Manufactured Consent and Destruction of Lei-Ingkhol
Dr. Malem Ningthouja
21 June 2013
Yesterday, 28th June 2013, an official letter intimating the pattadars in Lei-Ingkhol to dismantle standing properties by 15th July was delivered. On the morning of 15 June, 2013 a team of civil servants along with five truckloads of police intruded in Lei-Ingkhol village, Imphal East (Manipur). They siege the villagers numbering about 600, alarmed of combing operation, created a terror situation, forced everyone into indoors, but surveyed the village at gun point to expand capital project. They warned the villagers to either voluntarily vacate by the end of June or face the consequence of forced eviction. Is this show off of muscle power and informal threat a normal way of civil administration? In what ways are they acting qualitatively different from an authoritarian regime that does not work on the basis of democratic consent but imposes policy at gun point? They forced the villagers to remain silent and say ‘yes’ to eviction. Isn’t the ‘yes’ a mechanized product of enforcement, i.e., manufacturing of consent under duress in order to construe ‘public consent’ of the project at any cost?
Why official terror? Firstly, about 12 years of Ibobi regime in Manipur coincides with pumping in of lots of fund for infrastructural construction under the centrally sponsored Special Plan Assistance. Since corruption is widespread, the inflow of fund provides with ample avenue for extraction of commission by political barons, contractors and bureaucrats. In the scramble for commission they bypassed democratic norms to obtain public consent but indulged in hasty and arbitrary tactics including use of muscle power to implement projects. Secondly, the villagers of Lei-Ingkhol had been posing stiff resistance to the capital project ever since the government took a decision in February 2005 to acquire Lei Ingkhol. In this scenario of project versus rights; the government creates a terror situation to pose psychological fear and to kowtows resistance.
What is Lei Ingkhol? Perhaps, located at about five kilometres away from the Imphal city, Lei Ingkhol village was founded around 1940s by socially stigmatised and ostracised lepers and tuberculosis patients. Due to social factors, for several decades they were forced to confine in the village and relied on hunting, fishing and water roots and other resources available in and around the village. In May 2012, inhabited by 610 persons who were organised into 116 families, Lei-Ingkhol is a well established suburban village, naturally surrounded by Irong Rivulet and Cheiraoching Hill, enjoying scenic beauty, favourable climate, rich natural resources and prospects of tourism. Contractors and bureaucrats are being attracted to create an elite zone by evicting the villagers.
What is Capital Project? The CP is a multi crore rupees project to construct new legislative assembly hall, secretariat building, high court complex, residential bungalows and staff quarters, parks, etc. The project is controversial for lack of transparency, public accountability, and tendencies of displacement and destruction. Selection of construction site suffers from hastiness, arbitrariness and violation of prescribed norms. Not surprisingly, blue prints of the project have been altered from time to time as per the desire of the policy makers. The foundation stone at Kairang Khong Wetland was inaugurated by the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on 20 November 2004, without fulfilling legal requirements from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest. There is alleged manipulation in the drafting of environmental reports submitted for obtaining environmental clearance.
The issue of environment or EIA/ EMP norm is cast aside as the project is being split into different components and constructions are being carried out in piecemeal manner. What about the pre-existing infrastructures such as TB and Leprosy Hospital, PWD and Agricultural and Horticultural departments that were destroyed to give way to the capital project? These had to be re constructed elsewhere. What is the merit of destructions and reconstructions which had cost a lot for financially poor state like Manipur? Why not capital project is constructed in some other site where there will be no destruction and controversy? Is there transparency and accountability of the materials from deconstruction of buildings and the disassembled machineries and equipments? The government is silent on all these.
Engrossed by the prospect of creating an elite zone the government had bypassed democratic norms and humanitarian considerations. On April 20, 2005 it announced to acquire Lei-Ingkhol. Why was there no free prior and informed consent of the villagers before the decision was taken? Are the villagers, because they are poor less human? Should the elite zone be created at the cost of the poor and the enfeebled? A cycle of protest and violent suppression had been ensued. In 2005 many agitators suffered casualty and arrest. The main route of the village was blocked at gun point permanently in 2006. Peace seemed to have been brokered when the then Indian Minister of State for Labour & Employment, Oscar Fernandes visited at the night on 12 September 2006. He assured to address the plight of the villagers. However, in January 2011 the wooden bridge across Irong Rivulet constructed by the villagers was destroyed. Since then there had been repeated attempts to make the villagers submissive. Is this the manner a democratic system should function?
The displacement attempt is being carried out at a time when impoverished village such as Lei-Ingkhol required social and economic initiatives to overcome poverty. Most of the head of the families are wage labourers in the unorganised sectors working on daily contract basis. There are 24 government employees (from 20 families), mostly under Grade III (8 persons) and Grade IV (16 persons) pay scale. 20 persons are involved in localized marginal business such as retail petty shop (including pan dukan; 10 persons), vendour/ potfam (3 women), tea stall (4 women) and one firewood seller. There are 186 students who are mostly enrolled in government schools which are in the most degenerative conditions. There are 35 BPL card holders and 22 Annapurna Yojna card holders. The village required minimum basic infrastructures such as medical centre, community hall, library, electricity supply, playground, metalized roads, drainage, water supply, etc. On the other hand the villagers had subjective perception of livelihood and objective relation attached with the village, e.g., history, natural boundaries, environment, economic survival, social network, common daily activities, and psychological makeup. Instead of addressing these issues the government attempts to uproot their economic, social and spiritual livelihood. Will the government compensate?
How long will the colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894 be retained to be misused for personal gain by the project mongers who also enjoy political power? Should there be elite zone, official bungalows and quarters at the cost of the poor? The 15 June flag march and threat suggest use of force to impose ‘consent’ and acquire the village at any cost. There is also divisive policy to divide opinion so as to weaken the bargaining power of the villagers. Couple with psychological threat, disunity is being used as a factor for absence of resistance and eviction is being justified. The justification, however, cannot minimize the overall negative impact of displacement at the receiving end.
Repeated appeals to the Government of Manipur and the leaders at the centre had not been positively responded. Where will the villagers go after displacement? Will the poor be able to buy land and construct homes at their own cost? Will they ever live together again as a collective entity? Who and how will the trauma inflicted on the young children be rehabilitated? Where have gone those political leaders who had promised to defend the village during election campaign? Why is the government reluctant to offer adequate compensation and rehabilitation package so that the integrity, dignity, livelihood and survival of the village as a collective entity are being ensured? The repressive situation and lack of democratic option had frustrated many? Should not the fundamental rights of the villagers be protected? Should the people remain submissive to the destructive projects or should one take up unconstitutional course to avenge displacement?