TODAY -

Proposed tourist park in Chivu (Behiang) needs a rethink

Ninglun Hanghal *



In recent years Chivu - a lake in Tonjang village, in south - Manipur is in news and discussion amongst the population inhabiting the area. Not for it being an important place in the pre-independence era, but this time for other reasons.

For the people in the borderland, it is a collective memory that in olden days villagers go to Chivu for collecting edible salt. Whoever knows Chivu, or to whomever you mention the name - the response is – it is a place from where our elders/forefathers get salt. The name – Chivu - Chi means Salt and Vu means Ashes, till today remain associated with the essential food.

In south Manipur, another collective memory of this era is the "Japan Gal” - second World War. Every story of the Gal that is a passed on to the generation, is that of armed sepoys moving about in their villages and most of all, their boys and men forced to carry rations and loads of these sepoys. And of course bombings as well. Besides these historical events, are tales of constant war between Meitei Kings and Tribal Chiefs.

Though an important place, Chivu is more or less out of public memory as the new generation gets imported salt. Of late, the place regained some new interest and attention. But not for the salt or any sentiments attached to it, nor anything to do with the villagers in that area.

Planning for a tourist park at Chivu is underway. In 2017, soon after the formation of the new BJP government, the state chief minister set foot on the soil of Chibu to lay the foundation stone for setting up of the proposed park under the name of Manipur ( Meitei King) Chandrakriti.

The chief minister had also made some offer to the villagers in that area, according to media reports a “special gift” for them.

Moreover, an “international” trade center at Behiang, few kilometers away from Chivu is being conceptualized and in progress. A border trade that is visualized as a second corridor of Manipur ( next to Moreh) to Southeast Asian Nations.

Meanwhile, about a month or so, a conglomeration of village Chiefs in south Manipur, under the Zomi Chiefs’ Association came out with a statement expressing their resentment and displeasure over the proposed park named after a Meitei King.

It appears, the village Chiefs were not taken into confidence nor consulted in the whole process of developing the place into an important tourism center. Moreover, several concerned citizens have also expressed their reservations over the historical basis in which the state government had proceeded to establish it.

It is visibly clear that the proposed park at Chivu is a means and ways to get a deeper hold over a population inhabiting the area, who are oblivion to the happenings around their forefathers’ salt lake.

The historical basis on which the Park is to come up is a patronizing and chauvinistic approach in establishing a “historical heritage” and turning it into a “tourism site” for revenue generation into the state’s coffers.

This is not about “anti-development”. Let us visualize a Tourist Park in that far corner Chivu, and another trade center close-by at Behiang in the Indo-Myanmar border. If it is meant for economic advancement, how and what would the locals there benefit? Mostly unskilled and academically low, they would land up in menial jobs ( perhaps that is the special offer).

If we look at the Moreh trade, we may say the state has a huge economic advantage. In-fact a lot of economic activity is taking place. On the other hand, for any layperson it is obvious that imports exceed export.

It is also for all to see the large number of cheap foreign goods coming in and flooding our bazaars and homes. If that is economic progress, then it surely is tremendous. Besides this, we may be reminded of the geography, wherein Manipur state isn’t far from the infamous Golden Triangle. Our geo-strategic location is an advantage, but comes with heavy price too.

The whole world is witnessing an economic crisis in the aftermath of the impact of COVID-19. The worst affected is the tourism and hospitality sector.

Now in this scenario what can we expect from a Tourist Park or a Trade center in that border village? We have the Inner Line Permit System.

A revenue of Rs 1 crore was generated within 3 months, since January this year from ILP application. Wouldn't it be a bit shameful to say Manipur's revenue comes from ILP? Can Tourism, Trade, and ILP go together for long?

In the post-COVID-19 situation it is unlikely that a place in the far corner of the border would attract any visitors. At the most it will be domestic/ local visitors. But how much revenue would these generate?

It is doubtful if the investment input will produce any output worthwhile. The tourist park at Chivu – may become a mere infrastructure, Behiang just another corridor -a gate for multinational companies. Many such infrastructures and border haats/stalls are standing in many parts of north-east India – with no economic value or activity.

History is about war stories, never about peace. If modern development, or economic planning foundations are laid on the slabs of history, it is unlikely to bring any positive results.

Economy or economic activity cannot thrive in an environment of social unrest, it requires a peaceful atmosphere. The state has had too many socio-political conflicts and common people do not want it anymore.

Economy or History apart, if the state is hell bend on going ahead with the park at Chivu, a consultation, a dialogue with stakeholders, the local people (not forming a Committee ) with the CM himself in the lead, will ease the existing tension.

To begin with, correcting the spelling from Chibu to Chivu, and perhaps the naming, say Chivu park?


* Ninglun Hanghal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on June 15 2020 .



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