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Forest and Its People in Manipur

The huge deforestation for poppy plantation in many parts of hills in Manipur has threatened our rich biodiversity and disturbs ecological balance.

BySanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Updated 2 Jul 2022, 4:49 pm

(Photo: IFP)
(Photo: IFP)

The hilly state of Manipur is situated in the north-eastern part of the country on an area of 22,327 sq km. It shares international border with Myanmar and lies between latitude 23 degree 50 minute and 25 degree 42 minute North and longitude 92 degree 50 minute and 94 degree 46 minute East. Geographically the state comprises the flat plateau of alluvial valley and hill territory. The state is drained by Imphal in the central, Barak in the west, Chindwin/Yu in the east and Liyai rivers systems in the north. The annual temperature in the state ranges 14.5 degree Celsius to 38 degree Celsius and the average rainfall ranges from 1,250 mm to 2,700 mm. November to February remains dry and remaining eight months are more or less rainy. About three-fourth of the state's geographical area is under recorded forest. The state has eight different forest type as per Champion and Seth's classification system (1968) belonging to 5 types of groups viz Tropical semi evergreen, Tropical moist deciduous, sub-tropical Broadleaved Hill, sub-tropical pine and Montana wet Temperate Forests.

Forests are among the most important repositories of terrestrial biological diversity. Together, tropical, temperate and boreal forests offer very diverse habitats for plants, animals and micro-organisms. Blessed with an amazing variety of flora and fauna, 67 per cent of the geographical area of Manipur is hill tract covered forests. Depending on the altitude of hill ranges, the climatic condition varies from tropical to sub-alpine. The wet forests and the pine forests occur between 900-2700 m above MSL and they together sustain a host of rare and endemic plant and animal life.

Coveted the world over as some of the most beautiful and precious blooms, orchids have an aura of exotic, mysteries about them.In Manipur, they are abound in their natural habitat growing in soil or on trees and shrubs speaking their beauty and colour, stunning the eye that is not used to seeing them in such profusion. There are 500 varieties of orchids which grow in Manipur of which 472 have been identified.

Biological diversity is the basis for a wide array of goods and services provided by forests. The variety of forest trees and shrubs play a vital role in the daily life of rural communities in many areas, as sources of wood and non-wood products, as contributors to soil and water conservation, and as repositories of aesthetic, ethical, cultural and religious values.

Forest animals are a vital source of nutrition and income to many people, and have vital roles in forest ecology, such as pollination, seed predation, dispersal and germination, and predation on potential pest species. Forest biological diversity is one of the seven thematic elements of the concept of Sustainable Forest Management approved by the General Assembly of the UN in 2007, together with the Non-Legally Binding Instrument on all types of forests. Losing forest diversity means missing opportunities for medicines, food, raw materials and employment opportunities, in one word: welfare.

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In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 26, 32, 51 and 76 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 (XVI of 1972) the Lt. Governor (Administration), Manipur made Rules and issued Notification No. 56/27/70-For Secretariat: Forest Department on the 10th day of September, 1971 for the management and administration of Forests in Manipur namely, “The Manipur Forest Rules, 1971.”There was no policy on forests prior to it. The commercial extraction of forest produce started only after 1889 through the DFO Cachar on 75:25 revenue sharing bases between the State of Manipur and the Cachar Forest Division, under the agreement with the Assam Government.

However, prior to British rule in India (1891) there was no system of forest management in the State. The population of the State was very low and hence whatever extraction had taken place was below the annual increment in the forest produce. The value of the produce could not be appreciated for lack of market and communication. During the early period of British rule, no separate forest officer was appointed. In the year 1931, the Forest Department was set up with a separate forest member in the erstwhile Manipur State Darbar. There was considerable improvement in the management of forests with a brief forest policy highlighted under the Darbar Resolution No. 10-A (1932).

The hill areas of Manipur surrounding the valley are the home of different ethnic groups, viz., Nagas and the Kuki-Chin group or the Zo People, categorized as Schedule Tribes in the constitution of India and the indigenous people as per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Ethnographers and anthropologists have attempted to differentiate the Nagas and the Zo people by the land holding system they practiced. Though the Nagas in Manipur are somehow similar to one another, when it comes to the whole of Nagas there are variants of land holding systems among them.

Unlike the Nagas, the Zo peoples are rather homogeneous in terms of their land holding system,  Which is in a way intertwine with the hereditary chieftainship and sole ownership of land is with the chief of the village and village authority. The tribal people of Manipur, from time immemorial, have been under the leadership of their Chiefs and his council. They are the custodians of tribal culture, customs and traditions. In Manipur State the tribal people are protected through the Chiefs against total and absolute exploitation and suppression from external aggression and domination especially in the matter of land holding system.

The tribal chiefs of Manipur hold title and ownership over the village land under their jurisdiction, and share it with the villagers. Thus sustainable tribal economy evolves out of this practice.

Manipur was a princely state that merged with the Indian Union in 1949 after some initial reluctance on the part of the then Maharaja. A peculiar feature of the state is that out of its total geographical area, only 10 per cent is in the valleys, which is home to around 65 per cent of the total populations (overwhelmingly non-tribal) while the hill areas are inhabited by various tribal communities belonging to Naga, and Zo Indigenous Peoples (Chin-Kuki-Mizo). The outbreak of insurgency in the Naga Hills in the 1950s affected Naga-inhabited Northern, Eastern and Western Hills of the state too. Similarly, eruption of violence in Mizo Hills in the 1960s caused disturbances in the Southern hills dominated by kindred tribes.

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The Valley inhabited largely by the Meitei community, too, has been the scene of insurgency caused by local armed groups from the 1970s.“Integrity” of the State has been a major issue as there is a demand from certain Naga groups for merger of areas dominated by them in the Greater Nagaland. The Kuki underground group (KNO) demanded a full-fledged State and at the same time, the Zomi, Hmar and Kuki group under the umbrella of United People’s Front (UPF) has demanded Autonomous Hill State within the State of Manipur under Art. 244A of the Constitution of India while maintaining territorial integrity of Manipur. In short the state has remained in the midst of conflict and violence for long.

There is only one land holding system in the entire State of Manipur so far whereas in Assam there are about three land holding systems. The Hill Areas Committee (HAC) is responsible for initiating to framing of Rules and Regulations for land holding system to be implemented in the hill areas of Manipur in the interests of indigenous tribal peoples in accordance with the provisions given under the Second Schedule of the Hill Areas Committee Order, 1972 since the MLR & LR Act, 1960 is purely meant for the valley people. After lapses of even more than 44 years the HAC is not properly or fully functional till date.

Across India’s forest areas, people are fighting for democracy, livelihood and dignity. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, is one instrument in that struggle. The Manipur Forest Rules, 1971 may sincerely be checked by the tribal people’s representative and these rules should not be contradicted to the customary laws and traditional practices of indigenous tribal ancestral land holding system under the chieftainship institution in the State of Manipur.

The huge deforestation for poppy plantation in many parts of hills in Manipur has threatened our rich biodiversity and disturbs ecological balance which could be the beginning of the end of our lives if not stopped right now. To avoid this the long cherish political aspirations of the indigenous tribal peoples of Manipur may be addressed within the frame-work of the Constitution of India by both the Central and State Governments in order to protect the territorial integrity and ecological balance of the State of Manipur.

(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be reached at sjugeshwor7@gmail.com)

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Tags:

environmentdeforestationforestpeople in manipur

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Assistant Professor, JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. The writer can be reached at sjugeshwor7@gmail.com

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