By Sunzu Bachaspatimayum
Yaralpat is one of the many erstwhile lakes of Manipur whose charms are reminded only by history books and folk songs. The dead lake is now seemingly coming back to life, thanks to community effort.
Once upon a time, the entire valley area of the State was one big lake, so goes the Manipuri legend. Gradually, the waters receded, leaving behind a magnificent system of wetlands. No wonder then that the small hilly state Manipur has Loktak lake, a Ramsar site of intertiol significance. Unfortutely, the State is fast losing its valuable wetlands. Even the attractive Loktak lake is dying with the government making a last ditch effort to save it, spending over Rs 300 crores in dredging and clearing bio masses from the lake.
At a time when the State, which has a sublime climate throughout the year, is fast feeling the heat of climate change and water scarcity, the Kombirei Environmental Development Organization (KEDO) is setting a trend in community efforts in livelihood generation and ecological restoration.
Located 8 kms from the capital city Imphal, Yaralpat was a lake with surface area 0.4 sq.km, famous for its flora and fau. Amongst its floral varieties, Kombirei is a purple-coloured lily that had completely vanished from the area.
Although people who gradually took possession of portions of the lake area experimented with agriculture for years, the yields were never encouraging. Nevertheless, some continued working the fields, while others sold them off to buyers who were willing to wait for the area to become developed. During this period, most of the erstwhile lake area remained dried and unused. This encompassed over 70 hectares of land lying barren.
When experimentation with paddy cultivation failed to yield positive results, people who took ownership of the dried up lake areas began to think about reviving the origil lake itself. In 2010, eleven farmers came together and resolved to restore the wetland and rejuvete the bio-diversity of Yaralpat. They med their group, ‘Kombirei Environmental Development Organization (KEDO)’, contributed Rs 50,000/- each and began reclaiming the lake by digging 11 hectares jointly owned by them. Although the project area was dry land, the moist lake soil made for difficult digging. Even heavy duty earth movers could not be used because of the moist soil. After three years of digging during the dry seasons, KEDO’s efforts are at long last bearing fruits.
Now in the middle of the once barren area, around 11 hectares have become a perennial water body where pisciculture is thriving. Because of the revived water body, migratory birds and other local species are making it their destition, gradually bringing back the semblance of the erstwhile Yaralpat.
Appreciating KEDO’s yeoman service, the Manipur Forest and Environment department and the Agriculture Directorate are encouraging the group with technical inputs, guidance and help in reclaiming works of the lake. Plans are also afoot to develop the area into a tourist spot where boating and bird watching activities can be done.
‘Besides environmental development of the Yaralpat area, we are also trying to introduce integrated community farming. Now that our project area has become a perennial water source, it can irrigate neighbouring paddy fields. We are proposing to introduce rabi crops in these fields’, said KEDO’s Secretary, Y. Binod Kumar.
KEDO’s President, N. Raghumani Singh stressed upon the organization’s focus on restoring the flora and fau of the area which will in turn transform the area into a popular tourist spot. “In the last few years, we’ve seen a variety of migratory birds coming here. We’re also trying to replant the once popular Kombirei lilly that was synonymous with Yaralpat. At present we’re making a Kombirei nursery for large scale planting in our project area.”
KEDO’s example is good news for Manipur which is poised at a crucial crossroad between increasing population and fast receding biodiversity, particularly the wetlands that regulate climate.
(The author is a tiol award winning filmmaker and a Manipur based jourlist.)