Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Dept of Environment and Climate Change

Is The Protest Against Santhei PPP Well Considered, Or Will Manipur’s Cheerleaders Drown Locals As Ever In Unchanging Penury

How far is it true that corporatisation of certain features of Manipur’s economy may lead to disruption of the lives of the locals in areas where some of the projects have come up or are in the pipeline? The idea is, in the face of unlimited business entrepreneurship that is continuously evolving and expanding in the global arena, can Manipur still afford to remain oblivious to these changes and confine itself to the orthodox view of environmentalism and livelihood advocacy, which have since long changed, and need a relook into, if Manipur has to be factually present in today’s world and not in some remote domain in which the state fails to have a connect with anything around it.
Like in the case of the Santhei Natural Park at Andro which is now thrown open to privatisation, the locals in Manipur have been protesting against corporate and policy, without knowing too much about either, it seems. Issues overlap when taken from the viewpoint of those steering such protest movements and while others living in a larger world are considering how to adopt the private sector, by diminishing its ills, the protestors here are stuck in a groove and are deviating by thinking they can take the much vaunted nationalism issue in the state piggyback on to international forum that are given only to improving worldwide environmental conditions, and which, sadly for Manipur’s cheerleaders, knows more about Manipur’s environment and livelihood than anyone here may hope to. Such forums also are not committed to an anti-Indian stance, as many here might feel it may be.
To say the least, basic environmental matters have been bypassed entirely and instead of the awareness and education locals should be getting concerning environmental degradation and the threat it poses to them, they have instead started believing that privatisation, environment campaign and a whole lot of such matters is actually about the clash of interests between India and its corollary Manipur; which amounts to misrepresenting facts, due to ignorance or otherwise, by people who should be in the know about their subject and mode of activism. An instance of this lackadaisical environment and livelihood campaign is the fact that no one till now has cared to find out about the figure quoted for the tender on Santhei’s development by private parties. So one doesn’t really know if the hue and cry is worth it, and also the fact that the media flashed the undemocratic vandalism of the plaque at the natural park that was symbolic of the goodwill of the state’s own elected representatives, the chief minister and the then forest minister. One can’t be too sure then if it’s the environment and livelihood that is the concern here, or the leverage that some may believe they could derive out of the developments.
Last week Conservation International’s New York Climate Week 2020 threw a great amount of light on how corporate houses in this era are committed to globally fight degradation of nature. Three top leaders from Walmart, Mastercard and fashion icon Kering, which have large global presence, presented some of the most unconventional views on climate and environment, a brighter side of environment concerns of the corporate sector rarely known about. The concept of saving nature is catching on it seems from assertive statements from three top executives, all of them high profile women, who highlighted the fact that the corporate sector is coming of age with the realisation that there can be no business on an environmentally dead planet. The view beginning to become current is that businessmen too drink the same water and breathe the same air and nature is critical to their survival also. This is welcome and heralds a cleaner and equitable future for all peoples of the world. All of the three companies have presence here in India, and Manipur too by virtue of being a bio-diversity spot could be on the radar.
Among the commitments the three companies have announced are to have a net positive effect on nature and biodiversity by the year 2025. Kering has commitment now, despite Covid, to regenerate one million hectares of farmland in their supply chain and also for protecting one million hectares of critical and irreplaceable habitat, a commitment Manipur should expect too from its private sector, but for which much liaison and a feeling of togetherness with the private sector is required if we are to catch on to this line. Mastercard too with a three billion cardholder reach has committed a 100 million trees along with partners in five years’ time as part of their core business model. It’s quite obvious that the health of the natural system that produces the raw material for them is important and therefore the ecosystem has to be protected; which holds good for the natural parks in Manipur too. With proper goodwill incentives protection of nature can become a business imperative in Manipur. With the kind of money and enterprise the private sector owns they cannot be left out of playing a part in the state’s future plans.
But while India is discussing the farm bills, Manipur for all the jabs at the Indian frontline, is at the mercy of the farm politics being played out in other parts of the country right now, which will decide the future of farmers in Manipur too when long term effects of the bills are felt. Instead of being a participatory group it will have to be a bystander to issues which will confront it sooner or later. Presently only the Congress and CPI have given some comments but these are political parties who have other interests in mind also. The civil society which has a larger base has not discussed this matter at all.
Since the corporates have a lot of money some of the scepticism in the small farmers groups might not be altogether misplaced. These are the issues, and many more, which should be common to people here whether it be the man on the street or otherwise. The clamouring and wild goose chase that is on here for a long time now has never reflected well on the larger spectrum of economic goals whether they be related to environment and livelihood concerns like at Loktak and Santhei, or otherwise. Ramesh Sharma, a mainland retailer in fruits at Imphal bazar, has a level headed response when asked about the farm bills, saying, “We don’t know about the full implications and do not know what exactly the government has in mind” – signifying it might be a long haul before the effect on his business could be known. Such measured patience is what the call of the day at Santhei too should be.
According to figures provided by India Today, in Punjab and Haryana 72% and 67% of farmers have less than five acres of land and are hence vulnerable in price negotiations with corporates. Manipur too has about that much average and if the homework is neglected in farm as well as other sectors where privatisation is on, the buying power might be lost at the critical moment since the private sector tends to come in a wave of related activities. We can’t wish away inward migration too, which might increase as labour loses work in other parts of the country due to the farm bills, by trying to systemize an inner line permit system for migrants. Migrant movement is hardly of any serious importance also focally as it has never been open to debate in the parent country in a manner the farm bill is being debated.
Migrants have a constitutional right and as free humans they can work where they please. This can’t be denied. And even if thought to be otherwise, matters will take only due course, as money incidentally is the motivating factor and not political or any other ideology. We do see a lot of edifices crumbling in Manipur where money, not the kind associated to greed, but that identified with mobility and professional liberty, is come to occupy the mind frame of a good many working class people. So before locals go public on environment and livelihood it may be required that they look more deeply into the world around them in Imphal and other places. In the process they could discover a business model that helps the government strike a balance of corporate and sustainable habitat, like everyone else is into these days.

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