The All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) and the Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) have vehemently condemned the alleged unlawful and inhumane eviction drive at K Songjang village in Henglep SubDivision, Churachandpur district on Monday.
ATSUM termed the eviction at K Songjang "unlawful". It alleged that forceful eviction of villages purportedly located inside reserve forests is not in contravention with the resolution of the Hill Areas Committee of the Manipur Legislative Assembly.
The student body also considered the eviction drive of the state government in hill areas designated as reserve forests, protected forests, etc., as inhumane and cruel.
It stated that the eviction drives at K Songjang on Monday, where the state government forcibly destroyed the whole village, rendering hundreds of villagers homeless, demonstrated its brutality, devoid of any care for humanitarian values.
"This inhumane act of the state government is strongly condemnable," it stated.
The ATSUM stated that the tribals in the hills were traditionally forest dwellers. Their livelihood depends on the forests and its produce. The tribal communities have lived off these forest lands and at the same time nurture the environment through their traditional methods of conservation by using the forests judiciously, it added.
But the creation of reserved forests and protected forests has curtailed the means of livelihood of these tribal people and affected their way of life, it further stated.
It stated that forests and the tribal way of life are intrinsically linked and as such, the consent of the tribal people should have been sought when the government notified the creation of these reserve and protected forests.
There are many reserve forests, protected forests, and wildlife sanctuaries in the hills today. However, these reserve forests and protected forests, which are now under the control of the government, have been created without following due procedures. That was why the Hill Areas Committee of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, on its Resolution No 38/2020-(HAC), adopted on March 11, 2021, resolved that there is a procedural error in the declaration of Reserved Forest after 1972 and maintained that any declaration of Protected forest, reserve forest, and wildlife sanctuaries on or after June 20, 1972 shall not be enforced by the department until the approval of the Hill Areas Committee, since it pertains to Scheduled Matters of Article 371C of the Presidential Order 1972.
It is also doubtful that reserve forests declared before 1972 would have followed due procedures, it added.
It also stated that there are many instances that reserve forests that were declared before 1972 have no knowledge of the tribal village chiefs and the villagers while in some instances it was declared forcibly against strong opposition from the tribal villagers of the area.
Therefore, the forceful eviction of villages purportedly located inside the reserved forest is not in contravention with the resolution of the Hill Areas Committee of the Manipur Legislative Assembly and should be termed as unlawful, it stated.
KIM also condemned the eviction drives at K Songjang in the strongest terms and considered it a clear violation of fundamental human rights, alleging that the villagers were evicted without any alternate resettlement arrangements from the evicting authority.
KIM said it is ironic that the government, with its various schemes and policies to uplift the rural poor and poverty, is destroying the home of the rural villages in the name of protecting reserve forests while denying protection to human life and values.
It also stated that it is beyond condemnation that the evicting authority had to force women and children to sleep, eat and survive outdoors, shivering with cold, vulnerable to diseases, unprotected from insects, and denied shelter under their roofs.
Moreover, the eviction is a traumatic exploitation of the tribals' rights and privileges as indigenous people of the land. It is also a deplorable deprivation of livelihood as the tribals are directly dependent on forests for their subsistence, it stated.
Subsequently, such evictions are not only an extremely serious threat to the autonomy, liberty, and dignity of the villagers but it also tramples their rights to life and health.
The eviction, therefore, is heinous, a physical and mental torture, especially for young children, and an alarming crime against humanity and humanitarian values, stated KIM.
The Kuki Inpi Manipur appealed to all concerned to develop and implement more prudent measures which will recognize and respect the rights and privileges of the indigenous tribes, and regard human life and values.