hectares of traditional grazing land.”The Loktak Lake Act, 2008, then came in, which said that no fishing equipment can be used to fish in the protected areas of the lake. This has left the fishermen without their prime source of livelihood,” said Oinam Rajen, president of the All Loktak Lake Fishermen Union Manipur (ALLAFUM).Rajen says that razing down people’s houses is unheard of, and it happens only in Manipur. In 2012, ALLAFUM filed a PIL in the Manipur Bench of the Gauhati High Court, against the razing of the houses. During the hearing, the government gave two different numbers — it first said that all 1,147 houses were razed down, but when ALLAFUN showed evidence of existing houses, the government said that 777 houses were razed. The court has now put a stay order on both construction of new houses by fishermen, and the eviction by the government. Rajen, however, alleges that in contempt of court two eviction drives have happened since.Namdithiu Pamei, of Center for Organisation Research and Education (CORE) Manipur, says that an ecological disaster is in the making. “Now, they have to resort to man-made methods to clear phumdis. A lot of indigenous natural resources like snails, herbs, vegetables, fish are now endangered in the site. Loktak fish was popular initially, and were sent to Nagaland. Now Manipur imports fish from Andhra Pradesh. Migratory birds have stopped coming because of scarcity of fish,” he says.

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Manipur’s Loktak lake project could be a drawback for Congress