The Centre for Research and Advocacy (CRA), Manipur, on Thursday organised a Consultation on "Development, Displacement and Indigenous Rights in Manipur”, at Youth Hostel, Imphal. The consultation is aimed to reflect on the pattern of the introduction of unsustainable development processes and displacement in Manipur.
Secretary of CRA Jiten Yumnam shared that Manipur witnessed an intensification of pursuance of development processes, energy projects, extractives industries, dam building, oil exploration, Trans Asian Railway and Trans Asian Highway projects under India’s Act East Policy, which intensify the pattern of displacement, loss of community land, environment damage, etc.
Yumnam continued that large Dams like the 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam, 190 MW Pabram dam, 66 MW Loktak Downstream project and other dams will unleash displacement.
International financial institutions, viz, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, KFW, Germany are financing unsustainable projects, including large dams, road projects, mining, etc. that caused displacement of indigenous communities, biodiversity loss and climate change, he added.
Rongmei Lu Phuam, Pantiliu Gonmei shared that unsustainable development projects caused widespread displacement in Manipur. The 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam threatens to submerge extensive tracts of forest and agriculture land, besides displacing thousands of indigenous communities in Manipur. The pursuit of large dams like Tipaimukh dam and the ADB financed Imphal Town Ring Road project threatens to displace them from their homestead land and livelihood sources, he said.
Representative of CPNRM, Pamei Tingenlung, shared that unsustainable development, often pursued as for “public purpose” and “national development”, also intensifies conflict within communities. The challenge is that the government has no clear plans to address the displaced peoples. Another worrying trend is the silencing of human rights defenders and civil society organizations promoting community rights in Manipur. Space for civil society, such as freedom of expression and association has been curtailed, Pamei said.
Pamei addressed the importance of defining development alternatives with the participation of all indigenous communities of Manipur.
Social Worker, Boipu Koireng, shared that community forests are increasingly targeted for conservation measures and for declaration of reserve forest and protected areas. Forests are the primary source of livelihood and culture for indigenous communities in Manipur. The forest conservation efforts of the Manipur Forest Department undermined the traditional community management and efforts for forest conservation, while also promoting exotic tree species that are harmful for the soil and the environment.
The government needs to take the free, prior and informed consent of all communities depending on their forest land for survival. Policies like the Environment Impact Assessment, 2020, Forest Conservation Rules, 2022 have been introduced to promote corporatization and privatization of development, he added.
President of Mapithel Dam Downstream Affected Village Level Committee Bimola Kh shared that the Mapithel dam undermined the livelihood of thousands of communities in the downstream areas. The dam already unleashed widespread displacement from their livelihood and subsequent impoverishment. The villagers who used to fish, collect sand and stone from Thoubal River and worked in agriculture fields nearby are deprived of their livelihood due to the blocking of Thoubal River.
Sekmai Protection Committee, Rakesh also shared that the Government has been targeting the Forest, River and land in Sekmai for conservation measures and for expansion of military bases. Unsustainable development intensifies the militarization process that further alienates communities from their land and livelihood sources. This will worsen loss of land and livelihood of communities in Sekmai.
Environmentalist Themson Jajo elucidated the policies that facilitate eviction and displacement in Manipur, viz, Manipur Public Premises (Eviction Of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1978 etc, Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006, Land Acquisition Act, 1896 etc. He also shared how the Mapithel dam construction had caused displacement of several thousands of indigenous communities from their homestead, agriculture and other livelihood sources in both upstream and downstream portion of the dam.
Themson shared that indigenous people self-determined development and consent need be taken before any introduction of any development processes. Development should be just and should not lead to impoverishment of communities.
The consultation adopted a general recommendation to urge the government of Manipur to respect the rights of indigenous peoples over their land and resources and to take their consent before any development processes.
The government of Manipur should stop all forms of forced eviction pursued without their consent in Manipur, it adopted, and that all victims of forced eviction should be entitled to just rehabilitation and resettlement.
The consultation also adopted that unsustainable projects pursued in pretext of development should desist from causing displacement of communities; decommission 105 Loktak multipurpose hydroelectric project, the Khuga dam, Khoupum dam etc and return land to the affected communities to ensure their livelihood and survival; international financial institutions should desist from financing unsustainable development projects that aggravate displacement of indigenous communities, biodiversity loss and climate change.
It also called for defining and promoting development alternatives to respect community rights and protect integrity of environment; repeal of ensure human rights compliance of laws, such as EIA Notification, 2020, Forest Conservation Rules, 2022, Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006, Manipur Hydro Power Policy, 2012, North East Hydrocarbon Vision 2030, Land Acquisition Act, 1894, LARR Act, 2013; respect and uphold the rights of all human Rights defenders striving for just development, climate justice and land rights for indigenous peoples in Manipur and across North East.
It finally called for implementing the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, 1999.