Imphal, Nov. 22: The Okram Ibobi Singh government’s move to evict phum settlers from Loktak lake has left over nearly 3,000 members of the fishing community homeless and prompted a massive protest among the lake settlers.
The Loktak Development Authority, chaired by Ibobi Singh, burnt more than 500 huts on November 15 to evict the phumdi (floating bio-mass) settlers.
The Planning Commission, which funds an ongoing lake development project, had provided Rs 374 crore to clear the phumdis.
The lake has more than 1,100 huts built on phumdis.
The lake development authority had served an eviction order, asking the settlers to collect a cheque for Rs 40,000 per hut and to find an alternate livelihood.
After the order, the authorities began the eviction and burning the phum-huts on November 15.
The drive was conducted under the Loktak Protection Act, 2006. The authority officials said the settlers were “encroachers” whose presence there posed a serious threat to the survival of Loktak, a Ramsar site listed as one of the most threatened wetlands of the world.
K-Pro, the firm engaged to clear the phumdis, will push them to the Chind-Win river of Myanmar through the Ithai river of Manipur.
The project completion target is July next year.
“We regret having to evict the fishermen. But they are encroachers and for the general benefit of the people in Manipur and global environment, we have to save the lake. We have been asking them to vacate the lake for the past three years,” an official of the LDA told The Telegraph.
The officials added that they had also built houses on the fringes of the lake.
The lake settlers, however, said they did not want to leave the lake and continue to make their living by fishing.
They have formed the All-Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union to resist the government’s move.
After the burning began, the settlers fled and stayed at a relief camp at Ningthoukhong in Bishnupur district. After the police hounded them, they regrouped again at Thanga in the same district.
Yesterday, they fled to Imphal to highlight their plight.
However, the police forced them back in the evening.
“Burn us along with our huts. How can we feed our children now we do not have anywhere to live? Why is the government so cruel? Kill us as well,” some fisher-women cried when they a saw a police team coming to force them away.
They spent the night yesterday at Nambol in Bishnupur district and left for Thanga, on the fringe of the lake this morning.
A public meeting is likely to discuss the issue at Thanga tomorrow.
“We will continue to fight for our place in the lake,” said O. Rajen, the secretary of the lake union.