Lessons from monsoon havoc
TORRENTIAL rainfall for few hours leading to sudden rise in the level of water of major rivers flowing through the two capital districts and embankments of almost all rivers getting breached at different points are clear indications about serious ecological imbalance in the state. Though the scale of devastation caused by flash floods triggered by the unpredictable weather condition is limited to inundation of low lying residential pockets and damages caused to standing crops, sharp rise in the water level of important rivers like Nambul, Imphal, Iril and Kongba as well as breach of river banks becoming a common feature during the monsoon season testify that the river beds, which are getting shallower with each passing year, are no more capable of withstanding the wrath of nature. Major rivers continuing to flow above the warning level following incessant rainfall in the past few days and embankments of these rivers either breached at different places or overflowing and causing waterlogging in many areas of Imphal East and West districts could be regarded as wake-up call for the policy makers to take pro-active measures to at-least check the frequency of natural calamities when there is still time. For long, environmental protection activities have been rather confined to observance of international events and planting trees in the valley pockets, regardless of the fact that major rivers of Manipur have their origins in the hills, where denudation of the forest cover continues unabated. For instance, hill-slopes located along the national or state highways bereft of trees for long stretches suggests that either the locals do not mind about conservation of the environment or the much-hyped programmes for replenishing the forest cover are yet to impress upon the state masses, particularly those settling in the hills.
With substantial number of people in the hills still depending on the traditional method of shifting cultivation as the main source of livelihood owing to absence of alternative source of income generation, it is obvious that the importance of forest ranks at the bottom among the list of priorities. Those indulging in such crude and traditional method of sustaining livelihood might be aware about destruction caused to the environment and that nature will strike back with a vengeance, but their concern and focus will obviously be ensuring adequate food stock rather than worrying about the environmental factor and consequences. Such compulsion has been resulting in environmental degradation and problems of forest land re-vegetation in addition to taking a heavy toll on the forest resources. On account of land ownership in the hills yet to be brought under the government’s ambit, there has been no respite from exploitation and commercialisation of forest products like timber and firewood even by those who are supposed to safeguard them for posterity. Thus, saving the forests as part of preventive steps from the imminent scourge of environmental degradation and flash floods merit firm decisions by the policy makers on land use and forest laws along with ensuring food security and restructuring of land ownership system at the village/community level instead of entrusting individuals for such important task.