Kshetri Bengoon eviction a ploy to deflect attention
Controversy has erupted over the State government decision to evict a village at Kshetri Bengoon Awang Ching in Imphal east district. According to the statement made by the state government the village comprising 72 houses in all had to be evicted as it falls within Reserve Forest areas and Chief Minister Nongthomban Biren Singh himself made a statement that there was no communal or one-sided intent in the steps taken up by the state government under the guidance of State Forest Department.
However many people have raised genuine concerns over the way things have been handled by the state government. Erendro Laichombam Convener of the political party PRJA had expressed his genuine doubts over the matter, not only him but many other concerned citizens including the actor turned politician Rajkumar Kaiku also visited the place and he had shown his sympathy with the affected villagers. Local people who are not affected by the eviction and other observers have some genuine concerns over the matter and the state government has failed to answer them so far.
The village belongs to a minority community. Earlier in April an MOU was signed between All Manipur Muslim Organizations Coordinating Committee (AMMOCC) and the state Government represented by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh in which the Chief Minister himself had assured AMMOCC that no unilateral decision will be made regarding the matter and the affected villagers will be given opportunity to relocate if and when the eviction is taken up.
However the state government suddenly decided to evict the village without giving any opportunity to relocate somewhere else and in violation of the MOU signed between AMMOCC and the state government. It seems the state government woke up all of a suddenly one fine morning and ordered the eviction process to be taken up; heavy vehicles were sent along with full security cover up and within few minutes 72 houses were razed to the ground and all the villagers became homeless in the matter of four or five minutes!
Many people have genuine concerns over the matter. I always write about preserving Forest area. In fact I have written about the areas around this village in this column about a year back while I was writing about the importance of preserving natural lake. The regular readers of this column can recollect my write up about the importance of preserving natural lake in which I specifically mention about Yaral Pat or Yaral Lake, a natural water body which has been turned into rice field and which is also famous for a unique flower called Kombirei. This village Kshetri Bengoon Awang Ching is situated around Yaral pat itself. I’m always the one to write about the importance of preserving forest areas in Manipur especially in this context and I’m always up for preserving environment but I have a genuine concern today. I’m acquainted with the place since my childhood days when my grandfather used to have paddy field out there and I used to accompany the elders of the family during rice cultivation time and I can say it is a beautiful place and I can also say there are other bigger villages adjacent to this evicted village which I doubt government will have spine to evict. And those remaining villages don’t belong to minority community.
Intriguingly those villages are far more conducive to environmental degradation than the one which has been evicted. One big question raised by PRJA convener Erendro which I also wanted to raise is “Is it a step taken up by the state government to divert the attention from other pressing issues like border pillar issues in Moreh?”
Incidentally, the state government suddenly decided to evict the village just a day after BJP president and the party strategist Amit Shah visited the state. Even though it cannot be said with certainty whether there was any outside involvement in the whole drama of eviction process but the ruling party style of functioning says they have mastered the art of disruptive thinking, that is, raking up another sensitive issue just to deflect from a burning issue.
The eviction process of chief Minister N. Biren seems more like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Demonetization; in both cases the stated intent seem to be good but implemented in a horrible way and there is some hidden agenda is evil both cases. The hidden agenda of demonetization is winning UP election by drying up the funds of opposition parties as alleged by it detractors. And the hidden agenda of Kshetri Bengoon Awang Ching eviction is pleasing New Delhi (central government) by showing some strong hands towards minority community and detracting border pillar issues in Moreh by creating a controversy.
I’m all for preserving environment and the encroachers should be evicted if the need arise but is it that easy? It is absolutely not. When the state BJP government talk about preserving forest land by evicting Kshetri Bengoon Awang Ching, it ominously sounds like BJP talking about their love for animals just so that they can completely ban cow slaughter which will automatically have an impact on the livelihood of many Muslims and Dalits who are traditionally known for selling beef and skin tanning.
Talking about the eviction matter, the evicted village is a smaller village in comparison to other remaining villages which are encroaching upon the forest land on much bigger scale. Anybody who happens to visit the place will know forest land preservation is a far cry as far as this eviction is concern that’s because other environmentally hazardous activities are still being carried out under the very eye of the forest department and the state government. This Kshetri Bengoon Awanng Ching village is a small hillock and in this area there are many such hillocks which are part of Nongmaijing Ching Hill range. Many of these hillocks are about to crumble down because of incessant red soil mining. If you happen to visit the place any day you will encounter many heavy trucks which included even 10 or12 wheelers and the number of these trucks range up to hundreds. I suspect this is the place from where the largest red soil mining has been carried out in Manipur mainly in Imphal valley area. This illegal red soil mining has already created a condition out there; many swathes of open space have been created out of the space occupied earlier by Hilops and foothills of mountain range. Incidentally many creeks or “Lok” as we called in Manipuri have run down from Nongmaijing Hill range and they merge with the Iril river. So, during rainy season streams from these creeks reach the river with greater velocity within no time. This will only increase the flash flood rate in Imphal valley during rainy season as the Iril River merged with the Imphal River in Lilong areas so both these important rivers are interconnected.
The open space created by red soil mining is completely barren where no plant grew as topmost soil has been mined. Above it those heavy vehicles engaged in red soil mining have created lots of inconvenience to the people residing along this route. It seems Forest department officials have taken money from these trucks otherwise why don’t these activities not stopped so far even after hundreds of complaints made by the local people? And why should the state government start preserving Forest land by evicting a small village while ignoring other hazardous activities? Can State government followed up it action by evicting other villages which heavily encroach upon the forest areas and other encroachers belonging to other areas and other districts of Manipur?