Mr. Paojakhup Guite | Needless to say, “Minimum government, Maximum governance” is the oft-repeated liberal governing principle of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre and its ruled states across the country. I would like to paraphrase the maxim commensurably as ‘minimum interference, maximum intervention’. By semantics, ‘interference’ and ‘intervention’ have negative and positive connotations respectively. Simply put, minimum interference, or for that matter, the minimum government can be interpreted as an attempt on the part of the Government to minimize red-tapism and corruption in matters related to an individual and the country’s growth and development. This growth and development trajectory entails an easier government process for which the existing e-governance platform was strengthened when it came to power at the Centre in 2014, and therefore this (e-governance) assumes to be part of the maximum intervention.
Thanks to the Government of Manipur for making it to the expectations of the 2014- innovated slogan of the BJP’s Lok Sabha election campaign spearheaded by PM Narendra Modi.
In the State, ICT is likely to turn everything into the aspects of government, and so in the facets of governance. The internet-operated search engine called Google is fast becoming a navigating tool to showcase the love for the land, forest, ecology, wildlife, and the environment.
Google for Destruction or Development?
This question is so much intriguing in my mind in the wake of a series of eviction drives carried out by the State government in the recent past. The present dispensation of the BJP government as compared to the first inning (2017) in the State is so much concerned with the most touted campaign of ‘make forest green again’. A good number of the allegedly illegal settlement areas have been evicted under ‘duress’ as claimed by the residents therein.
Government stands its ground citing the unlawfulness of human settlement in those habitats. The reservation policy of the government constitutes a rationale for a forceful eviction so that it can have a reserve in that particular area for the protection of the wildlife community. The benevolence of forests is so conspicuous in the name of reserve forests, protected forests, or wildlife sanctuaries to provide space for weaker sections of wildlife communities such as flora and fauna. But, civilization fails to notice that there are still some remnant human communities who make their dwellings, gathering and hunting in the forests. These weaker sections of human communities are known as forest dwellers, a category for which they are meant to be protected de jure (The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dweller Act, 2006). Now, here the question arises as to which one of the two communities- wildlife or man life (mankind)- has to be prioritized in the civilizational uplift policy initiatives of the government.
K. Songjang village, evicted on 20th February, is a case in point. The village was blamed to have been built up along the Churachandpur-Khoupum stretch of Protected Forest. The village was found to be illegal in the eye of not law, but by the so-called google map that shows hardly any 2 or three structures/houses constructed before 2021. The majority of houses numbering about 13/14 structures were mapped out to have been constructed after 2021, therefore declared illegal and hence bulldozed to destruction with a prior legal procedure being served to the village Chief, claimed the government. Another Show-Cause notice is being served to a village called Kungpinaosen, Kangvai sub-division, Churachandpur district, Manipur. The notice has directed the villagers to vacate it for the same reason as that of K. Songpijang.
One pertinent question is, has any government –past or present- in the state ever leveraged the technology to navigate any communication infrastructure gaps like roads or any kind and connected the far-flung villages to each other and each to the District headquarters? The responsible people of the state want to know.
Hills more congested than the city
There is a corresponding rise between the forest dwellers population and the protected or/and reserved forests in the hills of the state. But, the human population in the city is decreasing.
Why the 90% of geographical areas having less than a 50 % population of the state more congested than the 10 % of geographical areas that have close to a 60 % population of the state?
Without a doubt, most of the 90 % geographical areas of the state are hilly and rugged in relief. These stated areas are not all inhabitable zones. Moreover, forest-dwelling communities need certain swathes of land for their traditional shifting cultivation for their living. For the time being forget about the natural resources lying beneath the landmass of the hills! With these statistics and the cultural practices of the tribals in mind there is no reason to question why they should be let loose in their contact with the forests. Indeed, a minimal forest protection policy is a must on the part of the government.
However, like the unforgiving civilization, the government has eclipsed the hopes of forest dwellers. The government has declared a significant portion of the hilly areas as reserve forests, protected forests, or wildlife sanctuaries. To shift down to the valley is circumscribed by legislation like the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2014. In fear of these legal strictures, they are being wedged between semi-valley and semi-forest areas. Therefore, the traffic system in the hill areas is becoming more and more congested.
The Encroachment Question: Then and Now
The Government is meticulously justifying its actions by saying that all parts of the land in the state belong to itself. The village Chiefs/Chairmen are not, however submissive to this assertion of the Government.
My parents in my childhood days used to tell me that the Government would come to village Chiefs, in full endorsement of the tribal customary law of request, to ask for an introduction of education as also a certain portion of land for the construction of educational institutions such as primary and/or lower primary schools in villages. Such was a commendable service rendered by the government to uplift the socially and educationally backward sections of the community.
The relationship between the government and village chiefs of today has strained. The government has abandoned its love for the people and instead given its priority to environmental protection. Nearly a hundred villages are being at the receiving end of losing their settlement on the pretext of Wildlife sanctuaries, reserve forests, protected forests, and other developmental priorities. Unlike my childhood days, the Government today has no endorsement and consultation of the village Chiefs/Chairmen/Heads. The confrontation between them is rather becoming an order of the day, with each side citing its own justifications. However stiff the confrontation may be, the case of the Government always prevails.
The village Chiefs need to be aware of the State’s legislation. For this, Government should continue with its tradition of educating the uneducated villagers, Chiefs, and the like. Its primary role has always been educating the masses like and even better than those it did during its inception (colonial and post-colonial times).
Holistic development of the state is the responsibility of both the Government and the people. A goodwill relationship, and overture has to be rebuilt among the two main stakeholders of a democratic state. Citizens are ought to be given humanitarian treatment at certain times despising even the procedural legislations that are in place.
Lastly, so far I have not seen any valley-based CSOs coming out to extend their helping hands to the evicted villagers of K. Songjang. In this regard, it is reminiscent of COVID-19-induced Pandemic times when hill brethren supplied their valley counterparts with whatever forest produces were at their disposal. As a citizen of India in general and Manipur in particular, we will swim together and sink together.
(The writer is pursuing an MA in Media Governance at the Centre for Culture, Media, and Governance; and a CBCS course at the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University, New Delhi. He may be contacted at email@example.com).
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