The gates of a dam in Manipur were shut today after a black, oil-like substance was found in a key river in Imphal East district, sparking concerns over possible water contamination.
The incident comes less than a month after an oil leak from an unused heavy-fuel power plant polluted another river.
The Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) in a statement today said they shut the dam gates to prevent the polluted water from spreading downstream.
PHED Minister Susindro Meitei and a team of engineers went to the site and inspected the contaminated area. They took water samples from multiple locations and sent them to different laboratories, the PHED said.
An officer said the black substance appeared concentrated at a specific portion of the Iril river.
Initial testing indicated all parameters were within permissible limits for untreated water. Further testing in an advanced laboratory, however, will be done, the PHED said.
The authorities have asked villagers living near the dam and the affected river to stay vigilant and report any suspicious incident.
Residents of Leitanpokpi Awang Leikai, a valley area 30 km from the state capital Imphal, who first saw the black substance in the river, stopped using the water out of fear of likely toxic contamination. They immediately contacted district officials, the residents told reporters.
Iril river’s catchment area comprises the hill ranges of Saikul in the neighbouring Kangpokpi district.
Manipur has not fully returned to normal since ethnic clashes broke out between the hill-majority Kuki tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis in May 2023 over disagreements on land, resources, political representation, and affirmative action policies.
The oil leak from a heavy-fuel power plant in Leimakhong on January 10 had affected streams in Kanto Sabal and Sekmai villages in Imphal West district.
The police are investigating the cause of the oil leak. The Governor had also formed a committee to look into how the leak happened. Publicly available information, however, had raised questions as to the location of the heavy-fuel power plant and its distance to the river, raising concerns over possible sabotage.