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Manipur: The Economics Of Disruption

Afflicted with multiple insurgencies for the past 46 years, Manipur remains the most violent State in India’s troubled Northeast, with all its nine Districts marred by varying degrees of extremist activities. The civil administration has ceased to deliver even rudimentary services of governance to its 2.3 million population across the State’s 22,327 square kilometers.

Addressing the Manipur Legislative Assembly on January 13, 2010, State Governor Gurbachan Jagat noted that the problem of insurgency had severely hampered the development and growth of the State. This developmental sabotage is starkly exemplified by the sustained disruption of renovation work in the Loktak Lake area, the largest fresh-water lake in the Northeast region, due to insurgent attacks.

The 13.2 million cubic meters of the Loktak Lake are under risk of rampant growth of phumdis (water weeds). In order to save the ecology of the lake, the task of removing this floating bio-mass was taken up by the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) under the Special Assistance Action Plan of Wetlands International ‘“ South Asia, a global Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) dedicated to sustaining and restoring wetlands, and the Planning Commission of the Government of India. A fund of INR 3.78 billion was allocated for a three year project. Since its inception in 2008, however, the activities of LDA have been severely hampered by militant activities in the State.

The work of the LDA resumed once again from January 6, 2010, after its suspension after the July 15, 2009 incident in which the driver of the Executive Engineer of the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) was shot dead by the Puranthaba Lamyanba Kuman group of the Military Council faction of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), while trying to abduct the engineer. However, the State Government’s decision to enforce stringent security measures in the area could not prevent the militants from blowing up an excavator on January 22, 2010, which was being used for removing phumdis at Ningthoukhong in Bishnupur District. K. Jayanta Singh, Superintendent of Police (SP), Bishnupur District, noted, “Their main object was to attack security forces. Of course, they have done the damage but the damage wasn’t upto the desired level for them. It was a desperate move. We have mobilized all our resources to prevent such happenings’¦”

The constant source of concern with regard to developmental activities in Manipur is the extortion drive by the multiple insurgent groups across the State. Almost all the armed groups extract ‘˜levies’ and ransoms from residents and transients in their areas of operation. The continuing dominance of the insurgents in Manipur is most strongly reflected in the enveloping regime of extortion that targets Government offices and beneficiaries, local self-Government and educational institutions, health centers, commercial establishments and the wider civilian population alike. The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, in its partial estimate (a preponderance of such cases go unreported) records that at least 423 extortion incidents occurred in 2005-2010, with the year 2005 registering 10 such incidents, 2006: 36, 2007: 63, 2008:123, 2009: 95 and 2010: 96 [till October 23]. The SATP database further documents at least 258 extortion-related reprisal attacks targeting Government offices, public institutions, private service agencies, and civilians during the same period, with 2005 recording 7 such attacks, 2006: 11, 2007: 35, 2008: 68, 2009: 68 and 2010: 69.

Militant extortion and related attacks have also directly targeted the infrastructure of governance in the State. In May 2009, members of various Gram Panchayats (village level local self-Government institutions) in Imphal West District, unable to cope with militant demands, had fled their homes and taken refuge at the District Rural Development Agency office in the Imphal West Deputy Commissioner’s Complex. Groups such as the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), KCP-Military Council and People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), had demanded 30 per cent of the funds sanctioned under State Finance Commission and 12th Finance Commission schemes. They had also demanded INR 50,000 from each of the Gram Panchayats. These threats and the consequent flight of officials and elected representatives from rural areas, resulted in the collapse of essential services and governance across much of the State. The health and education services and dry fish trade were the worst hit in the year 2009, due to the extortion drive in the Manipur Valley.

The extortion related developmental damage has not confined itself to the Valley region. Manipur Legislator Morung Makunga, on March 10, 2010, disclosed in the State Assembly that Kuki armed groups, which are under a Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement since August 2005, have been collecting as much as 50 per cent of the compensation given by the Government to land owners in the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Moreh town in Chandel District along the India-Myanmar border in the Hills. The Minister stated that militant outfits are not in compliance with the terms laid down under SoO agreements, and these should, consequently be suspended. The excesses carried out by the Kuki armed groups were confirmed by a trickle of refugees who had fled Moreh under threat of extortion, or of reprisals for refusal to pay.

Substantial proportions of the extortion revenues are going into the personal coffers of leaders of the militant groupings. Reports in the first week of September 2010 revealed that the Directorate of Enforcement had attached the properties of three absconding militants K. Premjit Singh, his wife K. Elizabeth Devi, and sister Sanajaobi Devi, of the PREPAK. The directorate found that the accused had purchased a plot of land in Imphal town in the name of K. Elizabeth Devi by diverting a portion of the collected funds, and had started construction of a house on the plot. The official value of the plot and house under-construction was estimated at INR 1.2 million. The Directorate started its process by checking mobile phone records of all the accused in a case registered following the detection of a hawala racket by the Police in the Fancy Bazar area of the Guwahati city in Assam. The racket was neutralized by the Guwahati Police, which led to the recovery of INR 2.4 million in cash. The case was later handed over to the Enforcement Directorate and, during the course of preliminary investigations; it was found that those involved in the racket had contacts across the country, including the linkages in Manipur.

The blockade syndrome adds further to Manipur’s economic woes. In April-June 2010, violent protests and counter-protests on the issues relating to the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) elections in Naga inhabited regions and to the proposed visit of National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) ‘˜general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah’s to his native Somdal village in Ukhrul District, had virtually paralyzed normal life across the State . According to one estimate, Manipur suffered a loss of about INR two billion per day through the 68-day long economic blockade, which was only lifted following the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) directive to send Central Paramilitary Forces to break the blockade, and the Naga student leaders’ meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on June 14, 2010. Despite this, the State subsequently witnessed another extended phase of blockade on the National Highways 39 and 53, orchestrated by the Naga groups at the instigation of the NSCN-IM, between August 4, 2010, and September 18, 2010.

Economist N. Mohendro Singh noted that the 68-day long blockade brought the State to a standstill, and created avenues for black marketing. With the acute scarcity of petrol during the blockade, Singh records, its price in the black market rose to INR 140 a liter, with a wait of 10-15 hours before petrol pumps delivered five liters of petrol. Singh added that all private and Government schools stopped functioning due to the suspension of transport as a result of the non-availability of petrol. Blockades of such long duration, he argued, could produce a generation gap in education and human capital formation. Singh argued that the blockade had dehumanized the people of Manipur on all fronts, from the educational, through the industrial to the social sectors.

Given the virtual collapse of Governance in Manipur, the difficulties of the common people are being multiplied manifold by the economic hardships that are being imposed on them by the disruptive and extortionary activities of the many insurgent groupings in the State.

*The article is written by Sandipani Dash

*The article was originally published at affiliated to the Institute for Conflict Management.

* The author is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management.

* The article has been published with due permission from the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM).

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