Special Category Status For Manipur

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Manipur
Manipur

By : C. Doungel

The placement of Manipur among comparatively developed states by a committee appointed by the then Union finance Minister in 2013 has very much upset and disappointed the intelligentia of the state. There is apprehension that this will deprive the state from entitlement of 90% grant of plan fund enjoyed by backward states belonging to the special category. Accordingly, some persons had pleaded not to remove Manipur from the Special State Category with the 14th Finance Commission when they last visited Manipur. The pattern of fund devolution had since changed considerably with the award of 14th Finance Commission which has reinforced the apprehensions. The final picture will emerge with finalization of exercises initiated by NITI AYOG at the instance of Prime Minister. We do not know what are the exact parameters adopted by the committee in determining the same placement of state as developed. Nevertheless, by taking a long shot, we may assume that the committee must have drawn conclusion based on the impressive reports submitted by the State Government. They must have also relied on favourable statistics churned out by Government.

Let us now discuss some valid reasons for continuance of Manipur in the special category. Topographically Manipur is a land-locked hill state situated at the very tailend of the country. The Imphal valley is situated about 3000 feet above the sea level and for all purposes, Manipur should be considered a hill state. This does not however necessarily make it a tribal state. Being a princely state, no worthwhile development took place except the Old Secretariat, residence of the Political Agent (now used as Raj Bhavan) and the DCs residence {now used as Chief Ministers residence). They were constructed as symbol of the British Raj than anything else.

Amongst others, some of them for example, may be as follows : Water Supply, the number of villages / towns covered under this would be very high. Rural electrification coverage must be almost cent per cent. Construction of roads in terms of kilometers would not only be impressive but connectivity of villages would be excellent on paper atleast. Areas brought under irrigation including double cropping would be impressive. Control of Jhum and resettlement of jhumias and areas brought under plantation would be very high. Distribution of rice, kerosene and sugar under public distribution system would rate as excellent. Report about welfare schemes like mid-day meal and functioning of Anganwadi Centres would make very good impression. So also, reports about providing housing schemes under Tribal Development, Minority Schemes and Indira Awaj Yojna would also make impressive reading. Even in matters of law and order, killings and booking of criminals would show great progress according to statistics provided, though there is actually no improvement in law and order. Little did they realize that these can boomerang. Drawing some comparision with similarly placed states like Meghalaya, it inherited Shillong which was the erstwhile capital of undivided Assam having good road connection from Gauhati Railhead situated at a distance of 120 kms. Manipur`s disadvantages are manifold. It suffered badly from the ravages of 2nd World War. In fact most of the fiercest battle between the Allied Army and Japan/INA armies were fought in Manipur. It has now come to light that the battles around Maibam Lokpa Ching was the fiercest battle in the South-East Asian Front fought between a regiment of British army who were strongly dug in and another regiment of Japanese army. The causalities were one of the highest. Fierce battle were also fought at Bishnupur, Kanglatongbi, Kangpokpi and Jessami. Jessami was one place where the newly raised 1st Assam Regiment was deployed to stop Japanese advance to Kohima. The names of Jem. Thanghem Kuki decorated with Military cross and Jem. Satkhosei Kuki (Jangi nam) were some of the heroes known to us. Capt. M.K. P.B. Singh was one of the first officers to have built up the regiment. For estraordinary bravery, subedar, Nar Bahadur Thapa was awarded Victoria Cross for having faught very gallantly in the battle of Bishnupur. Imphal as also other places like Churachanpdur, Kanglatongbi and Kangpokpi were heavily bombarded. I recall that as a boy of six years in 1946, we used to swim in ponds created by bomb craters at Kangpokpi Mission Compound. The intensity of fighting in Manipur and Naga Hills necessitated construction of Air fields at Kakching and Koirengei.

The Dimapur – Manipur cart road was converted as motorable in early forties mainly for use of British army for transportation of supplies and equipment of war. The biggest disadvantage of Manipur however is the acute transport bottle-neck. Of the 236 km. long road from the railhead of Dimapur more than 100 kms. pass through the State of Nagaland which is equally disturbed and also at times hostile. Besides, the road is narrow and sharply winding at many points that transportation of heavy and bulky or long material are difficult. Passing through young mountains, landslide and sinking places are many. Added to this is the misery of blockades. Improvement of the so called alternate road through Jiribam and Tamenglong district is progressing at snail speed. If there is trouble in Bihar, Bengal, Assam or Nagaland, we suffer most. Cost of transportation perhaps is the highest for Manipur. Not much worthwhile infrastructure had been built since independence except construction of symbolic buildings like Assembly, High Court, New Secretariat which had benefited outside firms and the Ministers/beauraucrate who got their cuts. The poor people have not benefited out of these. Further, whatever little infrastructure of road, bridges etc. were built have either deteriorated and broken down.

There is hardly any scope for big industries and the main scope of self-employment is by accelerating economic activities through trade and commerce. The look east policy now, act east, is not yet able to make much impact. If power supply improves, small industries for making electrical goods like stabilizers, making steel almirahs, grills for windows, electric switches and plastic goods etc. can be established as people from Manipur have natural flair and skill. Construction of Tipaimukh Hydro Power Project which will make us power sufficient is stalled for reasons other than economic by psuedo experts spreading alarmist disinformation about it. Such negative attitudes are also stalling construction of other hydro power projects and taking up oil drilling and mining activities. Revival of traditional industries like handloom, weaving, furniture making (wooden, cane and bamboo) and pottery etc. could also go hand in hand.

Most convincing argument would however be to make use of the contentious merger agreements where there are stipulations that Manipur will be given special consideration in matters of development and job opportunities. I think we should profitably use this to convince the Government of India. For, the circumstances and backdrop under which small states in the North East or elsewhere were crated are indeed unique. Historical, political and ethnic reasons are the prime considerations leading to creation of these states. Treating them at par with advanced and viable states would not only be unfair but will also amount to penalizing them which will only put back the clock. The whole approach based on overestimated and false assumptions will rather jeopardise the whole gamut of developmental activities. It is, therefore, necessary to correct the aberrations and restore status quo ante so that a pragmatic approach is possible and the future of small states are safe.

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