The 7th edition of the Amur Falcon Festival took place in the Tamenglong district of Manipur on November 14. The festival contributes to the broader efforts of showcasing the cultural heritage of Manipur and the biodiversity conservation in the region.
The festival, organized by the Manipur forest department, aimed to promote the conservation of the Amur falcon, which is recognized as the world’s longest-flying migratory bird among small raptors of the falcon family.
The primary objective of the festival was to raise awareness about the protection and conservation of this magnificent bird species. By celebrating the Amur Falcon Festival, the organizers sought to strengthen the human-nature relationship and emphasize the crucial role these birds play in the lives of people in the region.
The Amur falcon, scientifically known as Falco amurensis, has gained international acclaim for its remarkable migratory feats. These agile birds undertake one of the longest migratory journeys among small raptors, covering thousands of kilometers during their annual migration.
Their journey takes them from their breeding grounds in Northeast Asia, including parts of China and Siberia, to their wintering grounds in South Africa.
The festival served as a platform to showcase the significance of preserving the habitat and the environment that supports the Amur falcons during their migratory journey. By highlighting the importance of conservation efforts, the festival aimed to garner support from the local communities and visitors to ensure the protection of these iconic birds.
However, the proposed Tipaimukh High Dam (THD) is a potential threat to the ecological importance and cultural heritage of the Barak River, biodiversity, and livelihoods of local communities.
The Barak River and its associated river basin ecosystem hold a rich history that originated from the natural lofty terrains of the Houngdu range (2500m above sea level) of Liyai Khullel in the Senapati district of Manipur, India.
This transboundary river, flowing between the Indian states and Bangladesh, is the second biggest drainage system in the northeast. Its significance lies not only in its geographical expanse but also in the diverse tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the indigenous communities inhabiting its banks.
The Barak Basin is known as a cradle for varied and unique endemic flora and fauna, making it part of the Indo-Burma mega biodiversity hot-spot zone. The region houses a vast gene pool of endemic plants, animal species, and microbes, recognized by the international scientific community for its bio-researches.
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Unfortunately, the project report for Tipaimukh High Dam, dating back to 1984, lacks comprehensive field-based research, reflecting a sense of deliberate negligence towards the biodiversity of the region.
The proposed dam threatens 25,822 hectares of forest land in Manipur, leading to the felling of 7.8 million trees. This destruction would not only contribute to climate change locally but also globally, as dammed reservoirs are a significant source of human-caused methane emissions.
Furthermore, the dam site is home to various hornbill species, such as the Great Indian Hornbill and the Rufous-necked Hornbill, which play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance.
The absence of migratory bird mentions in the project report contradicts the presence of migratory species like the Amur Falcon and the Sarus Crane, raising concerns about the accuracy of the environmental impact assessment.
The absence of acknowledgment of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the submergence zone, including the Kailam and Bunning sanctuaries, is another cause for concern. These areas are unique in nature, supporting diverse ecosystems and wetland complexes that contribute to the continuation of civilization in the Sylhet district of Bangladesh.
The Barak basin area is considered one of the most important bird areas in the Sino-Himalayan temperate forest, the Sino-Himalayan subtropical forest, and the Indo-Chinese tropical moist forest.
Moreover, more than 200 endemic fish species have been recorded from the Barak drainage system, highlighting the critical role of the river in supporting aquatic biodiversity. The proposed THD’s hydro-dynamics, altering the riverine ecosystem, may lead to conflicts between India and Bangladesh over water flow changes, impacting downstream areas and the livelihoods of communities.
Indigenous communities in Manipur, whose lives are closely intertwined with the Barak River, deeply value their cultural heritage and spiritual connections to the land and water. The proposed dam threatens to submerge sacred sites, historic routes, and wetlands, leading to the alienation of these communities from their ancestral heritage.
Additionally, the long-term health impacts resulting from displacement, changes in the ecological balance, and demographic shifts caused by large dams are concerns that must not be overlooked.
Instead of pursuing the construction of the Tipaimukh High Dam, a more sustainable and holistic approach should be considered.
Establishing an Upper Barak Development Authority could enable a participatory and informed decision-making process involving affected communities. Such an approach would prioritize the preservation of biodiversity, cultural heritage, and local livelihoods, as recommended by the World Commission on Dams.
The Barak River and its basin are not merely geographical features; they encompass a treasure trove of biodiversity and cultural heritage. The proposed Tipaimukh High Dam poses significant threats to this delicate ecosystem, jeopardizing endemic species, migratory birds, and indigenous communities way of life.