The conflict over the land where India’s only National Sports University (NSU) is being constructed turned more violent than ever before.
It is well known to all the sports loving people of Manipur that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced to establish India’s only National Sports University in Manipur. With the allocation of Rs. 100 crores in the Union Budget of 2014-15 for the same, the triumph of the people of Manipur was boundless considering the initiative was in recognition of the prowess of Manipuri sportspersons who have continuously brought laurels and glory for the country.
However, a controversy erupted when the landowners and people of Yaithibi Loukon protested the site selected by the then Congress government. As the selection of NSU site at Yaithibi Loukon became controversial and more politicized with protests by the landowners and reports of land-grabbing by the powerful elite, the villagers of Senjam Khunou and Koutruk in Imphal West came to the rescue of the state government offering land without any cost for the University in 2016.
Subsequently, the State Government in an order issued on December 28, 2016 allotted 140.28 acres from Koutruk and 185.82 acres from Senjam Khunou for the purpose of establishing National Sports University to the Director, Youth Affairs and Sports, Manipur. The said order also fixed a premium value of Rs. 1,000 per acre amounting to Rs. 3,25,900 to be paid to the state for the said land.
After the foundation stone for National Sports University was laid at the site by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 16, 2018 and the foundation plaque clearly mentions Imphal city, a nearby village by the name of L Tangnuam started claiming the site belongs to the village and Kangpokpi district. Backing the claim of a nearby new village L Tangnuam village, Kuki Students Organisation warned the government against constructing the University at the proposed site, as the site belongs to L Tangnuam under Saitu-Gamphazol Block of the Kangpokpi district. Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) also is in league in the claim.
After the Chief Minister’s visit to the NSU site on June 9, 2020, an economic blockade was announced by the Kuki Students Organisation (Sadar Hills/Kangpokpi) and Kuki Inpi Kangpokpi as the Chief Minister refused to meet them. Then, violence erupted last year when district authorities of Imphal West visited the site for land demarcation from October 3 to 5 and the KSO and KIM called an economic blockade from 5th October until the Government re-demarcate the tribal land, and accord due acknowledgement to Haraothel villagers. The bandh was endorsed by various Tribal based organisations including the All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM). The bandh was lifted only after a Cabinet Minister representing the State Government promised them of resolution and an agreement was reached on October 7, 2020 between the State Government and the KSO and KIM.
Meanwhile, the Konsakhul (Konsaram) Village Authority, Senapati district declared on October 10, 2020 that the site marked for the National Sports University neither belongs to Imphal West district nor Kangpokpi district, but to them. A number of Liangmai organizations have also urged the “authority concerned” to declare the proposed site as the land of Konsakhul village (Konsaram). They said the “landlord/owner” of the NSU site is Konsakhul village (Konsaram). The claim is supported by the All Naga Students Union, Manipur (ANSAM). Konsakhul claims that the NSU site is within their traditional land which they had leased out to the Kukis in the past.
Now, the Konsakhul Area Joint Action Committee (KAJAC) warns the government that until the Government reaches an agreement with the Konsakhul village, the construction work of the National Sports University (NSU) should be put on hold. They started blocking roads with felled trees from January 28, pressing their demand.
It may be mentioned that the ANSAM has also demanded that the government address the National Sports University (NSU) site issue at the earliest. While welcoming the National Sports University in the state, ANSAM, in a press release on January 24, cautioned that the state government should no longer remain “confused” over the land ownership of the said university and act accordingly without further delay by “conceding to the legitimate demands” of Konsakhul Area Joint Action Committee.
The statement then said that ANSAM visited the site of National Sports University. According to ANSAM, the visiting team comprised of leaders from Senapati District Students’ Association (SDSA), All Inpui Students’ union, Rongmei Naga Students’ Organization, Manipur (RNSOM), Zeme Naga Students Organization, Manipur and Liangmai Naga Students’ Organization (LNKR) to witness and take the stock of situation on the ongoing construction of National Sports University in Konsaram/ Konsakhul, a Liangmai Naga village.
On the other hand, the National Sports University Haraothel Protection Committee (NSUHPC) on January 28 appealed against any hindrances during the construction of the National Sports University (NSU) at Haraothel. A team of volunteers of NSUHPC inspected the construction site of NSU at Haraothel on January 28. A statement of the NSUHPC said that they will further extend their support for the construction of NSU.
It may be mentioned that the villagers of Senjam Khunou, Senjam Chirang and Koutruk have asserted that even the Haraothel area belongs to the three villages and that their forefathers had bought the land from the State Darbar by paying Rs. 13. According to Manipur State Darbar records in 1827, Haraothel is shown as the grazing ground for Senjam Chirang and Senjam Khunou villages.
However, the claims and counter claims over the land where NSU is being constructed has become confrontational when Konsakhul villagers snatched away the keys of earthmovers like JCB and other machines/vehicles used in construction of the university to draw the government’s attention on January 27, and they blocked the construction of the University by holding a protest at the site on January 29.
In the violent confrontation, six villagers of Konsakhul village and five police personnel including SDPO, Lamphel Thomas Thokchom and four commandos sustained injuries during the confrontation at National Sports University site on January 29 when the protesters pelted stones at the police who fired tear gas shells to disperse them.
Reports said during the incident, one excavator and one Maruti 800 car were vandalised by the protestors. When the agitators were dispersed, some of the agitators torched the temporary huts belonging to the construction workers.
Following the violent confrontation Konsakhul Area Joint Action Committee has also declared indefinite bandh in the state from January 31 midnight along the national and state highways including a ban on all national projects in Naga inhabited areas.
In the claims and counter-claims, all the groups mention Manipur State Darbar resolutions, and orders passed by the President Manipur State Darbar and court orders as their basis. The Government also should verify if the orders they have mentioned are true, or not. Therefore, the controversy can be settled amicably at the earliest based on the facts and records of the past, as all the records are supposedly available.
The Government should analyse the conflict well to resolve it once and for all. The claims over the land by KSO, KIM, Konsakhul and ANSAM, long after the foundation stone was laid should not be taken lightly. The controversy has now become more serious than in October last year. It is because the State Government always adopts ad-hoc or temporary solutions to the issue. Had the State Government sought a lasting solution by addressing roots of the conflict in October last year, it might not have occurred again.
Now, the State Government should not remain inert thinking the police can handle the problem, nor should the government adopt ad-hoc solutions to the conflict. As of now three ethnic groups of Manipur are involved in the controversy. If the issue is not resolved at the earliest the government may find itself in another unalterable fix and deprive itself of credibility and also the much publicised Sports University.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics