By Donald Sairem | IMPHAL | Jul 4: Three months after the opening of the gates of the Thoubal Multipurpose Project, the water from the reservoir at upstream Ramrei is all drawn out now and the once submerged paddy fields resurfaced, presenting a reminiscence of how most villagers used to provide for their family few years back.
The construction of the earth dam over the years had submerged homes of many in surrounding villages like Ramrei, Chadong, Riha, etc. and the affected villagers were forced to be displaced to safer places. Besides, the villagers were deprived of their agricultural lands, which were submerged in the ever rising water.
In a state of despair but desperate to have enough food for survival, some Ramrei villagers are now tempting their fate in the monsoon, and have started planting rice and vegetables at areas where the water has receded.
Lately, the reservoir, more commonly known to picnickers as ‘Chadong Lake’ despite being located at Ramrei, had become a favourite picnic spot for many and the villagers have been earning some income through ticketing for entering the site and through providing boat service in the water body, in addition to eateries being opened at the site.
However, a boat tragedy happened at the tourist site wherein three picnickers lost their lives when the boat they were travelling capsized in the water body when a freak storm hit the state on April 28. After the tragedy, all hopes of deriving means of livelihood from the tourist site were in vain for the villagers. The government has put a ban on use of unauthorised local makeshift boats through an office memorandum of the chief secretary issued on April 30. Subsequently, the number of picnickers declined drastically. The reservoir is also all dried up now.
Deprived of what once used to be their source of income, the despairing villagers are now compelled to plant the crops where the water level has receded.
Interacting with this reporter, chairman, Ramrei Tourism Committee, Aning Zimik informed that earlier the village used to receive a minimum monthly income of Rs 60,000 only through collection of entry and parking fees. In the winter season, the income was hiked upto at least Rs 90,000. Besides, the 21 makeshift boats used for ferrying passengers and tourists used to provide around Rs 10,000 in a day per boat for the boat service operators. However, they are now penniless and taking up the plantation of crops as last resort, stated the tourism committee chairman.
Ramrei village chief, Shimdhar Zimik, said that the villagers now want to return to their past lives and reclaim their lost paddy fields. “We want the reservoir to remain dry as it is. That is the only way we will be able to reap our harvest,” he said.
He further recounted that crops grown by the villagers during similar water recession in 2015 were destroyed and washed away by the rising water as soon as monsoon hit the State. “The villagers are still apprehensive when the water level will rise and wash away their crops but still they are taking chances,” said the village chief.
Shimdhar, who contended that the sufferings of the villagers may have been eased if the government had paid full compensation to the affected villagers timely, maintained that they could have procured paddy fields in other areas if they were given enough money through the compensation.
While making it clear that the project cannot be inaugurated prior to providing full compensation, he urged the government to pay the due amounts at the earliest in one time.
Meanwhile, executive engineer, Thoubal Project Division-1 intimated that the opened gate of the water-conducting system may be closed anytime in July. Water has to be collected in the reservoir throughout the monsoon, he said.
The engineer further asserted that the water levels will be regulated according to requirements, which is the purpose for the construction of a dam.
“We understand the grievances of the villagers but the effects of dams cannot be ruled out, for which the villagers are being paid compensation for rehabilitation and resettlement,” he noted while adding that due economic packages to help the villagers established through rearing of poultry and cattle will be made available at the earliest.