SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT, protecting forests and preserving the natural ecosystem has been an active slogan of the present government under Chief Minister Shri N Biren Singh for sometimes now. In the effort to preserve and protect the natural environment, the present government has been taking up measures necessary to achieve the objectives. In the light of the emerging threats associated with climate change, the initiative of the government deserves honest appreciation.
In a conflict ridden state like Manipur, however, every policy of the government can be a source of discord between communities which can eventually lead to communal conflict. The recent government notifications on eviction of those settling in what is called “reserve forest” face huge opposition from various civil societies and the public. In response to one of such notification, BJP MLA from Saikot Shri Paolienlal Haokip wrote to the concerned officer if procedural norms were fully adopted while declaring some areas as reserved forest. The legislator also seeks evidence and documents pertaining to the declaration of such forests as Reserve Forest under Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Forests Rights Act, 2006.
Similar case has been raised by Hill Areas Committee (HAC) Chairman and MLA of Phungyar, Shri K Leishiyo the previous year. The notification stated the “procedural error on the Declaration of Reserve Forest after 1972” and further stated that “any declaration of Protected Forests, Reserve Forests and Wild Life Sanctuaries on or after 20th June 1972 shall not be enforced by the department until the approval of the Hill Areas Committee” as it pertains to Schedule Matters of Article 371C of the Presidential Order of 1972.
In accordance with the procedural flaws pointed out above, the dwellers therein has been opposing the government orders on eviction from their settlement. While procedural flaws are one instance, the more alarming is the consequence following eviction if it does really take place. What are the alternatives? How prepared is the government to handle such situations? Such issues remain out of discussion.
As one goes through the turn of events taking place in recent days, there emerges an area more concerning than the previous two: “procedural flaws” and the “rehabilitation” of the people. While official notifications were met with resistance by hill communities, the involvement of various valley based civil organisations over “Reserve Forest” has raised eyebrows. Certain organisations keep pressing the government to go ahead with the order. Some even take up plantation drives without the knowledge and consultation of the chiefs and communities in the area. Confrontation has been reportedly witnessed between those carrying out and those opposing the drives.
Ideally, conflict should have been between the government and the primary stakeholders alone, so what necessitates the involvement of various valley-based civil societies over the issue? Incidentally, such organisations giving undue pressure to the government happen to be the one voicing its declaration of Koubru and Thangting as a secret place of a certain religious group. How does the government perceived the planting of Salai Taret flags at contested peaks? To some, this could speak volume of the “grand scheme” in the name of Environment protection and preservation.
It is high time for the government to handle the situation with care. Protecting the natural environment should be free from politics. It should check the wanton use and abuse of power while dealing such a sensitive issue. It should involve people on the ground. Without the participation of primary stakeholders, the guardian of the hills, the mission promises little success.
Honourable Chief Minister’s wise and careful approach on the above subjects, three to be specific, will renew public trust to the government. Else, it risks being demoted as a government representing the interest of a particular community alone.
Haoginlen Chongloiis the author of the book ‘History, Identity and Polity of the Kukis’, published by Hornbill Press, 2020. Views are personal.