By: Ringphami A Shimray
Hill areas of Manipur palpably remain relatively lagging far behind in all dimensions of development. One such developmentally retarded hill region lies in the eastern hem of Ukhrul district along Indo-Myanmar border. This frontier region, known for its extreme backwardness and remoteness, has remained excluded from development processes. People living in this region are leading a miserable life bereft of hope for a better future.
This border area is comprised of twenty two villages namely: Pushing, Mapum, Zingsui, Rusheah, Sahamphung, Roni, Matiyang, Hangaokaphung, Chamu, Khayang, Khayang Phungtha, Kachaophung Tangkhul, Kachaophung Kuki, Maokot, Chatric Khullen, Chatric Khunou, Chahong Khullen, Chahong Khonou, Chahong Pharung, Chahong Chingthak, Chahong Chingkha.
Being remote and hilly, infrastructure has been the most essential aspect of development in this border area. Unfortunately, the successive State Government has failed to give the attention the area deserves. Non-availability of proper physical infrastructure such as transport and communication facilities, electricity, irrigation facilities and poor social infrastructure like medical and health care facilities and education infrastructure have remained the key constraint for socio-economic development of the area. For instance, roads have been under deplorable condition, motorable only in summer. The area remains cut off throughout monsoon as the unfriendly topography and climatic condition of the region make the hilly terrain highly vulnerable to landslides and soil erosion causing restrictions on free movement of people, goods and services for the entire period of monsoon which normally stays for nearly six months. This border area has witnessed a large number of premature deaths pertaining to preventable diseases. Villagers have to carry the sick and travel long distances, often on foot, to reach hospital in the district headquarters. The pathetic situation continues to exist even today. The services provided by the government health agency are indubitably far from meeting the growing needs of poor and illiterate villagers. Lack of adequate medical and health care facilities in the villages leads to deepening the existing poverty and creates a new poverty. In many instances, treatment is deferred owing to financial constraint exacerbating the bad condition of the patient to worse. In many cases, patients are taken to hospital only when their condition became beyond healing. Government schools in most of these border villages do not have enough classrooms, adequate furniture, sufficient teachers and lack access to resources thereby adversely affecting effective delivery of quality education to students leading to dismal outlook for the upcoming generation. In some of the villages, the number of students attending in government schools is insignificant. Statistical reports of many government schools of this border area are deliberate exaggeration. Students migrating to private schools in pursuance of better quality education are on the rise. If the present trend continues, then the government schools may not have even a single student in the near future. None of the villages have electricity until today despite the fact that electricity poles have been erected in some of the villages a couple of decades ago. In the absence of power and other alternative source of lighting in their homes, students have to read their books in dim light emitted from burning pinewood. Besides, most of the villages are yet to have access to telephone network and internet connectivity.
Poverty refuses to go away from this border region. It is another grave issue causing unemployment among youth. Young people, the most powerful resource of the nation, remain very unproductive, frustrated and in a state of total hopelessness. They are susceptible to any form of anti-social elements. Alcoholism and substance abuse is rife among youth resulting in the hapless victims of dreadful diseases. Skill development training for rural youth under current BADP is markedly far from catering to the demands of growing number of village youth. Educated unemployed village youth though willing to take up industry and income generation activities for self-reliant or any other viable projects for sustainable village economy, there is none to support them to develop their potential. In the absence of any other alternative source of livelihood, the villagers remain fully dependent on agriculture for subsistence and their primary activity is Jhum cultivation which is characterized by low productivity. Jhum cultivation is not only utterly uneconomic but is a threat to ecology, bio-diversity, water resources, climate and natural environment.
Deactivation of Sahamphung SDC office has been a great deficit for this border area. Sahamphung SDC headquarters, located @ 50 km. from Ukhrul headquarters, was established way back in the eighties. But unfortunately, this office has remained in abeyance for almost thirty years; the office buildings were completely demolished following Kuki-Naga clash in the early nineties. People from the area have been clamoring for resumption of the said office. Though it was approved to revive the office in 2014, the then State Government had initiated no follow up action on its part to resume the office to fulfill the decades-old demand of the people. None of the successive MLAs of the area, too, was audacious enough to get involved into the matter thereby miserably failed to carry out the task entrusted to them. The failure of the past leadership has resulted in loss of people’s faith in political leadership.
Another distinct disadvantage of the area is the ununiform distribution of the villages under different assembly constituencies and different development blocks. The villages currently fall under two different assembly constituencies, partly under 43-Phungyar A/C and partly under 44-Ukhrul A/C. The villages that fall within 43-Phungyar A/C are under Kamjong Block whereas the villages falling within 44-Ukhrul A/C are further fragmented and partly placed under Ukhrul Block and partly under Kamjong Block outside the ambit of the same assembly constituency. This is extremely unfair and is detrimental to the interest of the villages concerned. Besides, few border villages which were earlier under BADP have been excluded from its purview of late to the disadvantage of the villages.
The situations of extreme socio-economic backwardness of this particular border area and untold hardships being experienced by the deprived villagers demand special attention of the State Government. Therefore, immediate reactivation of Sahamphung SDC office, proper maintenance of the existing roads, enhancement of medical and health care facilities, improvement of educational infrastructure, electrification or alternative energy sources, development of minor irrigation projects to facilitate agricultural diversification, promotion of small-scale agro-based industries and cottage industries, implementation of self-employment generation schemes, telephone network and internet connectivity may be suggested as critical imperatives to facilitate rapid development of this remote border area and to enhance the quality of life of the inhabitants.