Naga body backs Manipur Government drive against forest encroachment 

The Naga Youth Forum, Manipur alleged that illegal villages encroaching on forest land were mostly in Kuki-Zomi dominated districts, while Naga-dominated districts saw a fall in the number of villages

March 15, 2023 05:34 pm | Updated 05:34 pm IST - GUWAHATI

On March 11, the Manipur police and Assam Rifles destroyed 80 thousand Opium Poppy plants planted in 1.25 acres of forest land. The Naga Youth Forum has backed the government’s crackdown on alleged poppy-growing encroachers of forest lands.

On March 11, the Manipur police and Assam Rifles destroyed 80 thousand Opium Poppy plants planted in 1.25 acres of forest land. The Naga Youth Forum has backed the government’s crackdown on alleged poppy-growing encroachers of forest lands. | Photo Credit: ANI

A Naga organisation has backed the Manipur Government’s crackdown on alleged poppy-growing encroachers of forest lands and called for a mass social movement to address the present “artificial socio-political issue” created by vested interests. 

The Naga Youth Forum, Manipur (NYFM) asserted that an attempt to control land and resources has been translated into a movement demanding a separate political status, referring to the demand for an autonomous council for ethnic groups which are often viewed as settlers from Myanmar.

The NYFM asked the BJP-led State Government to “identify and delete fictitious villages”, holders of “bogus Aadhaar cards and voter identity cards” and enact appropriate laws for recognising new villages. 

Poppy replacing forests

In a statement issued on the evening of March 14, NYFM president Amu Pamei said forest cover loss has been a major concern for Manipur. Citing the India Forest Report of 2021, he said that the State recorded a forest cover loss of 249 sq. km between 2019 and 2021, while the country as a whole gained 2,261 sq. km of forest and tree cover during this period. 

“Deforestation to facilitate poppy cultivation has been mainly responsible for the forest cover loss,” he said, pointing out that the war on drugs launched by the Nongthombam Biren Singh government led to the unearthing of poppy fields and illegal settlements in protected areas.

ALSO READ | Data | Assam, Arunachal and Mizoram saw the biggest increases in encroachment of forest land in past two decades

“Many new villages, both recognised and unrecognised, have been detected in the follow-up investigation. There have been instances where 10 villages in different districts under a single village chief have been recognised,” Mr. Pamei said. 

Many villages with fictitious populations and fake holders of Aadhaar cards and voter identity cards have been found, which calls for derecognising the chieftainship of multiple villages, the NYFM said. 

Ethnic factor

Claiming that the process of streamlining such anomalies has been blocked by certain elected representatives, the NYFM said that districts such as Kangpokpi and Churachandpur recorded increases of 178% and 150% in the number of villages respectively from 1969 to 2021. By contrast, Ukhrul and Kamjong districts saw the number of villages fall 6% during this period. 

Kangpokpi and Churachandpur are dominated by the Kuki-Zomi people while Ukhrul and Kamjong are Naga-majority distructs. 

Political implications

“Correspondingly, an attempt to control land and resources has been translated into a political movement demanding a separate political status,” the NYFM said. 

This separate political status refers to the demand for the Southern Manipur Autonomous Council to cater to the aspirations of the Kuki-Zomi people, many of whom are seen as settlers from Myanmar, unlike the “more indigenous” Naga and Meitei communities. 

The Kuki-Zomi and Naga communities, comprising 45% of Manipur’s population, share the nine districts of the State. Organisations of the former have trashed allegations that they have been encroaching upon protected areas and facilitating the immigration of their tribespeople from Myanmar.

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