New Delhi: Almost 30 years after Champu Khangpok in Manipur’s Loktak Lake was struck off the electoral records, the Election Commission has now approved a polling station in the floating village.
The polling booth was approved on 11 November. Joint Chief Electoral Officer of Manipur Ramananda Nongmeikapam said the decision was taken following a detailed inquiry.
ThePrint had in September reported on the travails of the 383 residents of Champu Khangpok, which did not exist on government records. For decades now, these residents have been registering voter ID, Aadhaar card, and ration cards in the surrounding villages. As a result, they have to travel for at least one and a half hours by boat to access basic amenities.
“I felt very very happy when I found out (that the polling station had been approved),” said Deven Singh, a resident of the village and president of the All Loktak Lake Fishermen’s Union Manipur. “People are overwhelmed with happiness because the state government’s plan was to remove the floating houses by hook and crook. So we are now getting our legal rights and people are so so happy.”
Troubles in Loktak, the largest freshwater lake in the Northeast, had begun back in 1983 when the Ithai barrage was commissioned. The barrage, constructed close to the confluence of the Imphal and Tuitha rivers, had disrupted the “hydrological regime” of the lake.
Then in 2006, the Loktak Development Authority enforced the Manipur Loktak Protection Act according to which “no person shall without the previous approval of the Authority obtain any lake resources”.
Despite the Election Commission’s decision, Deven Singh pointed out, there is still confusion since the Act brands them as illegal residents.
Referring to LDA Director Longjam Bhagaton’s earlier remarks to ThePrint, in which he said the island’s residents were residing illegally, Singh said, “The LDA director had called us illegal residents. They can’t say we are illegal now.”
Meanwhile, speaking to ThePrint over the phone, Joint CEO Nongmeikapam said: “We had made a very detailed inquiry through district commissioner (DC) Bishnupur, who had made a further inquiry through the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) concerned. The ERO then submitted a report to the DC and the DC submitted the report to us.”
He added: “So we have created a polling station now, whoever are enrolled in the nearby polling stations, they are automatically enrolled in the new polling stations but will have to apply for Voter ID, which shouldn’t be a difficult process. I am glad that this happened in a short time… It’s a dream come true for them.”
While the matter was being discussed by the Election Commission, the Manipur High Court issued an order on 12 October regarding the conservation of Loktak Lake.
“The wetlands shall be conserved and managed in accordance with the principle of wise use as determined by the Wetlands Authority,” the order stated.
“But this document (The Integrated Plan for Wise Use by the Wetlands International South Asia and Loktak Development Authority) that has come does not recognise that there exists a floating village, so it will be interesting how this gets played out,” Imphal-based environmentalist Ram Wankheirakpam said. “So the LDA is now saying that the residents of Loktak will be evicted, whereas you have the EC that has now approved a polling booth.”