Collateral Damage?

Collateral Damage?
Written by Ninglun Hanghal, Columnist


Haolenphai village in Chandel district, Manipur is once again in the news. The village is about 5 kilometres from Moreh town, an important Indo-Myanmar border trade centre.

Earlier, tension had been shimmering in this border village after Myanmar Army tried to open camps in their village, claiming the area lies within their country. According to the villagers the neighbouring country’s troops were frequently patrolling the area and have even asked the inhabitants of Haolenphai to leave the “encroach area”.Moreover, it was reported that the Army personnel were in the process of shifting the Myanmar border pillars into Indian territory in  Haolenphai and adjoining villages.Villagers also alleged that Myanmarese farmers were felling large number of tress in area for Jhum (shifting) cultivation.

Following this developments, last year the Centre government halted the controversial India-Myanmar border fencing exercise which had been taken up along the Moreh sector by Border Roads Organization (BRO).

Now, Hoalenphai dwellers are yet again faced with another challenge of losing their village land, as the new government pushes its way forward in taking up development ventures.
Stiff opposition came from the village chief , the Thadou Student  Association (TSA)  and other civil bodies against the setting of  a 3,000-acre smart city in this border area in and around Haolenphai village.  Several forms of agitation have been taken out such as blockade of national highway, bandhs and Peaceful demonstrations were taken out in several art of Manipur including in New Delhi.
The said border area have also been earmarked for setting up of “New Commercial Town ship” The master plan 2012 – 2032 is undertaken by Town and Country Planning Organization, MoUD , GoI and Manipur government.
Though the proposed smart city is yet to take its form, media reports in Manipur had quoted the state Industry Minister Govindas Konthoujam as saying that the required 3000 acres of land had been acquired for the smart city.

This led to a stir with village chief and villagers coming out in defence of their rights and law of the land. A village of about 100 households,  Haolenphai is inhabitanted by the Thadou – Kuki tribals who were dependent on agriculture and natural resources from the surrounding forest produce.

In fact, if land acquisition take place, these villages will be physically bulldozed and the dwellers be displaced , not only from the land but from their basic livelihood. Further, for indegineous tribals , land is not only an emotive issue but a political one too.

According to the Thadou Student Association the proposed plan for smart city nor the said land acquisition, if any, was not in the knowledge of the village Chief. The move against the consent of Tribal Chief is a disrespect and suppression of the right of the indigenous tribals which is also against the very basis of democracy.

The TSA’s memorandum submitted to the State Chief Minister and Prime Minister demanded to revoke the said land acquisition.

"Concept note on Smart Cities" was unvield in September by Urban Minister Venkaiah Naidu. According to the Ministry , the important feature of the smart city is access to information, such as city datas, information related to various service providers , transports and information for potential investors, through multiple channels – internet , mobile, apps, radio Tv etc.

Setting up 100 Smart City in several regional locations across the country is a concept of taking urban middle class living into a new level , where 24/7 utilities services with technology-based governance and monitoring of services to be provided to citizens.  Earlier during the Budget session Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had promised an allocation of Rs 7,060 crore.    

Meanwhile the new Government is keen on pushing pending development projects in North East India. The Minister for DoNER, has assured for time bound completion of major infrastructure projects of Rail, Road, Telecom, Inland Water Transport, Airports and Power in the North Eastern Region.
As gateway to South East Asian countries , the North East region’s  economic and strategic advantages hold a important role and is the key to advancing regional influence. Look East policy have also been re-termed “Act East Policy“ recently by Prime Minister Modi in his addressed  at the East Asia Summit at Nay Pyi Daw in Myanmar. Government of India has also taken steps for the development of road and port projects in Myanmar, improvement of customs facilities at the Indo-Myanmar border, development of road and rail connectivity in Bangladesh for access to sea ports and appropriate customs facilities at the Indo-Bangladesh border.

But for people living in the periphery, this creates fear and insecurity. The slogans say it all. Thadou Students who held a demonstration recently in Delhi called to “ save Hoalenphai village” “ save our tribals lands”.

Asserting that tribals in the hills have their own system of land holding based on customary and traditional practice, the student demonstrators alleged that their rights have been systematically violated and that the proposed project is an attempt to grab the tribal lands.

For people in the village their utmost need are basic amenities and facilities such as hospitals and better education. Opposition to projects that are not viable for people is not anti-development per se , said Thangpimang Kipgen one of the Student leader.  According to him ,in the present situation and context , where Villagers were  dependent on the forest land and forest produce their livelihood would be wiped out. The main concern , the student leader stated is that villagers  do not have the required skills and knowledge to take advantage of such “smart cities” and therefore the benefit of such development will automatically go to “non- inhabitants/villagers” and that none of the villagers will make it to the new city. Another concern being , that  displacement will further led to being wiped out completely as a community, thus their very core existence is at stake. Demonstrators also cautioned that the said proposed lands are areas of thick forest lands. Destruction of the forest lands will pose grave threats to the eco diversity and environment.

Will the poor tribal villagers be considered a mere collateral damage in the process of development and progress is something that needs a serious re-thinking. While displacement of 100 household may be ‘insignificant’ in the larger concept and vision of development and economic advancement , it may also be noted that huge investment as far as north east is concern have not yield any desired output, let alone profit. Mega dams in the region are such examples where mega projects stands as mere physical infrastructure.