Tourism undertaking in Manipur: A toxic din

JN Lai *

Aerial View of Moirang, Sendra & Thanga and Karang :: 2008
Aerial view of Karang Island Loktak Lake, Manipur in August 2008 :: Pix - Nongamba Ningthemcha

There have been loud noises for about 30 years that tourism and its associate activities in Manipur will bring benefits to the peoples and will cause economic development in the state. However, negative contents of the propaganda are so harmfully harsh. The tragedy of so called tourist hot spot - Loktak Lake; bulldozing of the Naga River Colony and villages around Imphal airport; the land grabbing for golf-course and hotel management buildings around Nongmaizingching; the challenges in Shirui hill and Khuga dam are the some existing realities.

Many a wonderful English vocabulary are seen blooming in the garden of corporate media. Recent one, to me, is Theory of Trickled Down Economy. There have been frequent ostensive propaganda and policy, carefully hiding crafty facet of looting other resources. Many of them are not so open, very much cover up. But this one "trickled down economy" is well explicit in literal phrase and as well as its cunning motive and then in no time deflowering the other rights and do injustice.

This certain theory itself is glorified in the Manipur Tourism Policy 2014 attempting to convince and fool the people of Manipur regarding tourism undertaking. How we are told is the system that benefit comes first pouring to the pockets of the few who are sitting on top of the setting and after filled the pockets of those few then eventually there will be small overflow that will trickle down to larger number of people in lower part of the system.

The privatization of Sendra tourist spot, operation of motorboat service in the Loktak, proposed erection cable car in Thanga Karang, etc will share economic benefit with community is mere eloborate charad. The intention of such plan is good for nothing but design to remain confining the wealth churning activities to the domain of those wealthy few.

The work generally robs the community of their common resources and tend to devastate our already deteriorated natural environment. Even in the sector of home stay which appears good participation of communities in receiving benefits is not so, since the middle man, tourist agents hijack the lion share of the business which state need to regulate rigorously.

One emerging concern about the right to opportunity that much relevant to the tourism undertaking is the government's commitment in extending equal economic opportunity and participation. Government is accountable for the acts of perpetration by the privates since usually the former is virtual authority laying down the policy and regulation under which the privates are operated.

Land Grab: Towards developing tourism infrastructure, state is bulldozing the vulnerable population, ceasing livelihood, robbing the small plot of land of people who never able to escape from the grinding poverty; and handling over to the rich who are capable of building five star hotels. On 20 May 2013 about 500 residents who had inhabited for decades on the 1.5 acre land of Kabo Leikai/ Naga River Colony, Imphal were evicted to clear land for construction of a five-star hotel.

The demolition work uprooted about 35 houses; 144 school going children affected, 2 residents died and 1 woman gone insane. The government action that has violated right to life claimed the promotion of tourism in the state committing the public-private partnership venture. Remedies for the people rendered homeless were not taken, no compensation, no support for resettlement and rehabilitation.

Usually airports are paved and enclosed in good distances away from residential area. Imphal Tulihal Airport, in the world is the closest one to the crowded capital town. Government could have shifted this dislocated airport from Imphal city to an appropriate space, instead it is being expanded causing dislocation to the thousands of people.

Expansion project - in the latest case - on 28 September 2014, an eviction order was served against 60 families who cannot afford relocation. The order threatened the families to quit their homesteads within a week time. The traumatized 120 households of Ningombam Awang Leikai and Ningombam Atom Leikai, Imphal West district were waiting for implementation of assurances promised by the government of Manipur in multiple occasions.

About 60 households who were tired of waiting for the government response have already shifted to other places in their own initiatives. After having acquired 700 acres of land since early 2011 for the expansion, the government again notified to acquire another 116 acres from the surrounding area.

Now, the challenge is being aggravated with the coming of Modi's government - developmental enthusiast. The dilutions of legislations regarding the Environmental Protection, Forest Rights and Land Acquisition are on. The amendment of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 gives the Government enormous powers to acquire land without the landholders' and Gram Sabha consent for projects involving defence and defence production, village infrastructure development, village housing and electrification, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects including those taken up under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode.

Loktak Hot-spot Burn: Implementing the Loktak Protection Act 2006, a Manipur Government agent, Loktak Development Authority (LDA) using state police forces has burnt and demolished over 500 huts rendering more than 3000 members of fisher communities homeless. The demolition project and Phum (floating biomass) clearing mission reported used up 374 cores of Rupees funded by Planning Commission through a controversial pipeline called mystical K-Pro.

Such action of state exhibits a glare unintelligible dedication and self contradiction simply because they destroy the Phum and the huts, at the same time they imply the Phums, the huts are the natural beauty and values of the lake which benefits to attract tourists. Authority earmark amount of 40,000 Rupees each towards compensating some victims which is only meagre to their lost that will stretch to long term suffering.

Though it sounds distance away, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples its Articles 10, 21, 23, 26, 27, 28 and 30 aspire - right not to be evicted forcibly, not to be discriminated; right to participation, prioritize, strategise the development; right to free, prior, informed, consent; right to the land and resources; right to preserve and protect the environment, right to proper remedies, and free from militarization.

Also Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET) is a set of principles designed to guide key-players in tourism development towards a responsible and sustainable direction. Addressed to governments, the travel industry, communities and tourists alike, it aims to help maximise the sector's benefits while minimising its potentially negative impact on the environment, cultural heritage and societies across the globe.

Again, tourism and its associated undertaking will take the advantage of prolong militarization in Manipur, imposition of draconian military legislation - AFSPA and the strong impunity that has allowed perpetrators get scot-free always. The fear is, in the name of protection of tourists and keeps the business in an environment of good law and order, the deployment of security forces in about 350 military stations will remain.

* JN Lai wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on January 28, 2015.

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