Tungjoy re-visited

Moirangthem Lakshmi Kumar *

Tungjoy village in Senapati District ; Picture taken in first week of January 2020
Tungjoy village in Senapati District in January 2020 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

While going through the Sangai Express (Eng) edition of 31st December in the front page, I came across the column - one company of IRB stationed at Tungjoy. Suddenly, it invoked an interest in me to go through the news item immediately. It was all about the border dispute between two neighboring villages of Khezakhenoma (Nagaland) and Tungjoy (Manipur).

Khezakhenoma comes under Futsero Sub Division, Phek District of Nagaland and Tungjoy is under Paomata Sub-Division, Senapati District. The news is of interest to me since it was associated with me for a year in the beginning of my career as an MCS Officer. Futsero SDO used to be the counterpart of SDO/Paomata.

This was 34 years back when I was posted as SDO/Paomata after I joined MCS from the 1985 batch. This was my first posting and I proceeded to take charge on 02/1/1987. A flashback is inescapable for re-visiting the whole issue of border dispute and to understand the socio-economic and administrative reality of the period.

Tungjoy village is located about 30 kms from NH- Imp-Dimapur at Tadubi Jn. It is a big village by hill village standard famous for cabbage, potato, squash, maize, etc. These products are tasty and pure organic. Villagers are hard working and land is very dear to them and they will not compromise their land for anything else.

The land dispute may also find its roots in the cultivable land ownership. So when villagers of Khezakhenoma "encroached" upon their land Tungjoy villagers found it intolerable. Whereas, Nagaland side appears to be taking a lot of interest in border affairs as compared to Manipur. This is apparent from their approach and administrative arrangement.

In Nagaland - there is an SDO,there is a BDO and there is another Border Magistrate available in the Sub Division /District. These are all individual officers vested with separate authorities. This was obvious when all the three Officers came for the meeting with SDO/Paomata who represented all three authorities.

In other words, he was three-in-one. Paomata was the youngest Sub Division then just opened a year back or so with hardly any infrastructure and facilities or staff worthy of a Sub Division. Inspite of my inexperience, the Sub Division was loaded with problems.

Lotha Pond is located within the disputed area between the two villages up in the hill range whereas per the agreement no villager from either side is allowed to enter. In other words, so long as this no man's land status was not disturbed peace prevailed. Normally disturbance comes once cattle strayed into this 'no man's' land and villagers wander into the prohibited domain to fetch their cattle.

Reaction and/or overreaction lead to all kinds of undesirable actions on both sides as has happened on a number of occasions sporadically in the past. In order to deal with this situation 1 (one ) Coy of 7-MR was stationed there already at Tungjoy. This MR Post was the life-line of SDO/Paomata as there was no Police station nearby as Tadubi Police Station which had the jurisdiction was located far away at the NH.

All urgent w/t messages were sent from the MR post through the designated Lambu. Another important aspect of the issue is the absence of a clear cut boundary or any fixed permanent landmark which could be easily identified for demarcation.

As it happens often in the hill areas, the natural landmarks like tree or a stream is considered as landmark to understand the village boundary. However, since the streams often change course such landmarks are not reliable and so is the case with trees as they are not permanent.

Claim and counterclaim theories are passed on. Besides, lack of interest on the part of District Administration and the State Government leave the problem to linger on leading to eruption once in a while.

Tungjoy village in Senapati District ; Picture taken in first week of January 2020
Tungjoy village in Senapati District in January 2020 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

As I see- the core issue of the land dispute may be attributed to-first, the problem of boundary based on natural landmarks like a stream or big tree which are not permanent. Streams often change course and the trees are not there permanently. Second, the absence of proper land records further compound and confuse the whole thing leading to claims and counterclaims.

As tension kept on mounting between the two villages as a result of capturing some villagers of Tungjoy by Khezakhenoma when they had gone to collect their cattle which had strayed into the no man's land some amicable solution had to be found.

A meeting between SDO/Futsero and SDO/Paomata was arranged at DC level. The talk was to be followed by a goodwill lunch. On the day of meeting Manipur side went fully prepared under the leadership of SDO assisted by SDPO/Mao, village representatives and MR personnel.

From Nagaland side there was a strong team led by SDO/Futsero assisted by the BDO, Magistrate (Border), and a Lawyer accompanied by a large contingent of NAP (Nagaland Armed Police). When we took out some papers/files to support our argument there was strong objection from Nagaland side saying that talk should be based on traditional claims and convention. There was an argument on both sides.

Tungjoy villagers were pacified somehow and asked to let Officers conduct the negotiation. Whereas the opposite party was completely overwhelmed and prevailed over by their villagers and finally the atmosphere became vitiated and tension ran high.

We had to beat a hasty retreat and left the spot immediately without the goodwill lunch. I submitted a detailed report to the DC expecting direction for another round of talk so that an amicable solution could be found in the interest of finding a lasting peace in the area.

Tungjoy village, Senapati district located near the State's border with Nagaland in January 2020
Tungjoy village, Senapati district located near State's border with Nagaland in Jan 2020 :: Pix - TSE

The problems of the newly opened Sub Division also added up to the woes of Paomata being the youngest Sub Division created only one year back. Lack of infrastructure and basic facilities-vehicle, office building, acute shortage of staff, quarter for Officers/staff were only some in the list.

Whereas officers of Nagaland were better equipped and take a lot of interest in border affairs. We seem to be lacking interest in our border affairs unlike our neighbor. Somehow this comparison with Nagaland was always there in almost all spheres. Actually those days the villagers were very much concerned with the office set up as it reflected the efficiency and state of governance.

In a way they are not wrong as for them SDO truly represented Government. In introspection I find that sincerity and conviction are most important with a sense of belongingness for successful administration of our remote and far flung villages.

Land which is so dear to them would have to be accorded priority before they take law into their own hands. There may be difficulty as it involves another State. Nonetheless, sincerity and conviction should be the cornerstone for any step forward. Otherwise, the problem will persist till finally some providence happens and peace is "bestowed" from somewhere.

Perhaps, it is time now for us to embark on a border policy taking into consideration the aspirations of the people with a definite direction for all to follow lest the principles of peaceful co-existence is flouted.

* Moirangthem Lakshmi Kumar wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on January 12 2021 .

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