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Dec 14, 2012 at 07:53pm IST

Manipur: Loktak fishermen homeless as govt evicts locals

Loktak: Even as the Cabinet cleared the contentious Land Acquisition Bill on Thursday, claiming to protect land rights from private developers, at Manipur's Loktak Lake, it is the government that is evicting the locals.

The Manipur government even burnt homes of fishermen on Loktak Lake to move them out, offering them just Rs 40,000 as one-time compensation to leave homes. The fishermen were evicted to make way for dam, and the notice was published in newspaper, not even served to them.

CNN-IBN travelled to Loktak and met the island people to find out what was happening. There was one Oinam Memcha, fighting a losing battle. The Manipur government calls people like her "occupiers" and a threat to Northeast India's largest fresh-water lake. Huts like hers built on Loktak's unique floating biomass or phumdis are being burnt down. Memcha said her son died of shock after the police burnt his hut in its eviction drive. She said, "I am surviving only through fishing in Loktak."

Deep within the lake, CNN-IBN met fisherfolk who are resisting eviction. In 2011, the state government published a notice asking them to leave the lake with a one-time compensation of Rs 40,000.

"They gave a notice on 11th Nov, 2011. They didn't come here and serve eviction notice physically. They broadcast on radio," said Rajen Thanga, general secretary, Loktak Fishermen Union.

The number of floating huts went up after 1984, when a proposed dam by the Loktak Development Authority raised water levels, forcing farmers to take to fishing. Even the recent Loktak Protection Act seems to make no room for the fisherfolk.

Ramananda Wangkheirakpam of Citizen's Concern for Dams and Development: "The Loktak Protection Act passed in 2006 in English which fishing community did not understand. It was cleared by the Assembly. They never say don't fish. But problem is they take away floating huts, take away bamboo sticks, what is required to fish in the system. You can't swim by fishing."

The occupiers are feeling trapped, but no one has accepted the one-time compensation.

"We don't have lands. All our lives we have lived here. Why evict us? If we cannot earn, how will our children go to school?" said Heishnam Ashangbi Bibi, president, Loktak Fisherfolk Women's Association.

Even as bulldozers removed phumdis from this wetland, the Loktak development plan stayed unfulfilled. Manipur still gets just two to three hours of electricity in a day.

The so-called development plan centered around the Loktak Lake appears as a monstrosity to the fisherfolk who've been evicted, their huts burnt down and who do not have any other means of livelihood other than fishing. As the government appears focused in its vision for the future, the coexistence of a lake and its people seems to be the last thing on its mind.

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