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Indigenous Perspectives criticize govt apathy to displace villagers

by IT Web Admin
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Indigenous perspective today shows serious concern about the government inability to provide proper accommodation for displaced villagers of Ningombam area due to the expansion of Tulihal Airport Imphal. A press statement of Ram Wangkheirakpam Director, Indigenous Perspectives said that Imphal Airport which is sought to be expanded since 2008 was not based on actual need, and the other is that affected people of 6 villages have not been resettled and rehabilitated properly.The statement said that the airport has been expanded in 1961, 1970 and 1991 and the villages in the surrounding area have been pushed out several times. The present project, seeks to further expand the Airport by an additional 690.8 acres of land, affecting not less than 7 villages.In response to a PIL,No. 7/2009 filed by North East Peoples Alliance and Human Rights Alert asking for environmental clearance for the expansion, the Airport Authority of India responded saying the question of environmental clearance does not arise at this moment as the government must first hand over the land to AAI adding that there is no plan from the side for the AAI and that it’s the government of Manipur that is ‘pushing’ the Authority for such an expansion. While many interpretations can be derived of this statement, it is clear that the idea of expanding the current airport to an ‘international standard’ (as different from an international airport) is not based on actual study that justifies a need for expansion. While the question remains whether one can acquire land prior to detailed project report and environmental clearance, it will be democratic for the government to explain why such an expansion is still required and why such a vast amount of agricultural land are needed, meaning if scaling down is possible.In a desperate attempt to register their objections, the affected villagers in the past formed a Joint Action Committee and organized a series of strikes and protests ever since they heard about the expansion move. However, without taking note of any of the peoples’ objections, the Government proceeded with the acquisition of the land. As of now, the agricultural land and homesteads have been fenced and few have left their ancestral land to seek life elsewhere, but more than half of the families still live within the fence seeking government action for proper rehabilitation and resettlement.World over, those forcefully evicted, as is the case here, are treated under some kind of Rehabilitation and Resettlement policy, whereby those evicted get to have a better life, better than the life they used to. But here in this case, these farmers are almost like thrown into a uninhabitable, uncultivable piece of land after clearing half a hillock not enough for all the evicted to accommodate.In the latest case of forced eviction for the expansion, 120 households of Ningombam Awang Leikai and Ningombam Atom Leikai, Imphal West district have been waiting for implementation of assurances promised by the government of Manipur in multiple occasions. About 60 households who were ‘tired’ of waiting for the government response have already shifted to other places in their own initiatives. On 28 September 2014, an eviction order was served against 60 families who cannot afford shifting. The order threatened the families to quit their homesteads by 6th of this October.Previously the government had agreed to entitle a small plot of land of 0.15 acre to each affected family and accordingly, government officials identified an alternative land for rehabilitation and resettlement in nearby hillock called Heibokching Macha. But as of now the purposed area is literally not feasible for human settlement. The area to be settled compared to the displaced population is too small. There is lack of basic amenities such as water, electricity, proper approach road, drainage or sanitation. Besides, the soil is not suitable for growing and maintaining even a small kitchen garden, which is basic to the people. Some of the houses face the possibility of exposure to landslide. We witnessed a cliff side crumbling as well. In addition to these issues, there are still 20 families who have not been allotted any plot of land by the government. Again many families have not received compensation towards the loss of agricultural land and horticultural property. All these happened in spite of the government’s frequent assurances for building better houses and making an exemplary model village for affected families.We seek better attention from the government in handling proper resettlement and rehabilitation program for those who have sacrificed for the development of the state. We believe that not only that, proper houses should be constructed with adequate sanitation facilities, water and electricity, but the affected villagers should also be provided with amenities like community hall, sacred sites etcs so that some sort of community life can be restored. Most importantly, it is elementary to restore livelihoods for those who have lost their only way of life i.e., agriculture. Commitment to deliver such solutions will help restore faith in the government.

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