An Introspection: Natural Resources Management In Manipur
By Jiten Yumnam
Aggressive development processes in Manipur: With the aggressive pursuance of India’s Act East Policy, Manipur and other states across India’s North East has been subjected to massive infrastructures, extractive industries, hydropower projects and other plans targeting the land and natural resources in the region. With the aggressive pursuance of India’s Act East Policy, the push for large infrastructure and cross connectivity projects and massive extractive industries there’s a pertinent question as to how and who managed Manipur’s natural resources. Is the people of Manipur assuming central role in the ownership and management of its land and resources?
Series of policies, viz, the Manipur Hydropower Vision, 2012, the North East India Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 and action plans to realize Sustainable Development Goals and to mitigate climate change etc are also formulated to facilitate such processes, also to realize Sustainable Development Goals, to mitigate climate change and to meet other priorities. At least Thirty Nine (39) MoUs were signed with various companies and States of South East Asian at the North East Business Summit from 21st till 22nd November 2017 in Imphal. The MOUs includes an oil pipeline from Numaligarh to Imphal, chromium and limestone mining etc . The Government of Manipur signed MoU with the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation on 28 August 2014 to initiate four power projects, viz, 60 MW Irang HEP, 51 MW Tuivai HEP, the 67 MW Khongnem Chakha and 190 MW Pabram HEP projects over the Barak River, Irang River, Tuivai River in Manipur. More dams are planned under the Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy, 2012. Massive oil exploration plan are pursued under the North East Hydrocarbon Vision 2030, formed in January 2016. Jubilant Energy, Oil India Limited, Asian Oilfields, Alpha Geo etc are selected companies involved in oil exploration related survey works in Manipur.
The aggressive push for India’s Act East Policy is also associated with tacit involvement of international financial institutions (IFIs), subsequently leading to an aggressive targeting of the land and resources . The World Bank is financing 400 KV high voltage transmission and distribution lines in Manipur. The Asian Development Bank is focused on financing road projects in Manipur and across the region. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is preparing to the fund the 66 MW Loktak Downstream Hydroelectric Project in Manipur and the Water supply from Mapithel dam for Imphal Town.
Resource management and issues in Manipur:
Undermining of traditional land governance, management and land use system: A review of the persisting constitutional provisions and policies, both persisting and newly formulated or amended is crucial to understand the nature of resource management. Article 371 (C) of the Constitution of India provides a special provision for the legislation and the administration of the hill areas of Manipur, leading to formation of the Hill Area Committee (HAC). The HAC considers scheduled matters including the allotment, occupation, or use, or the setting apart of land (other than any land which is reserved forest) for the purposes of agriculture or grazing or for residential or other non-agricultural purposes towards promoting interest of hill tribes. However, the functioning and effectiveness of HAC remains a longstanding concern in Manipur due to its lack of actual power and politicization. The powers of the Hill Areas committee is curtailed with another provision that outlined, “Provided that nothing in this item shall apply to lands acquired for any public purpose or the acquisition of land, whether occupied or unoccupied, for any public purpose in accordance with any law for the time being in force authorizing such acquisition”. This explains why the HAC is often downplayed or sidelined in many of the massive land and forest acquisition processes. Likewise, the powers of the Autonomous District Council, formed under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1972 remains severely curtailed in management of land and resources . The special provision under Article No. 371 (C) has been sidelined and undermined by the ongoing railway works, Mapithel dam, oil exploration, dam building processes etc, for instance in the diversion of forest and agriculture land etc.
A total of 19.135 hectares of Reserved Forest area and another 985 Unclassed Forest areas has been diverted for the Railway works, as outlined by NFR in Form A for Forest Clearance, without referring to the HAC. The community forest land is simply classified as “Unclassed forest”, in a clear non-recognition of community rights over forest. The traditional decision making process is undermined in the pursuance of development projects affecting peoples land and natural resources.
Development Aggression & failure to take communities consent: The mega development processes, policies and projects introduced in Manipur are fraught with non-recognition of community rights over land and resources, absence of consultation and failure to take the free, prior and informed consent of communities affected by such plans. The license to Dutch based Jubiliant Oil and Gas Private Limited by the Government of India, through its Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, for exploration and drilling works2 in oil blocks in Manipur in 2010 was carried out without respecting peoples’ ownership of resources. The Oil India Limited carried out Seismic surveys at Khaidem, Moidangpok, Sangaithel villages in Imphal West district since May 2017 much to objection of villagers. The State Government has also signed an undertaking with Orissa based private company Orient for mining chromite in Manipur without the consent of the communities, where mining is envisaged. The Forest clearance by the Forest Department of Government of Manipur and by the Ministry of Environment of Forest, Govt of India for the 111 km long Jiribam-Tupul-Impal railway is without community consultation and recognition of their rights. The proposed 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project will submerge more than 27,000 hectares of forest land and the Government failed to take peoples consent for such plan for massive diversion of forest land for the dam. Indigenous communities are denied rightful role in development decision making affecting their land, forest and resources in Manipur. For instance, the public hearings under the Environment Notification Act 1994 for mega development projects is only to hear the environmental matters and is flawed for failing to rightfully accommodate the voice of affected communities. The environment clearance for the proposed Tipaimukh dam construction was cleared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest of the government of India in October 20086, despite objections of affected villages in all the five public hearings for Tipaimukh dam.
State’s Overt Dominance and Control of Resources: Major minerals and Oil and Gas are included in Union List of the Constitution of India. The State assured itself of an overt dominance over control of primary natural resources. All the laws of India, concerning exploration, drilling and handling of oil, such as Oil Fields (Regulation and Development) Act, 1948, the Oil Industry (Development) Act, 1974; Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land), Act, 1962; Oil Fields Act, 1948 confers rights to the Central Government and thus failed to recognize indigenous community’s traditional rights over land and resources. The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Ordinance, 2015 promulgated on 12 January 2015 has no provision to recognize communities rights over their land. The 1957 Act (24 A (2)) describes indigenous peoples as “occupiers of the surface of the land”. Further, amended Mining and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2015 accorded emphasis on the rights of Central Government on major minerals and has no such provision for consultation with communities.
The concurrent list, water and Forest etc is almost akin to Union List, with the Central Government having the final say and managed as per its interests. That also explains the nature of relationship between the State and the Central, the overt dependence of the former to the latter for financial and other reasons of powers. As per the overt push for Hydropower projects, Oil and gas, extractive industries and other ‘National Projects” like Trans Asian railway works in Manipur, the State Government of Manipur conferred forest clearance almost for all mega projects without the consent of those depending on forest for livelihood and survival. The Manipur Forest Department already conceded 311 Sq. Km of Forest land for submergence for 1500 MW Tipaimukh Dam reservoir. The State forest department is also on process to concede forest clearance for oil exploration, mining etc without any community role.
There are questions if the persisting and newly formed policies on land, forest, water, mineral resources management promoted community rights or environment integrity. Unfortunately, the North East Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 and the Hydro Power Policy 2012 negated community rights while consolidating more rights for Central and State Government and powers of the corporate bodies. The implementation of the constitutional provisions on resource management has also led to much contestation and conflict in Manipur. The implementation of the Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006 to ensure the functioning of the NHPC’s 105 MW Loktak Project led to violent displacement of fishing communities in Loktak wetlands in November 2011. There’s ongoing process to frame new laws and to dilute the forest and land laws. The Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy, 2012, the Manipur Industrial Policy, 2013, the Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006 are all introduced sans peoples’ involvement. There’s process to introduce the New Land Use Policy (NLUP), 2014 to commercialize communities’ land and resources. There are concerns that the Draft Forest Policy 2018 will further extinguish community rights over forest with overt commodification and privatization of forest to increase forest cover and to mitigate climate change.
Undemocratic development practices: The Mapithel Dam, Trans Asian Railway, oil exploration in Manipur all involves the State’s reliance on these security forces to target communities calling for a democratic development processes. Criminal legislations like the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, the Indian Penal Code, National Security Act, 1980 etc were widely used to target community members for asserting community rights. The law enforcing agencies and also the military operating under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 in Manipur are also directly or indirectly involved in promoting oil exploration related surveys and in facilitating the Environmental Public Hearings, such as for Tipaimukh Dam or for Oil exploration etc.
CONCLUSION: The ultimate issue is who should own and manage the land and natural resources in Manipur, the Corporations, the Government or the people? An obvious reality is as the local governance mechanism lay in shambles with limited powers and rights, there’s further reinforcement of the powers of the State and corporations over community’s land and resources. The oil exploration, mining and dam building processes in Manipur constitute an outright rejection of community voices and their rights to manage their resources. The reliance on the State law enforcing agencies and the military set up operating in the conflict afflicted state of Manipur also indicates how the Government usurps and negate community rights, an indication of the real nature of polity prevailing in Manipur.
The Government of India and all development stakeholders, corporate bodies, financial institutions etc should recognize that all resources belongs to the indigenous peoples of Manipur and that they have exclusive rights to define and decide on the use, control and manage their resources. For instance, the resounding call of indigenous peoples of Manipur to the Oil India Limited, Asian Oilfields, Alphageo, Jubilant Energy etc to stop all Oil Exploration & Drilling and all mining plans in Manipur should be honored in practice. All undemocratic and manipulative efforts of oil companies and the Government to forcefully pursue oil exploration, mining, hydropower projects and large infrastructures in Manipur, including through corruptive and divisive manners and reliance on the emergency legislations, like Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 and subsequent militarization processes will contravene best development and governance models. Several United Nations human rights bodies, while deliberating on the Mapithel dam and the proposed Tipaimukh dam in Manipur, have urged upon the government of India to respect indigenous peoples rights over their land in all development processes5.
India’s laws with fundamental flaws, at community, State and National level, such as those related to resource extractive, oil drilling, dam constructions etc, need serious reviews for necessary repeals or amendments for compliance to best human rights, indigenous and development standards. Centrality on the role and rights of indigenous community’s rightful involvement in development decision making affecting their land and on resource management is critical for fostering sustainable development. An effective, meaningful and sustainable processes works best with recognition and exercise of communities’ self-determined rights over their land and resources.
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