Barak River: Economic and Ecological Security of Northeast India

Barak river is fast turning into a dead river. Continuing with our unmindful habit of destroying our forests will only contribute towards the drying up of Barak river and adding to the sufferings of the people who face devastating floods every year, writes Mani Charenamei

 

The Barak is the second largest river in the Northeast India after the Brahmaputra. Barak has a length of about 900 km of which, 564 km fall in India. The river runs through Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam in India, and Bangladesh.

Barak originates as a small stream amidst the lofty hills covered by thick forests of Liyai village in the Poumai territory of Manipur. The Poumai community calls it Veorii.

The stream is latter joined by Deirii stream and Makhan stream as it flows down south through the Biiso valley.

The Khiiri stream joins the Barak river before reaching Karong. Interestingly, a small stream originating from T Khullen flows towards the North to join Barak as Barak takes a turn towards the North and flows into the Maram region. After crossing the Maram region, the Barak flows southwards into the Zeme, Liangmai and Rongmei territories of Manipur and Nagaland.

As it runs further south, Barak passes through Churachandpur and Jiribam districts and enters the plains of Cachar in Assam.

Finally, Barak flows into Bangladesh to join the Brahmaputra and Ganga.

Barak changes its name as it flows down the territories of different communities. The Marams called it the Barak Mbii Karii, the Zemes, Mbeuki, the Liangmais, Mbiuki, the Rongmeis, Ahu, the Hmar, Tuiruong and so on.

Salient features of Barak

1. Wildlife of Barak:  Barak is said to be the second richest river in terms of aquatic biodiversity. Barak is home to over 2,000 aquatic species of fishes, the highly endangered Siamese Crocodile, Susu Dolphin and Smooth coated Otter. Barak is not only a haven for aquatic species but is also a home to many mammals, reptiles and birds. The thick lush green forests of Chakha- Rienta, Piulong, Tousem-Phoklong, Chingkou-Makoi, Dailong, Chiulon and Akhui forest are some of the important catchment areas of Barak and its tributaries in Tamenglong region of Manipur. The bamboo brakes and tall grasses along the bank of Barak is the favourite roosting place of the migratory bird called the Amur falcon. Some of the important tributaries of Barak are Irang, Makru, Jiri, Leimatak/ Aga etc.

2. Waterways: Barak provides excellent and cheap waterways for transportation mainly for the people living in the Barak valley.

3. Economy: The fresh water fish of varied species provide an excellent source of income for the poor people living along the course of Barak river. The fresh water fish also has high nutritional values. Fishing industry of Barak river is a thriving business. The Fishing industry provides jobs to many people and earns a huge revenue for the Assam Government.

Fishing in the upstream of Barak river is an important source of income for the people living in the catchment areas. Angling, throwing nets, laying traps, throwing spears, using fish stupefying leaves and barks are some of the traditional methods practised by the tribal communities. Fishing is not only a source of income but also leisure activity.

4. History and Legends: Barak is not only rich in the aquatic life but it is also rich in myths and legends. Many tribes of Manipur, Nagaland and Assam have their migration histories, folktales, legends and folksongs linked with Barak. Tribal myths and legends praise Barak river as gentle, benevolent and friendly river, hence, as the legends go many streams and rivers joined Barak. 

According to the tribal myths and legends beautifully curved cosmic formations are believed to be the Barak river and its tributaries.

Threat to Barak

Today, Barak, the most important river in the region is on the brink of becoming a dead river. More than half of its aquatic animals and fishes have become extinct and many species are struggling to survive due to excessive human intervention. The water flowing in Barak is not only drying up but has become highly polluted by human activities. It is alarming to see Barak being polluted right from the source area. The chemical effluents flowing into Barak from the steel factory in Senapati town and the human waste produced by the Senapati denizens have become a serious threat to the health of Barak. 

Fishing in Barak and its tributaries by using detonators, chemicals, electric currents have led to destruction of many aquatic species and the river ecosystem.

One serious threat to Barak was an attempt to construct a mega dam known as the Tipaimukh Dam on Barak river at Tipaimukh in the early the part of the eighties.  However, now, due to strong public protest in India and Bangladesh, the project has been abandoned. If the construction had gone ahead many precious aquatic wildlife could have been wiped out and huge cultivable land areas could have been submerged.

Another serious threat to the health of Barak is the unregulated timber extraction by timber mafias in the Catchment areas of Barak tributaries. Heavy timber extraction has contributed in hastening the drying up of water in the Barak river. 

We, the tribal people who have benefited from the Barak river system have completely failed to realise the importance and benevolence of Barak.

If we had followed the sustainable practice of forest management practised by our forefathers or had timely sought the intervention of experts to help us manage our forest, we could have saved the rich natural heritage which we have inherited from our ancestors. 

We must also be aware that Clean airis the basic right of every human being as enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.  No individual, group of people or Company should  be allowed to indulge in any activities which could destroy the source of clean air and pollute the environment and rivers. As responsible citizens, we must not fail to point out and report all the illegal activities to the authorities for immediate necessary action.

Barak has nurtured us and still has many good things to offer us. Barak offer us a good life, sound economy and a clean environment, provided we are ready to adopt sustainable methods of utilising our rich natural resources.

Saving Barak

The first step to conserve Barak is to conserve the catchment forest areas of its tributaries. Continuing with our unmindful habit of destroying our forests will only contribute to the drying up of Barak and adding to the sufferings of the people who face devastating floods every year during monsoon season.

One significant thing we need to know is that the health of Barak reflects the life of those who depend on it. If the Barak is healthy it is evidence of the healthy symbiotic relationship between the river and the people. However, on the other hand if Barak is drying up and the fishes are disappearing it shows that the people have become thoughtless and indigent. This bond between man and river applies to every river.

Eleven Ecosystem Services Barak can provide

1. Clean and cool environment

2. Clean drinking water

3. Stable riverine ecosystem

4. Enhance Cultural and Esthetic values

5. River Rafting

6. Angling 

7. Boating

8. Traditional and recreational fishing

9. River tracking 

10. River Camping

11. Healthy food supply, and the list goes on.

Of late, the Barak Heritage Foundation, an NGO based in Senapati, has come up with a brilliant idea to conserve Barak and its tributaries. It is an idea whose time has come. This noble move should be emulated by every village and town which are situated along the Barak.

Activities recommended for immediate implementation in order to conserve Barak river.

1. Identify catchment forest of Barak and its tributaries and motivate the villagers to declare them as Community Reserve or Village forest reserve.

2. Announce rewards and incentives for those villages which diligently conserve forests.

3. Set up "Watch Barak Volunteers".

4. Check Pollution activities polluting Barak.

5. Press Manipur Government to carry out resource mapping of Barak and its tributaries at the earliest. (Identification and documentation of flora, fauna and aquatic species)

6. Provide modern sewerage system and solid waste disposal system in the villages, towns and cities to prevent the wastes from flowing into Barak.

7. To tell the state Forest Department to immediately stop issuing permit for extraction of timbers from the catchment forest of Barak and its tributaries.

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First Published:Oct. 30, 2020, 5:07 p.m.

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