Coase and The Forest Degradation in Manipur: The misfortune of the mountains


By Amar Yumnam

Ronal Coase is Nobel laureate in Economics. There is a theorem which he propounded. It states that in cases where the ownership of property is not properly defined, that property would suffer fast degradation as everybody would try to exploit it at the maximum in as short a time as possible. This naturally leads to the fast deterioration in the quality and quantity of the resource in question. Something like this has been happening in the mountains of Manipur and it is getting worseby the day. The significance of the mountains in this province lies in the synonymousness with the forests as elsewhere in the province. The degradation of the forests in Manipur was always bad and it is getting increasingly worse. The disappearing forests, worsening environmental scenario and probable disappearance of mountains in Manipur have never occupied the mind of the thinking public and the space of policy formulation. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Tamenglong scenario in this rate of forest degradation was absolutely the worst in Manipur.

But the worst and the most challenging phenomenon of forest degradation is now happening in the Chandel District. There could be many reasons for the Chandel leaving Tamenglong behind. One possible reason could be the declining comparative economic value of the forests in Tamenglong district. If this is the case, it willnot be a sustainable one. If the Chandel value declines as it wont, the exploitation of the Tamenglong forests would again resume in a way to permanently and irrevocably destroy the forests in the latter. The more dangerous scenario is the most likely probability of the Chandel forests to experience irrevocable and permanent damage in this round of exploitation itself. In fact the scenario in Chandel today is so bad that quite many mountains are now facing the risk of absolute disappearance in due course thanks to the complete disappearance of the forest covers. The issue is why has such a situation arisen in this district? The answer lies in the worst form of Coasian problem being faced in this district. First, the property rights in the forests in this district are as ill-defined as they could be. Second, the first problem is coupled by an acute competition among diverse ethnic groups for dominance.

In the absence of expanding economic opportunities, all the members of each ethnic group have depended increasingly heavily on the exploitation of the forests. In other words, the exploitation of the forests has been so interlinked with the livelihood possibilities. Since the property rights are ill-defined, each is trying to competitively exploit the forests as completely as possible so as to leave no scope for others to take advantage. This is a sure route to destruction of the forests sooner than later, and ultimately the disappearance of the mountains in due course. The long run implication is disappearance of livelihood possibilities of the common man as the forests have disappeared. The overall social implication for Manipur would be very precarious and environmentally highly hazardous.

The land and the people of Manipur can in no case afford the continuance of the current form of forest exploitation and mountain degradation in the Chandel district. We have to evolve a strategy for addressing this problem. The immediate intervention should be a strict application of environmental governance rules. This alone however would not be enough. We have to complement this by a strong livelihood expansion strategies. This is something required by all the mountain districts of Manipur, but the environmental imperative for this in the Chandel district is overwhelming. Still further, the people of the district as stakeholders should now initiate articulation and debate over the sustainable future of the people and the environment within a longer time perspective. Current predominance of only immediate outcomes as relevant should be replaced by this longer term perspective. People require the state and the environment and vice versa. We survive together with the environment or we die with it. Here time is of the essence for evolving towards an appropriate property rights regime.



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