Polluted River in Manipur Devastates Fish and Humans

Manipur’s Nambul river’s role in the context of maintaining the climatic conditions of Manipur cannot be ignored as it directly falls into the Loktak lake – the largest fresh water lake in North East India, which plays a vital role in controlling the ecological balance of the region.

But urbanization and taking up of various developmental projects in other parts of the state have started showing its fangs – the most palpable being the pollution of the Nambul River running through the city.

The river becomes polluted once it starts entering Imphal’s main market area. The most polluted part of the river in its 10 kilometre stretch in Imphal city begins from Hump Bridge until it reaches Keishamthong bridge – a distance of almost 1.5 km.

Nambul river has now become not only the most polluted river in the state but also a model river of pollution in Manipur.

During the wet season, solid waste – tons of toxic material – are being carried down by the current of the river from Imphal city. Every year, at the beginning of rainy season, lumps of waste material, including empty plastic bottles, plastic bags, thermo coal, unused plastic products, and dead bodies of animals from Imphal city, are carried down to the Loktak Lake by the current of the water.

This process threatens all life in the lake. As the Lake water is contaminated, the life span of many aquatic plants as well as fresh water fishes has been reduced. Many indigenous fresh water fishes of the region have disappeared already.

As a result, delicious Pengba (osteobrama belangeri) fish which was once abundantly available in Loktak lake and Nambul river has become extinct. Dr A G K Menon of Zoological Survey of India Madras in his report on Conservation and Management of Inland capture fisheries Resources of India clearly points out that imported common carp are replacing Pengba in Manipur.

Interestingly, the upstream of Nambul river was the breeding ground of Nganap (Acanthophthalmus pangial), Ngasep (Mystus bleekeri) and Ngamu-Sangum (G. Manipurensis) fish. But over-exploitation and pollution of the Nambul river caused them to disappear two decades ago.

Recalling his teenage days,60 year old N Tombiraj, son of Padmashree Khelchandra who wrote Manipur’s Royal Chronicle said, “local fishes like Sareng,Sareng Khoibi,Ngatup, Nganoi, Ngaten, Nganap, Ngasep were abundantly available in Nambul.” Tombiraj lives on the bank of Nambul river at Uripok. “It is a sad thing that our younger generation may not know the fishes, not to speak of the taste” he laments.

Traditionally every Manipuri couple enjoys the curry of Nganap, a small and sticky fish, on their marriage night. But due to it’s sudden disappearance from the local markets, non-local carp have been replacing it for the last two decades.

“Even during our time, we didn’t eat it” says Keithellakpam Kiran, a resident of Naoremthong bazaar, located on the bank of Nambul river near Imphal. This 52 year old Kiran married in 1993. However in case of Tongbram Atul who began married life in 1982, they managed to enjoy Nganap curry. Atul(50) lives in Takyel Kolom leikai, a village located on the opposite side of Naoremthong.

According to Dr W Vishwanath, Professor of Manipur University’s Life Sciences Department of the varsity, Nganap is among 14 other endangered fishes of Manipur which is the home of around 200 fish varieties. Out of which 20 to 25 varieties were imported carp from outside the state.

Since time immemorial, fish has been associated with the life of Manipuris. Traditionally the people of Manipur love to eat fish as it has great value to human beings. Fishes here not only playing a very important role in preserving the rich culture and tradition of Manipuris, it also indirectly or directly supports the economy though the state produces only about 15,000 MT of fish against the requirement of 25,000 MT of table fish in a year.

Manipuris uses fish in the performance of their customary rites. On the sixth day of a child’s birth, they perform Ipan Thaba with Ngamu an air breathing fish commonly called ‘snake-head’ or murre’ an essential item. On the day of marriage, they perform Nga-Thaba releasing two snakeheads in the pond. When a person is seriously ill, his friends and relatives come and see him with live fish.

Other factors relating to the ecological imbalance of the region include construction of Ethai barrage, collection of gravel from the bottom of streams in Manipur hills and siltation which destroys the breeding grounds of the upstream fish. Illegal importation of some non-local fish varieties have also caused concern in the region.

Thousands of fish farmers who live on Loktak Lake couldn’t find these indigenous fishes for the past 20-25 years, due to Loktak Hydro-Project’s Ethai barrage and continuous disposal of unwanted garbage along Nambul river bed in the Imphal area.

The decomposed ordour of this unwanted garbage which accumulated at Toubul Karong, where Nambul river falls into the Lake in Manipur’s Bishnupur district are also polluting the atmoshphere of the area.

“My son, please ask them not to throw dead bodies of cows or pigs, we can’t ride the boat for fishing because of the decomposing smell” complains 68 year old fisher woman Soibam Ningol Chatombi of Toubul, a village located near Toubul Karong.

Like Chatombi, as many as 500 fishermen and fisherwomen of the village couldn’t take their boats beyond Yangoingthou temple for fishing as unwanted garbage blocked their waterway. Echoing a similar feeling, Thoudam Premjit, another young fisherman said, “If they (Imphalites) don’t stop throwing garbage in the river, our pat (lake) will die in the future.”

In the past, the fish from Loktak lake and its’ peripheral wetlands Toubul Karong area and Yangoi-Achouba (another name of Nambul river at Toubul village) in particular can be kept alive for a longer period on their way to market. However, these days most of them die before reaching the market, feels Ibemcha, a fish monger in Imphal. Experts here believe that this might be because of the Lake’s contaminated water.

Due to the unavailability of a proper laboratory, there is no report of any investigation in this regard. Even Manipur University which was converted into a central university in the recent past could not do anything as it is a teaching oriented institution. Sadly the fishery college of the existing Central Agriculture University, Iroishemba near Imphal has been moved to Agartala (Tripura).

“So it’s the need of the hour to have a research institute to save our fishes,” according to Dr Vishwanath. “We also need to propagate our native fauna instead of importing outside carp.”

Due to paucity of funds, the state fisheries department, in spite of acknowledging the threat to local fish which also plays a vital role in helping the eco-system of the state to a certain level, is yet to take the necessary steps to revive the local species in the state’s rivers which shares nearly 25 per cent of Manipur’s water bodies measuring 56,461 hectares. The department’s budget provision was only about 184.67 lakhs during 2005-06.

The continuous piling up of the garbage at the mouth of Nambul river is not only threatening the water in the Lake but also the soil. This also threatens the life span of the Lake’s reptiles. But the citizens of the state are yet to realize the threats to the integrity of the environment and the resulting ecological changes pose a serious threat to them, echoes Prof N Rajmuhon of Manipur University’s Chemistry Department.

“Most western countries have been investing a huge amount on solid waste management projects to maintain their ecology” Prof Rajmuhon said ,”similarly, Delhites had been spending a lot to air-condition their rooms.”

“But here, nature gave us Loktak Lake which provides pleasant weather throughout the year, so once it is dead, the region would have an extreme climatic condition” he added, “it’s almost too late for us to take up solid waste management projects to save the Lake.”