India's HLPF review of SDGs & realities in Manipur

Jiten Yumnam *

India's review of National Voluntary Review (NVR) on implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at UN Headquarters on 19 July 2017 needs a closer introspection on the objectivity and relevance of such reviews. During India's VNR review of SDGs adopted earlier in September 2015 with Seventeen goals, Indian officials, mostly from the Niti Aayog, highlight flagship programs like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Swatch Bharat Mission, introduction of Aadhar, demonetization, Goods and Service Tax (GST) etc as progressive initiatives, to eradicate extreme poverty despite multiple challenges of such initiatives on common people.

The Indian officials, while presenting glory tales of achievement and success, also elaborated how the Government carried out wide consultations with the State Governments and local government bodies etc in preparing the VNR report.

The most critical feature of India's VNR review is none of the civil society representing the Major Stakeholder groups could intervene, implying what's presented during the VNR review by the officials, is simply a one side tales of glorious achievements and ambitions. Denying space to civil societies to present the actual state of affairs of how unsustainable development is pursued in a climate of exclusivity and suppression of communities.

The unfortunate realities is community voices are muffled not only at the national and sub national level in the implementation, monitoring and review process of SDGs, but even in the VNR review during HLPF at the UN itself, reflecting the undemocratic nature of the state in policy formulation and implementation on development processes. The real purpose of the review is defeated if alternate realities could not be discussed alongside with official VNR reporting. An absence of a critical reflection of the gaps and failure of the current development models, policies and projects pursued will never lead to any sustainable development, let alone realizing SDGs.

India's VNR presentation is a clear departure from the actual reality of unsustainable development pursued in the country. Ever since adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the introduction of neoliberal model of development rooted in the plunder of land and resources in across India's North East has intensified. The post SDGs adoption environment in indeed marked by formulation of new policies detrimental to genuine sustainable development and to the rights of communities.

The formulation of the North East Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 in January 2016, for instance, will only lead to expropriation of land and natural resources by drilling oil and gas from Manipur and all over North East. Further, the Mining and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2015 has been passed by both houses of parliament of India on 29 November 2015.

The amendment is marked by non-recognition of community rights over their land and minerals and also to take their consent before any mining operations in their land and also the exclusion of clause for requiring "Forest" or "Environment Clearances" for mining operations. The amendment also advanced interests of mining companies, such as an automatic extension of the mining lease to 50 years from the present 30 years, the extension of the limit of a mine from the present 10 sq kms to an undefined extent etc, all this without community consent.

The New Draft Energy Policy of India was also introduced in July 2017 by the Government of India to pursue energy projects across India with an enabling environment to corporate bodies to further their commercial interests. The Finance Act, 2017 is also intended to curb the powers of the National Green Tribunal, established to check the violation of "Forest Clearance" and "Environment Clearances" for development projects with environmental consequences like big dams, oil exploration etc.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India also introduced the Draft Wetlands Rules in 2016, which is a diluted version of the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010. There is an ongoing process to dilute the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and also the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. Policies on Public Private Partnership are also pushed towards deepening privatization in India.

These policies and dilutions will undermine sustainable development by unleashing environment and social impacts with no accountability mechanisms. International Financial Institutions like the Japan International Cooperation Agency are also facilitating the dilution of policies to facilitate privatization of water supply in Manipur. JICA's pre-feasibility study for Imphal Water Supply Project from Mapithel Dam suggested policy change of Manipur Water Supply Act, 1992 (Manipur Act No. 1 of 1993) to increase tariff.

Since adoption of SDGs, there has been no sincere effort to review the development model pursued and also to rescind the unsustainable development projects in Manipur. The experience of submergence of agriculture land, forest and loss of livelihood of villages of Chadong, Riha, Ramrei, Tumukhong etc in filling up the Mapithel dam reservoir from January 2015 also coincides with India's commitment and efforts to implement SDGs. The Mapithel dam has led to increased deforestation, impoverishment among affecting communities. There is no effort to end the violations by Mapithel dam.

During the review, Indian officials also claimed to achieve strides in ending poverty, ensuring food security and sustainable agriculture (Goal 1 and 2). However, the forced submergence of agriculture land by Mapithel dam, the 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Project and the ongoing process to submerge vast tract of forest and agriculture land by the proposed 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, the 190 MW Pabram dam, the 67 MW Khongnem Chakha Dam, the Irang Dam and Tuivai Dam, etc., will further undermine the quest for an equal and inclusive society and food sovereignty, and destroys traditional agriculture in Manipur.

The Tipaimukh dam will submerged 25,822 hectares of forest in Manipur and envisaged to fell 7.8 million trees and 27,000 bamboo groves. The confiscation of forest and agriculture land by these multiple mega projects will undermine the food sovereignty of the indigenous peoples of Manipur and deepen impoverishment of communities.

India's claim of sustainable industrialization and resilient infrastructure (Goal 9) for sustainable development has little relevance in Manipur, as the push for mega infrastructure projects like the Trans-Asian Railway in Tamenglong District Manipur is marred with widespread social impacts, destruction of forest and agriculture land and annihilation of livelihood and survival sources of communities. Further, the push for large scale infrastructure like international roads and railways will also facilitate expropriation of land and natural resources of Manipur. Large scale infrastructures promotion will also undermine the demography and threatening of survival of indigenous peoples of Manipur.

The push for unsustainable development policies and projects is also associated with corporate unaccountability and privatization of development processes. The continued lack of accountability of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) for submerging more than 50,000 hectares of agriculture land in Manipur with its 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project and the violations by Jubilant Energy, which commenced oil exploration works in the year 2012 without the rights and consent of indigenous peoples of Manipur remains a critical concerns.

Again, Oil companies like the Asian Oilfields, Oil India Limited commenced oil exploration surveys in Khaidem, Moidangpok, Sangaithel villages in Imphal West, Manipur since May 2017 without the consent of communities. The Asian Oilfield blasted multiple explosive devices during their survey without clear information on the impacts and safety and also by contaminating agriculture land. The oil companies and the Government failed to conduct any impact assessments and misinformed communities. Villagers of Khaidem Village expressed concern with the oil survey company due to non-provision of information of the project, the absence of detailed impact assessment due to surveys and direct oil exploration.

The financings of development in Manipur by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) as indicated by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) financed Imphal Town Ring Road, the Kasom Khullen Road, the Asian Highway 1 project, other rural roads and other large scale infrastructure projects have all failed to consider and respect the right to free, prior and informed consent of all affected communities in Manipur. Given ADB's road financing pattern, there's tell-tale evidences that IFI financed projects will lead to widespread impoverishment, reinforce inequality and social conflicts and plunder of land. The cumulative impacts of pursuance of extractive industries, mega dams, and infrastructure projects all over Manipur would eventually destroy its agriculture land, forest and other survival sources in Manipur.

The focus on only seven (7) out of 17 SDGs of India's NVR reporting is very clear cause for concern because the integrity and universality of the global sustainable development agenda requires an integrated and holistic approach. India's voluntary focuses on only goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 14 and 17 ignoring fundamental targets like SDG goal 16, on the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development is a very serious and deliberate omission. Development process pursued with corporate unaccountability amidst growing militarization such as in Manipur also represents a clear case of absence of rule of law.

In Manipur, community leaders and human rights organizations continues to be intimidated for propounding a human rights approach to development processes. The continued imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and militarization processes also facilitated exclusive, undemocratic, exploitative forms of development in Manipur. A real sustainable development should foster an enabling environment where people are at the heart of development decision, implementation and monitoring, not unleashing brutalities and brute suppression of their rights.

India's VNR on SDGs implementation for HLPF review only represents the state of affairs emerging out of the country's aggressive push for neoliberal economy based on rapid economic growth and rooted in the expropriation of peoples land and resources. The pursuance of unsustainable development processes has failed to recognize indigenous peoples self-determined development rights over their land and resources in Manipur and to respect their right to free, prior and informed consent before pursuance of such development processes.

The Government of India needs to adopt a participatory and environment friendly development processes in the implementation, monitoring and review of Sustainable Development Goals in India respectful of human rights and the people's right to a self-determined development and destiny. Ensuring full recognition of indigenous peoples rights over their land and resources, ensuring the rightful participation of indigenous communities in development decision making in their land and territories, ending forced introduction of development policies and projects incompatible to the wish and rights of communities, promoting the rule of law and corporate accountability, ending militarization in peoples land and territories, ending corporatization of peoples land and resources is critical to foster genuine sustainable development.

The ongoing preparation of the Government of Manipur to formulate SDGs implementation plan for Manipur requires a radical paradigm shift of development processes, such as abandoning the notion of perceiving peoples land and resources as mere sources of profit and to stop all forms of corporatization and privatization of peoples land. There should be an end to all forceful acquisition of agriculture and homestead land, wetlands, forest of Manipur.

A review of the fallacies of development processes, rescinding the politics of exclusion and subjugation and an adherence to human rights development principles will be critical for a genuine SDGs achievement in Manipur. The Government of India should also end adopting and pursuing unsustainable development processes in the pretext of promoting sustainable development and in realization of Sustainable Development Goals.

* Jiten Yumnam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on August 10, 2017.

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