Sustainable Development Goals In Manipur’s Context

Manipur provides lucid examples of sharp dichotomy in processes of defining sustainable development goals in a post 2015 era and of deepening perpetuation of development injustice. Intricate and intensive efforts for defining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015, marks the diplomatic efforts, campaigns and advocacies ranging from member states of the UN, representatives of CSOs and members of communities since the last UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 2012 at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

The UN Intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) for Sustainable Development Goals, mandated by the outcome statement of the UNCED in June 2012, finally released its recommendations for a new set of development goals for the post-2015 era for the consideration and action of the UN General Assembly, comprising 17 goals and 169 targets. The Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF) also issued its report, outlining policy options to be developed into the financing deal for a post-2015 agenda. The UN Secretary General will submit his report on the Post-2015 agenda to the UN General Assembly by November 30, 2014, and will be the basis for further negotiations. These negotiations will conclude in a heads-of-state summit in New York in September 2015, which will adopt the post-2015 framework.

Optimism and frustrations persists among the ranks and files of negotiators and all stakeholders as one goes by the contents of the two recently released reports and recommendations of OWG and ICESDF. A critical assessment of the recommendations of the OWG on new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing will reveal a disturbing reality. A clear question emanates as to whether the recommendations of the reports and the negotiations to follow, will ever lead to just sustainable development goals? Already condemnations abound that the two reports suggest nothing new, other than emphasizing on the outdated and flawed neoliberal model of development fostering inequality and global crisis, and to facilitate corporate capture of development processes worldwide, more so in the last remaining resource rich areas, such as in Manipur and across India’s North East. The policy prescriptions of the World Trade Organizations (WTO) for an unhindered free trade regime, removal of all subsidies on agriculture, private sector financing and role for development asserts itself more prominently than ever before, especially in the Means of Implementation section in OWG report and in the ICESDF report. The emphasis on financing by International Financial Institutions without changing their policy prescriptions and conditionality will only aggravate the multiple global crises, of inequality, environmental devastations, of poverty and conflict over resources.

Concerns at the larger process apart, the unfolding development challenges in Manipur hold no promise either. The unfolding aggressive and militaristic development process guided by neoliberal policies fully assures rights based and just development is still in the wilderness and a distant realm for many. As fallout of the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreements in 2009 and 2012, new development policies and projects geared towards enhanced privatization takes centre stage, while relegating the communities and the most marginalized into the periphery. The Manipur New Land Use Policy 2014 (NLUP) has been introduced to increase competitiveness of small scale farmers and indigenous cultivators in Manipur with the agriculturalists in the member countries of South East Asian Countries. The India-Burma border trade agreement of 1994 had significant impacts on agriculture sector and local economy of Manipur, with cheap agriculture produces replacing traditional agriculture produces of Manipur. The solution suggested increasing competition and production is no different, other than a mere production of commercial crops and plantations, primarily biofuels and rubber. With a clear negation of indigenous diversified cultivation as uneconomical, destructive and environment unfriendly, the NLUP policy reinforces the policy prescriptions of World Trade Organization to increase competitiveness among all farmers, including small scale producers. Multinational corporations like Ecofirst of Malaysia, Godrej and Reliance and British Petroleum are fully engaged in promoting biofuels, palm oil cultivation across North East already and is envisaged to be involved in Manipur as well. An alarming concern for small scale indigenous food producers in Manipur is the unregulated entry of cheap chemical laden agriculture food items from both South and South East Asia, which already ruined indigenous agriculture system. Manipur has long been reduced to a food dependent state, especially after the commissioning of several ‘development projects’, the most notorious being the 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric project of the Multinational corporation, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) which submerged more than 80,000 acres of agriculture land. The NHPC continues to remain unaccountable for its violations in Loktak wetlands since the project commissioning in 1984. With corporate produced High Yielding Variety seeds, chemical pesticides and fertilizers aggressively promoted amidst rapid shrinking of agriculture land, Manipur’s agriculture is fast captured by Multinational Agri Corporations.

India’s Look East Policy framed in the 1990’s post neoliberal economic framework with tacit guidance and support of international financial institutions, viz, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation etc, increasing project Manipur as centre for trade between South and South East Asia and aggressively targeted its resource rich areas and land for extractive industries and massive infrastructure development, roads, railways etc.

Energy trading across International borders is clearly envisaged. The direct involvement of the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank in the corporatization of power sector in Manipur and in establishment of High Voltage Transmission and Distribution line, financed by the World Bank is aimed at full scale exploitation of hydroelectric potential of the water resources in Manipur. Indeed, the Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy, 2012 envisaged to generate more than 3000 MW of power from almost all the rivers of Manipur. The signing of Memorandum of Understanding with the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) on 28 August 2014 to initiate four power projects, viz, 60 MW Irang HEP, 51 MW Tuivai HEP, the 67 MW Khongnem Chakha and 190 MW Pabram HEP projects in Tamenglong, Churachandpur and Senapati Districts, as part of the larger dam building plans over Rivers of Manipur under the Manipur Hydroelectric Power Policy, 2012 is another attempt of the Government to create further destruction of peoples livelihood and survival sources in Manipur. The plan to build these dams is fraught with absence of consultation and taking the free, prior and informed consent of communities to be affected by such mega dam projects. One may ask if such unsustainable mega dams lead to sustainable development in Manipur. Will full scale exploitation and destruction of all the rivers, forest, resources, lives and future of indigenous peoples of Manipur for profit of corporate bodies in the pretext of “providing energy for people and development”, lead to sustainable development?

The newly introduced policies in Manipur, the New Land Use Policy 2014, the Manipur Industrial and Investment Policy, 2013, the Manipur Hydro Power Policy, 2012, the Manipur Tourism Policy, 2011, in the aftermath of India’s economic liberalization in 1990, all envisage the role of private sector in leading development through the Public Private Partnership models. The proposed 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project over Barak River of Manipur, to be build in Public Private Partnership model, with the Satluj Jal Nigam Vidyut Nigam Limited, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and the Government of Manipur, will entail colossal destruction, including submerging of 27,000 hectares of forest land, submerging huge tract of prime agriculture land, eviction of indigenous communities, undermining food sovereignty of Manipur, militarization, loss of biodiversity and other violations. The proposed oil and gas exploration move in Manipur will be both by Jubilant Energy and the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), both private and public Multinational Corporation. The Manipur Loktak Lake Protection Act, 2006 helped K-Pro Company to amass wealth fraudulently while harassing and alienating indigenous Meitei fisher folk from survival dependence in Loktak wetlands.

Nowhere in this new slew of policies introduced in the context of India’s Look East policies and India-ASEAN free trade agreements, had incorporated specific provisions to respect the human rights of affected peoples or to adhere to norms for indigenous peoples’ rights or anything aligning towards adhering to human rights based approach to development. Nowhere there are provisions to ensure accountability for the corporate bodies to be involved in the wanton destruction. Issues of inclusivity, participatory development, accountability of corporate bodies, respect of human rights etc are all rendered meaningless in the fast development process unfolding in Manipur.

The ADB and World Bank are now preparing Manipur and other North East States to connect South Asia and South East Asia for Asia Economic Integration. There’s massive destruction of earth, soil, forest and water sources for the construction of Trans Asian Highway and Trans Asian Railway in Manipur, with tacit support of Asian Development Bank and the Involvement of the UN Economic and Social Council of Asia Pacific. Issues of consultation with affected communities, addressing the cumulative impact assessment of such large scale project, not just on immediate impacts of such specific projects but also its larger and longer term impacts, such as on indigenous local and traditional economy, the rights of indigenous women, impacts of associated militarization etc continues to be deliberately omitted. Such trade initiative along with sectoral support by the Asian Development Bank and other bilateral banks etc are further intended to facilitate cross border and international free trade agreements, under the provisions of the World Trade organization.

A clear tacit flouting of key development and human rights standards is clearly visible. Even, the Safeguard policies of Asian Development Bank and the World Bank Operation Procedures, condemned for their flaws and insensitivities, are violated in their road projects and the high voltage Transmission and Distribution lines. The series of recommendations of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the UN Committee on the Elimination on All forms of Racial Discrimination to fully implement the provision of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 in all development decision making processes is arbitrated and undermined. Corporate bodies involved or awarded contracts and licenses for extractive industries also failed to respect the rights of local communities, which is clearly evident by the pattern of misinformation and manipulations by the Jubilant Energy in its efforts to explore and drill oil from Manipur.

A clearly visible implication is the disregard of indigenous peoples’ rights, their right to self determination over their land, their right to take free, prior and informed consent and undermining the integrity of the rich biodiversity of the region. Today, indigenous peoples’ land designated for large scale development is not freed from extensive militarization. Mapithel dam site is evident to state’s enabling environment for corporate expansionism and militarization of peoples’ land and survival sources. The pursuance of neoliberal development policies favoring corporate bodies in Manipur is the suppression of all movement for rights and self determination of indigenous communities. Pursuance of India’s Look East Policy, infrastructure developments by ADB and World Bank for trade facilitation also records series of military offensives and operations from Indian Army operating in Manipur under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 to subdue Manipur’s self determination movement.

The complete inaction and deafening silence maintained by the State, the Government of Manipur and the Government of India, despite the persisting violations of multinational corporate bodies, and the continued unaccountability by such multinational corporate bodies, such as NHPC and Jubilant Energy etc only confirms the long standing concerns of communities on the privatization and development onslaught on peoples’ land and resources. An enabling environment for the corporate bodies and private business is increasingly proposed and institutionalized across Manipur. Alarming concepts like the “Single Window Clearances”, simplifying procedures for environmental and forest clearances, diluting clauses of seeking consent of tribal people under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in India to clear forest for development projects simply does not augur well for a just and rights based sustainable development.

Extensive militarization of indigenous peoples land and brute suppression of their leaders for asserting their democratic rights for free, prior and informed consent and to honor their symbiotic relationship with their land, forest, water and resources for their survival, as in the case of Mapithel dam, the Loktak project and the proposed area for Tipaimukh dam, oil exploration and other large development processes etc goes against all principles of just and sustainable development, but a clear manifestation of undemocratic process and undermining all human rights principles.

With the member states of the UN preparing to negotiate based on the recommendations of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, the report of the ICESDF and the report of the UN Secretary General on SDGs to be released on November 2015, civil societies and all marginalized communities have far greater challenges. The issue of exclusive and state centric processes to define the post 2015 development agenda will be alarming and only constitute reinforcement of the unjust and unaccountable model of development. Exclusivity leads to arbitrary decisions and when enforced on communities as solutions and viable development, often leads to conflicts and multifaceted impacts. The issue of equal and meaningful participation of all communities and stakeholders, towards seeking alternative and most viable sustainable development solutions, has long been a challenge at the development decision making at the communities level, not just in Manipur but all across the globe.

The decision making process in post 2015 need to accord adequate, meaningful and rightful space to all concerned stakeholders, especially community representatives at all levels from the local to international processes so that a just, transformative people and environmental friendly development agenda is fostered in a post 2015 era. Indeed, indigenous peoples and communities worldwide have rich traditional knowledge and practices and solutions to offer for a just, sustainable and an equitable world.

Manipur’s development process is pursued in clear exclusivity of the development processes defined internationally. The process of defining sustainable development goals seems to have no relevance in Manipur, where prolonged armed conflict persists, over its self determination movement. With the rule of the roost and wide culture of impunity prevailing under the dark shadows of the guns and emergency legislations like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 enforced permanently, uncared of all international human rights principles and practices, Manipur seems yet again uncared of at least an effort to ensure sanity prevails for all human kind and for our environment to sustain through renewed sustainable development goals. Aggressive and mindless development onslaught need to cease in Manipur till a full adherence to best development and human rights standards. Recognizing indigenous peoples self determined right over their land and resources is vital for just development in Manipur.

*The article is written by Jiten Yumnam.

*The writer can be reached at

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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