Updated 24 May 2022, 2:08 am
The claim of ownership over mountains have started all over again in Mt Thangjing to the extent of some Chiefs trying to prevent forest officials from afforestation drives. A few weeks back, forest officials led by Principal Chief Conservator of Forests himself began a tree plantation drive in and around the Thangjing hill ranges a Kuki Chief and some other hill based organisations came out and vehemently objected to it. In fact, Forest department was responding to a fresh call by the Chief Minister N Biren Singh for taking up a tree plantation drive as a part of forest conservation efforts and to compensate loss of forest cover and bare-headed mountain ranges in the state.
Last year, Chief Minister N Biren Singh came down heavily on the Forest department officials for the widespread deforestation in the sacred Koubru range. He had instructed forest officials to go and see for themselves the state of degradation and take up appropriate measures for rejuvenating forest cover in Koubru and other hill ranges for the sake of future generations and also appealed to the people inhabiting in the general area to cooperate with forest officials.
Mountain forests perform a protective function against natural hazards, so that when the forest cover is lost and the land is left unprotected, runoff and soil erosion increase, provoking landslides, avalanches and floods, to the detriment of villages, transport systems, human infrastructures and of the food security of vulnerable populations. In Koubru range, government efforts were met with stiff opposition from Kuki groups claiming it as their turf where forest laws do not apply.
We had predicted then similar claims would crop up in other areas also including Thangjing hill range. And the organisations who tried to prevent the tree plantation drive in Thangjing tried to paint a communal angle to it by terming as a sort of intrusion by valley based individuals and groups. The basic question is, who are they to restrict or allow people in and out of the mountain ranges. How could one claim to own a mountain? It is simply ridiculous.
The protagonist in the Koubru drama was one Tongmang Haokip, Chief of Saitu and also advisor of COPPK and he had quoted a document supposedly issued by Manipur State Durbar in 1947 in a FB post to buttress his claim over the mountain. What he conveniently forgot to mention was that a 33 square mile area including the Koubru range had been notified as Kanglatongbi-Kangpokpi Forest Reserve back in 1968 after considering all claims and objections from the surrounding villages, as per the Indian Forest Act, 1927.The claim over Mt Koubru had been there for quite some time now.
However, it became fully charged after the state government announced its intent to declare an area measuring about two hectares as a protected site under the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976 in public interest. In Thangjing hills also, a Kuki Chief has been making the same claim now. Till today, the people of Manipur regard Mt Koubruand Mt Thangjingas sacred mountains in the state.
And the communities living in the state should be alive to the geo-political reality of ‘Ching-Pat-Turel’ and affinity with hills, lakes and rivers which is very inherent in a shared historical experience through the ages. As we said before, there simply should not be such a thing as ‘ancestral land’ in a composite state like ours and anybody who flags such terms always have an ulterior agenda.
They should rather be questioning themselves on what they have done so far for conservation and upkeep of the land or mountains or rivers they are claiming to own. Sadly, it is otherwise as evident from rapid degradation of our mountain ranges and eco-system.
First published:24 May 2022, 2:08 am