Manipur Govt's politics of de-recognition

Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan *

In the recent past, there have been a number of issues related to land reform/use in Manipur. The National Sports University, ILPS bills 2015 and their modified versions in 2016, Scheduled Tribe demand, Hill-Valley stand-off, so on are all direct or indirect consequence of shrinking land resource in the valley. Apart from these state-level issues, there have been local/inter-community disputes arising out of land-grabbing in the name of places of worship (e.g., Ikop pat conflict in 2014) and on various other pretexts.

Under the State’s diktat, in past few years, the outskirts of Imphal city have been continuously targeted for land acquisition for public use or otherwise. It appears that the govt machinery seems to become super-active in pursuing land acquisition or ‘land-grabbing’ of minority inhabited areas in and around Imphal.

The land rights holding (pattadar) residents of surrounding areas of Mantripukhri including Kontha Ahallup, Chingmeirong Nongpok, and Meitei Keirang have been at the receiving end of such over-active but ill-conceived drives since 2013 apparently for public use.

However, the govt seems to shift goalpost, going by the orders passed in 2017 and last month. As per the 2017 order, the area was to be acquired for construction of MLA quarters, however last month authorities inspected and the halted redevelopment projects of the patta land by the residents in the name of paddy land conservation.

The latest govt diktat is to unsettle/displace the inhabitants of Kshetri Bengoon Mamang Ching/Khunou on the ground that the site/area comes under Nongmaiching Reserve Forest. The govt’s move is to declare the residents of the area illegal/encroachers, and hence liable to face eviction. In this regard, a show cause notice was served to the residents without conforming to FRA 2006.

Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006: According to the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (recognition of forest rights) act, 2006, other traditional forest-dwellers are the inhabitants who have been staying in the area for past three generations (or 75 years prior to December 2005). For such dwellers, Section 3, 1(h) of the act speaks of rights of settlement and conversion of the villages, old habitation, unsurveyed villages and other villages in forests, whether recorded, notified or not into revenue villages.

To realise this, the guidelines appended in the Act direct State govt to convert all forest villages into revenue villages and recognise the forest rights of the inhabitants thereof immediately on enactment of the Act. In the event of rejection of claims of rights, the villagers can petition the authority in 60 days.

The relevant questions in this context are:
1) When the last survey of the area was done to recognise the area as Nongmaiching Reserve Forest?
2) When the survey was done was there any settlement?
3) When was the area notified as reserve forest?
4) Whether all the residents within the boundary pillars have been issued show cause notice or not?
So far the govt has not produced such documents/orders to dispel the apprehension of the locals in the Reserve Forest site.

Manipur Forest and Environment Minister Thounaojam Shyamkumar recently informed the State assembly that Manipur’s forest cover was up by 263 sq. km in past two years to 984.25 sq. km as revealed by the State of Forest Report (SFR) 2017.

Now, it may be safely assumed that the provisions of FRA 2006 have been implemented to achieve the feat of the best Forest Reserve protecting state among NE states. Implementation of FRA 2006 means that the scheduled tribes, other forest-dwellers and their villages have been recognised as revenue villages as mandated by the Act through proper/joint survey by revenue and forest departments.

Politics of de-recognition: The motive of Manipur govt in its move to target minority settlements around Imphal is more or less a politics of de-recognition of the identities of the residents in these places.

Going by the version of the locals and civil society organisations resisting the move of the govt to evict the Kshetri Bengoon Mamang Khunou/Ching residents, the occupation of the area began about 50 years back (since late 1970s or early 1980s).

Apparently, there was no demarcation/notification of Reserve Forest when the settlement began. Why govt did not issue show cause notice as soon as boundary pillars were erected?

Till 2012, there was no notice from govt side on the so-called Reserve Forest status of the site. Moreover, the residents are enrolled in electoral roll, village has public water supply infrastructure, Govt School under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan inaugurated last year, and villagers are receiving several other welfare schemes.

It is worth asking how the govt inaugurated school under the Reserve Forest site. The show cause notice conspicuously left out some residents for reasons best known to the concerned authority.

Is this govt indulging in real politik or pursuing certain political agenda?

The notice served to the villagers to come up with an explanation in 15 days as to why they should not be evicted has ignored the fact that elders of the settlement were labourers in the forest. Such labourers must be accorded certain rights/entitlements.

If the move is for conservation of forest land, then as per SFR 2017, the maximum reduction in forest cover is not in Imphal East district, but the govt seem to be oblivious to this fact.

* Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer teaches at Gauhati University
This article was webcasted on March 27 , 2018.

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