Fear Future: Assam Conflict of Manipur Hydrocarbon

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By Jinine Laishramcha

I have an inclination towards a view point in some media regarding the recent violent conflicts in Assam. That, the Assam violence may not be communal, may not be about killings between Hindus and Muslims. These incidents are about land and livelihood. They are about “outsiders” encroaching on “our” land.

Some years down the line, I foresee the upcoming oil extraction in Manipur will aggravate this very conflict happening in Assam and will surface more similar ones in its surroundings including Bangladesh.  Simply so, the government of India, its provincial government of Manipur, armed organizations and indigenous communities who have stake in the upcoming oil extraction project should do asses logically. The logic in the sense that what truly each of stake holder will benefit and what unavoidably will boomerang. Most of them have their own smart calculation of the loss and profit, might have a political side of strategy that strings to the future stance too. In fact, many a time we also come across the government’s negligence that has undermined the real critical aspects of the future eventualities.

If the oil extraction activities are on in the southwest part of Manipur, there  will be saline (formation) water, accidental oil spillage and frequent  leakages, swage, surface runoff, drilling cuts and other hazardous oil contents which come down through the creeks and drainages to the rivers namely Barak, Makru, Tuivai, Irang, Tuipi Lui and Tuibum Lui. By taking all the pollutants from these small rivers into her stream, a stronger and bigger Barak traverses run down to riparian of Surma and Kushiyara in Bangladesh through Assam. As it stretches a length of about  532 km in Manipur and Assam, and about  368  km in Bangladesh, there will be a long run of pollutants yielding and spreading far and wide its adverse share to the lengthen breath of the  downstream of Barak.  Again, the river flow will be buoy up by monsoon pour in the hilly terrain of Manipur where oil extraction will be carried out. Thus the adverse environmental impact will be spread relatively in shorter period of time.

There will be long term deterioration on land, water, vegetation, air, and public health.  One of the critical consequent concerns will be of dying away of paddy fields and fishing areas since rice and fishes are the key staple food in the region.  Above all it will contribute to the critical problem of water scarcity. Sylhet City Corporation is supplying only 22,500 gallons of water, far less than the demand of about 65,000.

The major portion of Cachar namely Silchar, Udharbond, Lakhipur, Sonai, Jirighat, Borkhola, Katigorah, Dholai, Joypur, and Kachudaram; and of the North Eastern Bangladesh, especially Sylhet, Sunamganj, Moulavibazar and Habiganj districts will suffer severe environmental consequences, and the people will be put to the extreme reduced circumstances leading to multiple plights.

Thus the situation will create a devastating shrinking of the avenue of economic activities and livelihood support based resources ever worst. Consequently it will expand the space for conflict in contesting the limited availability of livelihood supports and means. It will trigger domino effect directly and indirectly to the population of 17, 36,319 of Cachar district and 98, 07,000 of Sylhet division and other additional populations of the adjacent areas.

The challenge may be abetted with the various aspects though they are not primary:  the pattern of demographic display that has very potential dynamics to provoke violence engagement any time that attached to the communal and religious differences; the religious break-up of the population for instances 886,761 Hindus, 522,051 Muslims and 31,306 Christians in Cachar district is one fear factor. A grave concern is that the violent wave may not confine within a certain geographical perimeter, the communicable danger will roam in the most parts of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Bangladesh, etc.

Thus the emergence of surface conflict will be becoming more visible ever than before in the already aching atmosphere.  The character and nature may be very likely of the recent violence in Kokrajhar and other parts of Assam. The reality bite of population transfer of unskilled and semi-skilled labour; the  reason why so many have crossed over from Bangladesh to Assam and neighboring states, boils down to simple economics. Their survival strategy is rather exposure to foreseeable violent conflict for merely economic means and livelihood.  Again, with a population density of 1,150 per sq km and a per capita income of Rs 46,870 for those living in Bangladesh’s largely economically very challenging border areas, Assam with a population of 397 per sq km and a per capita income of Rs 84,400 is a greener pasture.  According to the Supreme Court of India, all India percentage of decadal increase in population during 1981-1991 is 23.85 percent, whereas the border districts of Assam namely, Karimganj shows a decadal increase of 42.08 percent, Cachar 47.59 percent and Dhubri 56.57 percent.

There may be shifting of the type of the conflicts in the downstream region towards the more severe violent activities; the latent conflict will grow into surface one and may turn into deep rooted. The conflict could be intra community – within Hindu or Muslim or other Ethnic community themselves; inter community – between Muslim and Hindu; between state government and its people; inter state – more or less between the their people;  people, central government and international and trans boundary – India and  Bangladesh. The fear of the multiplying and deepen the armed conflict is very likely.

The author could be reached at ([email protected])

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