Forest banditry in Jiribam
APART from the illegal but thriving trade on forest products, the on-going visit by the forest and environment minister Th Shyamkumar in Jiribam district is likely to unearth various administrative anomalies and serve as an opportunity to understanding the plight of citizens in the border district. For decades, Jiribam has been hogging the limelight for all the wrong reasons. This part of the state, which was earlier clubbed with Imphal East district, in-spite of being hundreds of kilometres apart, is being considered as the entry point of migrant workers as well as influx of immigrants from Bangladesh. The drastic change in the demography of Jiribam, where the number of indigenes has been far outnumbered by the non-local population, suggests that effectiveness of the public movement for restricting entry of outsiders into the state will depend largely on the role of the law enforcement agencies and the civil society organisations active in the said district. Owing to its distant location from the state capital, Jiribam has been among the least developed parts of Manipur as was evident when demands were raised for grant of full-fledged district status. Importance of Jiribam could also been judged from disruption caused to transportation of essential goods along the Imphal-Jiribam section of National Highway-37, when the district demand agitations were most intense. Among others, the hot and humid weather condition in Jiribam, coupled with erratic power supply used to be a bane for the people living there with government employees even likening official assignment there as a form of punishment posting.
The formation of a new government led by the BJP should be giving a ray of hope to the district denizens that better days are ahead and as such visit by minister Shyamkumar should be an opportunity to not only understand the suffering of the people but to undertake effective measures to check unauthorised exploitation of natural resources available in Jiribam areas. Notwithstanding the logistic importance of the district, shortage of manpower seemingly emboldening the timber smugglers to sustain their thriving commercial activities calls for serious introspection on the part of those at the helm of affairs. As the source of revenue generation in this industries-starved state is limited to agricultural and forest products, the government should not falter from devising a mechanism whereby the nature’s bounties could be preserved and curb the endless influx of outsiders. For instance, the state government may establish special task force, like in some southern states, by combining state security forces and forest guards to end rampant looting of invaluable flora and fauna. As there is continuous demand for timber and other forest goods, the possibility of forest bandits getting bolder and launching bloody attacks on the hapless forest guards in the near future could not be ruled out. The case of ruthless forest bandit Veerappan, who had poached several hundreds of elephants and killed over a hundred people, should be a grim reminder that smugglers of forest goods could go to any length in sustaining their highly profitable but investment-free trade.