Selling Manipur

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There can be no dispute that the Sangai Festival this time is much more elaborate. It is for one spread over several venues, including at the Keibul Lamjao at Moirang in the Bishenpur district. Indications are, it will expand even farther from next year, when the newly introduced Cherry Blossom Festival of the Maos will likely become integrated to the Sangai Festival. All these are well and good, and although there are days left before the festival concludes, our congratulations go out to the new government for successfully pulling the festival off on such a grand note. We do hope in the end, the sum of all that have gone into it, the expenses and sweat alike, add up to something good for the society. However, while Manipur’s image must be sold positively and profitably, as indeed the festival has been doing all these years, we do hope in what seems now to be a political one-up-manship between rival political parties, nothing of Manipur is sold more than desired. As eternal skeptics that the media demands those in the profession to be, we will raise some cautions for the people to be wary of.

In contemplating this, our minds go back to the 41 Memorandum of Understanding worth Rs. 5000 crores that the government vaunted of having signed with various putative business partners during a North East Development Summit, timed to coincide with the first two days of the Sangai Festival. Our worries are partly because the entire details of each of the 41 projects are not known yet but from first look they seem to mostly pertain to extractive industries. There also seemed to be very few or no partnership plans on industries that would ultimately result in skills and technologies transfers to the state. Extractive industries definitely would not. One does not have to look far to get a sense of this. About four decades ago the Loktak Hydro Electric Project was constructed and installed. All these years the project has been producing electricity, but what skills would the people of the state has learnt in the meantime to be able to replicate such a project on their own. It is anybody’s guess that it would be practically nothing. What has Manipur been getting from the project? Just 12 percent of the electricity produced, with the rest going to the company that set up the project, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, NHPC. Moreover the environmental damages inflicted by the project on Loktak Lake, has remained solely Manipur’s burden not the company’s.

On the other hand, had this been a garment manufacturing plant, or a mobile phone assembly unit, the skills and technology transfers would have been considerable at at practically every level of the manufacturing and marketing process, empowering many and giving hope to them to not just aspire to be blue collar workers, but also entrepreneurs in the same line. The foremost example of this phenomenon is China. Once upon a time China was the world’s workshop, with practically every international brand setting up assembly units in the country. Today, the skills and technologies transfers that resulted have made China produce its own entrepreneurs who can rival the international players who once set up shops in China to avail of the country’s reserve of cheap skilled labour. Why are none of 41 MoUs about setting up such projects? The lingering doubt is that we are witnessing what well-wishers of Myanmar once warned the country when it was opening up to the world towards the beginning of this decade, and investors were lining up to enter the country. The doubts raised then were that the investments poised to flow in were most in the areas of extractive industries, and this would ultimately do more harm than bring benefits for this poor country. The world also witnessed how many of the new projects that resulted from the investment inflow did not play out well. For instance the China sponsored Myitsone Hydroelectric Dam in the Kachine State was suspended because of public protests, and the Letpaduang Copper mine, also China sponsored, at Monywa too face big hurdles because of public objections. In Pakistan similar trouble seems brewing over the Gwadar deep sea port constructed by China and leased to China for 43 years, i.e. till 2059, until the project cost is recovered. Till then, China would be keeping 91 percent of the profits earned from the port. Our caution with regards to the 41 MoU’s signed during the recent summit is, these projects should not be an echo of these unequal agreements. We however hope our fear is baseless, and what have been signed contain nothing that will harm the interest of the state or its people in the long run.


Source: Imphal Free Press

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