Needless to say, “Minimum government, Maximum governance” is the oft-repeated liberal governing principle of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre and its ruled states across the country. I would like to paraphrase the maxim commensurably as ‘minimum interference, maximum intervention’. By semantics, ‘interference’ and ‘intervention’ have a negative and positive connotation respectively. Simply put, minimum interference or for that matter, minimum government can be interpreted as an attempt on the part of the Government to minimise red-tapism and corruption in matters related to an individual and the country’s growth and development. This growth and development trajectory entails for an easier government processes for which the existing e-governance platform was strengthened when it came to power at the Centre in 2014, and therefore this (e-governance) assumes to be part of maximum intervention.
Thanks to the Government of Manipur for making it to the expectations of the 2014- innovated slogan of the BJP’s Lok Sabha election campaign spearheaded by PM Narendra Modi.
In the State, the ICT is likely to turn everything in the aspects of government, so is in the facets of governance. The internet-operated search engine called Google is fast becoming a navigating tool to showcase the love for land, forest, ecology, wildlife and the environment.
Google for Destruction or Development?
This question is so much intriguing in my mind in the wake of a series of eviction drive carried out by the State government in most recent past. The present dispensation of BJP government as compared to the first inning (2017) in the State is so much concerned for the most touted campaign of ‘make forest green again’. A good number of the allegedly illegal settlement areas has been evicted under ‘duress’ as claimed by the residents therein.
Government stands its ground citing the unlawfulness of human settlement in those habitats. Reservation policy of the government constitutes a rationale for a forceful eviction, so that it can have a reserve in that particular areas for the protection of wildlife community. The benevolence of forests is so conspicuous in the name of reserve forest, protected forest or wildlife sanctuary to provide space for its weaker sections of wildlife communities such as flora and fauna. But, civilization fails to notice that there are still some remnant human communities who make their dwellings, gathering and hunting in the forests. These weaker sections of human communities are known as forest dwellers, a category for which they are meant to be protected de jure (The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dweller Act, 2006). Now, here question arises as to which one of the two communities- wildlife or manlife (mankind)- has to be prioritised in the civilizational uplift policy initiatives of the government.
Songjang village, evicted on 20th February, is a case in point. The village was blamed to have been built up along the Churachandpur-Khoupum stretch of Protected Forest. The village was found out to be illegal in the eye of not law, but by the so-called google map that shows hardly any 2 or three structures/houses constructed before 2021. Majority of houses numbering about 13/14 structures were mapped out to have been constructed after 2021, therefore declared illegal and hence bulldozed to destruction with a prior legal procedure being served to the village Chief, claimed the government. Another Show-Cause notice is being served to a village called Kungpinaosen, Kangvai sub-division, Churachandpur district, Manipur. The notice has directed the villagers to vacate it for same reason as that of K. Songpijang.
One pertinent question is, has any government –past or present- in the state ever leveraged the technology to navigate any communication infrastructure gaps like road or any kind and connected the far flung villages to each other and each to the District headquarters? The responsible people of the state want to know.
Hills more congested than city
There is a corresponding rise between forest dwellers population and the protected or/and reserved forests in the hills of the state. But, human population in city is decreasing.
Why the 90% geographical areas having less than a 50 % population of the state is more congested than the 10 % geographical areas that has close to a 60 % population of the state?
Without doubt, most of the 90 % geographical areas of the state is hilly and rugged in relief. These stated areas are not all inhabitable zones. Moreover, forest dwelling communities need a certain swathes of land for their traditional shifting cultivation for their living. For the time being forget about the natural resources lying beneath the landmass of the hills! With these statistics and cultural practices of the tribals in mind there is no reason to question why they should be let loose in their contact with the forests. Indeed, a minimal forest protection policy is a must on the part of the government.
However, like the unforgiving civilization, the government has eclipsed the hopes of forest dwellers. The government has declared a significant portion of the hilly areas as reserve forests, protected forests or wildlife sanctuaries. To shift down to the valley is circumscribed by legislations like the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2014. In fear of these legal strictures, they are being wedged between semi-valley and semi-forest areas. Therefore, the traffic system in the hill areas is becoming more and more congested.
The Encroachment Question: Then and Now
The Government is meticulously justifying its act by saying that all parts of the land in the state belong to itself. The village Chiefs/Chairmen are not, however submissive to this assertion of the Government.
My parents in my childhood days used to tell me that the Government would come to village Chiefs, in full endorsement of tribal customary law of request, to ask for an introduction of education as also a certain portion of land for the construction of educational institutions such as primary and/or lower primary schools in villages. Such was a commendable service rendered by the government to uplift the socially and educationally backward sections of the community.
The relation between government and village chiefs of today has strained. Government has abandoned its love for the people and instead given its priority to environmental protection. Nearly a hundred villages are being at the receiving end of losing their settlement on the pretext of Wildlife sanctuaries, reserve forests, protected forests, and other developmental priorities. Unlike my childhood days, the Government today has no endorsement and consultation of the village Chiefs/Chairmen/Heads. Confrontation between them is rather becoming an order of the day, each side citing its own justifications. However stiff the confrontation may be, the case of the Government always prevails.
The village Chiefs need to be aware of the State’s legislations. For this, Government should continue with its tradition of educating the uneducated villagers, Chiefs and the like. Its primary role has always been educating the masses like and even better than those it did during its inception (colonial and post-colonial times).
A holistic development of the state is the responsibility of both the Government and the people. A goodwill relationship, overture has to be rebuilt among the two main stakeholders of a democratic state. Citizens are ought to be given a humanitarian treatment at certain times despising even the procedural legislations that are in place.
Lastly, so far I have not seen any valley-based CSOs coming out to extend their helping hands to the evicted villagers of K. Songjang. In this regard, it is reminiscent of COVID-19-induced Pandemic times when hill brethren supplied their valley counterparts with whatever forest produces were at their disposal. As a citizen of India in general and Manipur in particular, we will swim together and sink together.
The writer is pursuing an MA in Media Governance at the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University, New Delhi. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org