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