Impact of trade and floods on Manipur's economy and civilization

Dr N Somorendro *

Except air for breathing, water for daily use and land, most of goods and services in Manipur are from outside. Further air, water and land/soil are increasingly polluted. Floods both in localities and devastating ones and landslides are becoming regular due to lack of attention for decades and climate change.

Goods and services are coming from outside in large volumes and speed. All these have deep impact not only on the economy but civilization, culture and future of Manipur. Water is abundant but not available at homes, educational institutions, government offices, for irrigation etc.

Money going out and rising economic dependency is bitter truth with social, cultural and political implications. Conservation culture, self-supporting economic activities and eco-friendly practices are fast declining. Khudei, phanek, banana leafs, mat(made from khouna), wooden things, pottery products etc are out of fashion but secondhand cloth, torn jeans, plastics etc are popular. Imported alcohol, sareng, zarda kwa and other goods are in high demands for marriages, festivals and election times.

Even imported chemical added apples, mangoes or food items are offered to Gods and Goddesses- not sure whether They will be pleased or not? English is seen as superior and the medium of instruction rather than mother tongue even in lower classes. It is 21st century yet no modern drainage and sewage systems. Something is fundamentally wrong in value system, social, economic and political life.

A land of gold (Sanaleibak) and self-sufficiency is increasingly becoming land of imported goods and services, plastics, workshop of vehicles etc. Destruction of trees, forests, hills, lakes and water bodies continue unchecked. Democracy, politics and development tend to be oriented towards more for power, money and number game; cause divisions and disparities. The above processes disturb not only normal life and natural eco-system but also halts production, employment, income generation; causes food shortages and subsequently to rising economic dependency in Manipur.

At present everyday requirements- toothpastes, raw material of ngari (fermented fish), cooking gas, mobile handsets and services, vehicles, petrol and diesels, construction materials, medicines, beetle nuts and leaves and tobacco products (also for zarda kwa), stationary items, cosmetics, illegal drugs and tablets etc. are all from outside.

A large quantity of rice, vegetables, fruits and other food items also come from outside. Commercial advertisements in 24 hours TV channels and e-commerce encourage consumerism and imports from outside. Addiction to TVs, mobiles, fast foods, drugs, tobacco, alcohol etc are increasing. Are people not going to face existential crisis soon?

The most visible economic activity is dealership and retailing of imported goods including cars and services. Both legal and illegal trade is thriving with profit motives in Manipur including from the neighbouring countries. Manipur is fast becoming a market rather than producer and exporter. The proposed Trans-Asian Highways may reduce Manipur as a transit route.

The other dominant activities include infrastructure development and constructions including residential buildings; focus on project/scheme mode and implementation of centrally sponsored schemes/policies. Money and people including highly talented individuals move out and are not working in Manipur. In return goods including cheaper and low quality ones, services and migrants come in large numbers.

Economic liberalization in India and globalization started after the collapse and disintegration of communist USSR in 1991 and 'triumph' of liberal democracy and market economy. There is increase in flows of capital, labour, goods and services among the countries and within a country. State acts as regulator rather than producer or provider of basic needs to its citizens. The humans are regarded more as the consumers of goods and services while privatization and rising inequalities are increasing.

Markets determine production and prices. But individuals, regions and countries that don't have purchasing power can be marginalized and left out. Such realities are also clearly witnessing in North East India particularly in Manipur. In Communist countries like China, Cuba, Vietnam etc State continues to produce goods and provide basic services to their citizens.

Reaction against globalization can be seen in Britain's exit from European Union, election of USA President Donald Trump with 'Americans First' slogan and trade wars etc. The demands for ILPS and ST status in Manipur and Assam can be interpreted as reaction against the economic liberalization and globalization processes as discussed above.

Manipur is on the top in privatizing school education, health care, water supply, transport, land, economic opportunities, telecommunication etc with associated disasters. Rising inequalities is clear with higher percentage of population below the poverty line in Manipur 37%. In Sikkim it is 8%, Meghalaya 12%, Tripura 14%, Nagaland 19%, Mizoram 20% and Assam 32% while national average is 22%. Paddy fields remain empty for 7 months out of 12 months in a year with high unemployment.

After 68 years of functioning democratic and federal systems in India; economic dependency now extends to the political life in the smaller states. There are historical, geographical and structural constraints while some are rooted in the Constitution. The ethno-centric system and undemocratic political and economic institutions discourage development and production.

The disturbing conditions in the neighbouring countries and their unstable relation with India affect Manipur and North East India. In India's highly centralized system states have neither power to act on its own in key areas nor can use even its mineral resources though give bigger social and welfare responsibilities.

A new awakening is a must to resolve fundamental challenges – rising economic dependency through one way trade and frequent floods and landslides. It may take one or two centuries to manufacture vehicles including cars, computers, mobiles etc in Manipur. But focus on production; reviving past conservation, self-sufficient economic activities and eco-friendly practices can be done.

Conservativeness of the elites and focus by the political class on politics and populism, passive nature of academicians and intellectuals have to be changed for progress, innovation and increased productivity. Spirit of cooperation and sacrifice has to start in social, economic and political life by the leadership.

There is need to introduce innovative and eco-friendly development activities suitable to Manipur given the long rainy season with abundant water, numerous rivers, hills, lakes, water bodies, variety of plants and animals. Some lesson to be learnt from statecraft of independent sovereign kingdom and civilization of Manipur which had the component of water management- digging riverbeds, diversification of rivers, conversion of filled lakes into cultivable area etc.

Combination of the modern scientific knowledge and technology and revival of best traditional practices can do wonders to reduce dependency. An effective land use policy, double cropping, modernization of production system and marketing can increase productivity, employment and generate income. Restoring past eco-system of linking rivers, lakes, water bodies and forests is a necessity. This can reduce frequent floods which often devastate the crops rendering agricultural occupation not viable option and loss of crore of rupees.

Border trade has to be cost effective and free from health hazards and for the interests of the people of Manipur. For instance import of rice, pulses, oil etc which are much cheaper in Myanmar can be considered. The economic cooperation and interaction within Manipur and between Manipur and other states in North East has to be developed. Besides Act Easy Policy; Act North and South Policies are equally important to ensure better ties with the countries which surround North East India –Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Bhutan and Nepal.

Education system should be for effective learning and knowledge rather than the present obsession with number games and topper craziness. Focus on the changing requirements of society, research and innovation and above all for moral values and inclusive history should be new goals of education.

Politics should be for consensus building and to resolve common fundamental problems; bring justice and equal opportunity. Production, use and promotion of locally produced and available goods for economic sufficiency, good health and eco-friendly- cloths, rice, vegetables, fruits, fish, banana products, thamnaleaves, kouna products, pottery, wooden and bamboo products etc.

What Manipur really needs are patriotic and genuine men and women of farmers, producers, innovators, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, scientists, environmentalists, researchers, teachers, intellectuals, judges, lawyers, social workers, media persons etc. Our sportspersons can compete and become winners at the national and international levels.

The political institutions and traditional economic pattern including in the hill areas require democratization to empower the common people and women politically and economically. At present threats to the economy, culture and future of Manipur are real due to economic dependency, frequent floods and landslides. Let us all pray and work for visionary and honest leadership equip with scientific knowledge, past history and mission to save Manipur. If present generation do not start now; when and who will do?

* Dr N Somorendro wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The author is the General Secretary of FEGOCTA.
This article was posted on June 27, 2018.

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