A recent report indicates that there is an explosion in the number of new villages in Manipur, with many seeking recognition from the government. It was mentioned that in addition to the existing 2803 villages another 966 villages are seeking fresh recognition. The new villages are reported to be 308 from Kangpokpi, 281 from Churachandpur, 205 from Chandel, 130 from Tengnoupal 27 from Senapati, 14 from Pherzawl, and 5 from Ukhrul (there is a discrepancy as the total of the district-wise breakup is 970). It would be illuminating to verify how many of them are from the Naga and Kuki-Mizo-Chin communities; though it must be mostly from the latter.
Earlier, the responsibility to accord recognition villages in the hills vest with the Hills Department but after recognising existing wards of Moreh town as villages in connivance with lower functionaries without proper scrutiny of the claims, the state government transferred this responsibility to the Revenue Department.
Increasing the number of villages has its own difficulties for governance. There are no clear cut guidelines on how a new village shall be recognised. How big it should be, what should be the area, houses and population, etc? Under the Manipur (Village Authority in Hill Areas) Act, 1956 under Section 3 therein, for every village having 20 tax paying houses but not more than 60 the number of village authority members shall be 5, from 61-100 houses it is 7, from 101 to 150 it is 10 and above 150 it is 12. From this it was assumed that every new village with not less than 20 tax paying houses can be recognised.
When this author was posted as SDO in Ukhrul despite the fact that during his tenure there were no application for recognising new villages, while going through the records, there was an instruction from the State Government that for new villages for recognition, only those which has 50 houses shall be considered. The said instruction was issued sometime in 1974 perhaps shortly after Manipur attained statehood and it has certain logic in that last mile service delivery is just not possible in very small habitation, and an effort to discourage new small habitations. However, when he was posted as DC of Churachandpur, the said instructions could not be traced, not only in the DC’s office but even in the State Secretariat.
When the MNF movement in Lushai Hills, now Mizoram, started in the late fifties of the last century, to control the spreading violence, the state took a very onerous task of shifting the entire population of many villages to one place to monitor more easily the movement of the rebel. During the process, people suffered untold miseries but after the Mizo Accord when peace returned, development took off at a very rapid pace as in almost every village, schools, health facilities and other government institutions can easily be put in place.
In Manipur, places like Henglep do not deserve to be a sub-divisional headquarters as the population is thin with extremely poor road condition. Due to the limited population, the village just could not cater to the need of the staff posted therein resulting in most of the offices remaining non functional. The SDO and a few of his staff will visit the headquarters along with consumables like rice, edible oil, salt, sugar, tea leaves, pulses, etc and once it is about to be exhausted, they return to the District headquarter. It is difficult to get one kg of sugar or salt in the place. The stay at the most was for a couple of days, even in the best of times. If the sub-divisional headquarters was located by the side of the Highway like Tuilaphai or Santing or Singmun Lamkhai, or even Kom Keirap the office could have functioned properly. Thus selection of headquarters is very pertinent and relevant; it should not be based on politics but on convenience as the whole purpose is to serve the people and people should have easy access to the headquarters and the staff should also be able to station there.
Among the Kuki-Mizo-Chin community, there is a great desire to be the chief of a village. Even IAS and MCS officers will buy a piece of land and establish a village, of which he will be the chief. Many politicians are chief of a number of villages, and for them it is good politics. As an anecdote, there was a small recognised village between Khengjoy and Old Somtal in Chandel District, whose chief usually stay in Imphal and petitions the Governor demanding various facilities such as school, health facilities, veterinary facilities, etc and for a Governor who comes from mainland India think that a village is big with hundreds of household, directed for writing to the government. When this writer advised him that the village is too small, the Governor refused to believe till he later on made a trip to Old Somtal by surface from Khengjoy and while passing by the village, when pointed out, he counted the number of houses which was only four! After that the chief refrained from petitioning the Governor till a new incumbent arrives.
There is also a tendency to inflate the number of households to make it 20 as the hill house tax which he has to collect and deposit is nominal and the chief foots the bill for the extra manipulated houses. One of the factors for the inflated population figures in the censuses is inflated number of households for village recognised. There are a number of freebies associated but with the linking of Aadhar for the government freebies, bypassing it is now more difficult but not insurmountable.
It will be insisted that recognition of village should be within the domain of the Hill Areas Committee, but HAC is not an executive but a recommending body. They can recommend the procedure and generally the state should accept such recommendations though government can differ in which instance the matter will be referred to the Governor whose decision shall be final.
No government can provide all facilities for every habitation of 20 households such as road, power and water supply, education, health and other facilities and the Government must devise a mechanism to ensure that the hill villages are big enough to be able to provide such facilities. There are many villages which cannot be covered under PMGSY due to lack of population and the trick is to pool many villages to make up the minimum population to be covered to ensure that the benefit of a road is provided to such villages.
The state government need to look into the matter holistically and bring out preferably in consultation with the HAC, the modalities for recognition of a new hill village. Rather than creating new villages and recognising after it has 20 households, it would be in the larger interest of governance to set a minimum number of population or households, so that facilities can reasonably be created and sustained. Otherwise, despite recognition, large population in the hills will be denied the benefits as it is impossible to provide all facilities and services to every small habitation.
One has to change with time and adapt to the evolving conditions and continuing to insist on traditions will only make it unsustainable. During the time when all the needs can be met locally from the nearby forest and surplus resources are not marketed elsewhere, small habitation has certain distinct advantage but now it is no longer possible to sustain with local resources and support from elsewhere is required and surplus produce must also be marketed elsewhere. For this road is very relevant. So is power which is the driver of economy. For good health, good drinking water is essential. Many other facilities are also required, which can only be provided when there is a required minimum population. This minimum required population need to be ascertained and fixed for new villages for recognition.
The system followed in other states cannot be adopted as the conditions vary and thus a figure for Manipur hills needs to be developed.
This problem of new villages is not that serious in the valley as villages grow organically by expansion, without any planning and very few new villages were established. One reason is the application of MLR&LR Act, 1960 and the land value is high so one person cannot buy a property to establish a village. But even here, while expanding, proper plan should be put in place so that public amenities could be properly worked out for the future. Due to unplanned growth, Manipur valley roads are hardly straight and there are too many crossings. Imphal is one example and during rush hours, the traffic signal has to be carried out manually rather than depend on the automatic system. The need is holistic long term plan for both the urban and rural habitation for both the hills and the valley.
(The views expressed are personal)