Dr Govind Singh
The Jiribam-Imphal Railway LineProject is now nearing completion and willsoon put Imphal on the Railway Map of India. It is as if the Vision 2020 of former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalamis being realized under the leadership of the current Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. This is certainly a sign of a healthy democracy. It is also an achievement signifying that the Government has finally understood that its Look (now Act) East Policy must first focus on developing its own North-east.
The arrival of the Railways all the way till Imphal, the capital and heart of Manipur, will be a much needed boost for the ongoing development initiatives in the region. Railway connectivity will ensure transportation of goods produced in Manipur at cheaper cost and will thus help increase profits for the people of Manipur. It will also allow for easier transportation of raw materials as well as finished products into Manipur thereby enhancing sales and making business more profitable. There is also the added benefit of ready availability of all kinds of products and household items in Imphal and inrest of Manipur due to the Railways.
Another significant benefit that will be immediately felt with the arrival of the Railways is the boost to the tourism industry. The Internet is full of illustrated articles announcing the top 10 places that everyone must visit in Manipur to top7 things to do in Imphal, etc. This has inspired and attractedlarge number of people who have now put visiting Manipur on their Bucket list. While the option to take a flight has existed for some time, it is not something that everyone can afford. The Railways will surely remove the affordability barrier and once on the Railway Map, Manipur will soon become the most preferred travel destination due to its beautiful landscapes and rich cultural diversity.
While there are myriad of benefits that Railway connectivity will bring to Manipur, it must not be forgotten that all development projects have some or the other adverse impacts as well. The people of Manipur must make themselves aware of these adverse impacts and ensure that these are prevented by making adequate preparations before the trains start arriving at the Imphal Railway Station.
One of the first impact of the trains arriving at Imphal will be on the local handloom, food processing and manufacturing industry in Manipur. These sectors will immediately start facing stiff competition from products and brands located outside Manipur. There is thus a need for the Manipur State Government to start framing policies favouring the local industry. It is equally important for all Manipur based industries to prepare themselves for fighting this competition through continuous improvement of quality and business skills. The people of Manipur must also remember to support local production by choosing Made in Manipur products and items over those manufactured outside the State.
Another major impact of the trains arriving at Imphalis going to be the influx of large number of people, some of whom may not be tourists. This must already bea concern for every Manipuri, living in the valley or in the hills. As is true for the rest of North-east India, Manipur is suffering from the sinister problem of illegal migration. The Railways should not in any way add to this problem and the Manipur Police and the State Government must create plans to check this from happening. This will require greater coordination with the Railway Ministry and certain other divisions of the Government of India. However, the initiation has to be made by Manipur Government and the sooner the better.
What naturally comes to mind while talking about containing illegal and unwanted migration in Manipur are the Inner Line Permit (ILP) and Protected Area Permit (PAP) protocols. There can be no argument over the matter that the rights of the indigenous people of Manipur are paramount and must be protected at any cost. This is relevant not only for the people of Manipur but also for a country as vast as India, which often boasts of its rich cultural heritage. If ILP is not implemented in Manipur soon, especially before the first train arrives in Imphal, India will stand to lose the rich cultural, linguistic, religious and tribal diversity of Manipur at the hand ofillegal and unwanted migration. The latter will affect the demography and dilute the cultural practices of Manipur.
It is clear from the above that the lack of timely implementation of ILP willaffect the daily lives of local people of Manipur.It is therefore the responsibility of the Manipur Government to urgently look into this matter in order to protect the basic human rights of the very people they serve. However,and at the same time, it is not the Government alone but also the civil society and all leaders and headmen of different sections of Manipuri society that need to play their part. This is because there is a need to develop a consensus on the nitty-gritties of the ILP before the State and the Central governments can be urged to implement the same. All stakeholders must therefore come together through community-level workshops and discussions, overcome any past grievances and help in the preparation of a draft ILP proposal for the Government. This must be done urgently lest if the first train arrives without an ILP in place, it could prove catastrophic for the Manipur way of life.
The Railways will bring certain other opportunities for the people of Manipur, which require foresight and pre-planning so that they can be availed. Significant among these are the job opportunities that will be created within the Indian Railways around its Imphal station. The Indian Railways is the world’s eighth largest employer and the jobs will include everything from Station Master, engineers, technicians, security personnel to Group D employees. Each of these jobs require specific educational qualifications and the youth of Manipur should not only keep a close eye on this development but also start preparing him/herself by pursuing the required diplomas and degrees. The Civil Society and Manipur Government can also play their part by urging the Indian Railways to already let know of the proposed recruitment related details with regards to eligibility for such posts. Since these would be Central Government posts and would otherwise be filled with people from all over India, the appointment of local youth and workforce in these posts will also help prevent undue demographic changes in Manipur.
The one sector which stands to benefit the most from the arrival of the Railways in Manipur is tourism. However, unregulated tourism can cause considerable harm to the local environment and disturb the fragile ecosystem of Manipur. There is thus a need for ensuring that all tourism in the State follows the principles of ecotourism or responsible tourism. The tourists entering Manipur should be made aware of the balance of nature which is still maintained in the State. Since Imphal will be the most impacted due to the flow of tourists, the Imphal Municipal Corporation should begin taking pro-active steps in this direction. The expanding tourism sector will lead to construction of more and more hotels and resorts and other supporting infrastructure. This will be a challenge for Imphal Valley since the land availability is limited. Care should be taken to protect common resources like ponds and wetlands and keep them free from any construction. Simultaneously, development of homestays should be encouraged to the maximum possible extent. The Manipur Tourism Department and all tourism promoting forums in Imphal should thus initiate this shift towards promoting and adopting ecotourism in the State.
The North-east region has remained deprived of the fruits of India’s development since a long time. With the expected arrival of the Indian Railways in Manipur sometime in the year 2020, Manipur will witness a consistent flow of resources and all kinds of opportunities. The efforts and hard work of the people of Manipur have been appreciated by the educated class of all parts of India where Meiteis and individuals from tribal communities of Manipur have gone and settled. It is time that Manipuris receive the same resources in their home State so they can use their hard work and dedication for sustainable development of Manipur. The arrival of the Railways will certainly enable this to happenand Manipur has two years from now to prepare itself to reap the benefits of this new opportunity. May the forces combine for a resurgent Manipur!
The writer is Director,Delhi Greens organisation and has been an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies in the University of Delhi since the last five years. He may be reached at email@example.com