Land Reforms Needed

The increasing incidents of resistance to agricultural land acquisition by the government for various development projects in the valley area should be taken note of seriously. Currently there are three major agitations on, namely the objections to the plan for airport expansion at Malom, construction of the National Institute of Technology, NIT, at Langgol, and the expansion of the Manipur University at Canchipur. Although never as intense, these are hardly the first or only protests that the state has witnessed against government moves for conversion of agricultural land into non-agricultural public assets, and we are certain such resistance would grow even more desperate in the near future. The fact is, there is very little unused or unowned land in the valley anymore. All of us are also familiar with its geography where the valley constitutes only 10 percent of the total land area of about 22,300 sq kms. But this 10 percent of flatland is the virtual rice bowl of the entire state. Again, a majority of the population of the state is concentrated in this 10 percent flatland for obvious topographical and economical reasons, but also because of its centrality, politically as well as in terms of physical geography. Consequently, population pressure on it continues to grow exponentially. Considering all these facts, the rise in resentments against government acquisition of land, regardless of the purpose the acquired land is to be put to, is understandable although not necessarily acceptable.

Interestingly, while there have been oppositions to government projects which need land in the valley area, in the very sparsely populated and relatively much less developed hill districts, the demands have been for just the opposite, although for very dissimilar reasons which have little to do with population pressure or land scarcity, government acquisition of land here too has never been easy. As per existing law, there is neither khas land (land not privately owned and by that virtue deemed as government property), nor curiously, privately owned land except in certain increasingly metropolitan pockets. This not withstanding, in many of the projects that the state government undertakes or proposes to undertake, the hill districts are strong contenders. The case of the NIT is one, where Churachandpur district has made a strong bid to have it located in the district, and the public there have pledged they would gladly donate the required land. For reasons best known to itself alone, the Manipur government is sticking to its original plan angering those who would be losing their homesteads and farmlands in the Langgol area in Imphal West, as well embittering the public of Churachandpur and a larger section of the other hill districts who feel that the Manipur government vision is far too unfairly valley centric. Another contentious case is that of the expansion of Manipur University, located virtually as an island in the middle of a sea of green paddy fields. It is already a sprawling 250 acre expanse, and now after the takeover by the Centre, it needs another 200 acre of contiguous area. The suggestion by landowners apprehensive of dislocation is that the MU should instead think of a hill campus. We are no expert to say what the logistics problems would be, but we do think it is a fine idea to have a hill campus of the MU. But, after witnessing the government’s obduracy in the NIT case, we are doubtful this can happen. As for the airport expansion, if at all it must be expanded, we see no alternate space this can happen.

But these problems should also open the government’s as well as the people’s (in the valley as well as in the hills) eyes to another pressing need – land reforms. This must be aimed at optimising the development needs of the land and its people. It has been pointed out so many times in comparisons of the phenomenal development stories of India and China – a fad of the modern times, that China’s distinct advantage is in its ability to push radical land reforms, being a communist country, unlike India which is bogged down by myriad pulls and pressures of a fragmented democratic polity. West Bengal’s Nandigram is illustrative of this dilemma, as much as the NIT, MU and airport in Manipur. We are not suggesting an authoritarian approach to the issue, but definitely one not swayed by every pressure group either. In the end, such a policy must have the larger common good as its sole objective.

The Imphal Free Press editorial
3/10/2008 1:47:45 AM

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About Zou Sangnaupang Pawlpi Delhi

Zou Students' Association Delhi Branch
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