I forgot to post an article I wrote in May 2007 on food problems faced till today by the people of Tipaimukh. ~~~
Food Insecurity in Tipaimukh
Lalremlien Neitham, May 2007
"Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life." - [Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, 1996]
Food is one of the most essential components required for the support and sustenance of life. Not only humankind requires food, but also those in our immediate environment need it to maintain an ecological balance. This article attempts to highlight food insecurity faced by a marginalised community within a particular region of a State.
Food insecurity is a condition where there is non-availability of dietary food, insufficient supply of food commodities, and inaccessibility of food by all people, at all times for the balancing and sustenance of life. The existence of food insecurity is accounted to a nexus of intertwined factors, such as, ineffective State-sponsored schemes, limited and undemocratic State policies, poverty, corruption, conflict, marginalisation, poor socio-economic and health status, low level of education natural catastrophe, etc. All these factors disturb a nutritious food Intake for an adequate standard of living and thereby create a deteriorated state of hunger and starvation and ultimately in death. Such is a dangerous threat posed by food insecurity against a vulnerable community that, if left unchecked, could lead to various forms of social movements, which can destabilize a State.
Profile of Tipaimukh:
The highlighted area in this article is the Tipaimukh sub-division, located in the southwest hilly region of the Hill State of Manipur, bordering the States of Mizoram and Assam. Tipaimukh is the 55th Assembly Constitution of Manipur in the district of Churachandpur. Parbung, the largest village in Tipaimukh is the sub-divisional headquarters as well as the Tribal Development Block.
The indigenous Hmar peoples and their kindred tribes belonging to the Chin-Kuki-Mizo group of peoples inhabit the Tipaimukh sub-division. Hmar is recognized as Scheduled Tribe (ST) under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. The spoken language, also called Hmar, belongs to the Kuki-Chin-Naga group of Tibeto-Burman stock of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. The Hmars are spread in the bordering States of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura in the Northeast of India
As per Census of India 2001, Tipaimukh has a total population of 25,409 with 12,965 male and 12,444 female, and 3,924 children between the age group of 0-6 years. There are 4,053 households in 40 villages of the sub-division. The average literacy rate for the sub-division is 77.3%. The total population of Tipaimukh constitutes only 1.06% of the total population of the State of Manipur, which is 2,388,634. Of the 13,141 cultivators in Tipaimukh, 90.2% are in the agricultural sector, practicing the traditional slash and burn (jhum/shifting) method of cultivation.
Livelihood and Productivity:
The entire population in Tipaimukh is located in rural areas - engaging in agricultural operations, gathering their agricultural produces for their daily needs, hunting animals and birds in the forest, and also maintains a small animal husbandry. The villagers practiced an age-old traditional method of jhum cultivation. As large portion of the Tipaimukh area is a hilly rugged terrain, the villagers cultivate their crops in the hilly slopes by clearing natural vegetation. This system of cultivation is continued as long as the soil in a cropped area is fertile and productive, and then they move on to the next forest plot so as to allow the jhummed soil properties to recover under conditions of natural states of re-growth. With the decrease in the jhum cyclic period (2-4) years, the forestlands now gets hardly sufficient time to recover its original fertility and climax vegetation. This in turn has its impact on the productivity and availability of the agricultural produces and economy of the villagers.
The crops grown by the villagers in Tipaimukh are paddy, maize, millets, etc. They also engaged in multi-cropping of agricultural crops in their jhumfields. As agro-climatic conditions and soil characteristics are conductive for horticulture; they also grow orange, pineapple, banana, sugarcane, jackfruit, lemon, ginger, etc. However, their forest products are just about sufficient for two square meals a day and there is hardly any surplus from which the money obtained on their sale can be used for purchasing other essential commodities like sugar, kerosene, etc, In addition to this, there is also the need to avail proper agricultural implements, clothes, medicines, education, proper housing, sanitation etc; to sustain their livelihood. Consequently, the low productivity yields from their agricultural engagements and poor socioeconomic status prohibits them from procuring and availing these basis amenities of life. Thereby, many of these poor unskilled (vocational) villagers have no other alternative but to migrate from the rural areas to the urban areas to seek employment. However, this migration does not solve their problems but rather multiplies and worsens it. This state of affairs where the denied villagers are forced to abandon their land for their survival visibly discloses the failure of democratic institution in effectively using the machinery available at its disposal for proper governance. The rights of these villagers to live in their own land without any fear thus become a very challenging question. Even if the age-old traditional method of livelihood, shifting cultivation, is to be replaced by other alternative methods of 'sustainable' livelihood - the expected provision that ought to be provided by the government is unavailable to the neglected villagers. The non-existence of suitable alternatives is further complicated by the poor socio-economic status of the villagers, which is further compounded by fear and insecurity, posed by armed insurgent groups. The intervention of the state is expected, as it is the institution that has made the people dependent solely and extensively on the State's "resources."
Status of Poverty:
The present poverty line in Manipur, based on 2004-2005 estimation, is Rs. 387.64 and Rs. 378.84 per capital per month for rural and urban areas respectively. The Planning Commission prepares the estimation of poverty in India at both the National and State levels. The identified BPL persons/families from the estimation are then assisted under various poverty alleviation programmes of the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD). The MoRD conducts BPL Census in the beginning of every Five Year Plan. The last BPL Census was conducted in 2002. However, the BPL list for BPL Census 2002 has not been operational till date due to a Stay Order passed by the Supreme Court in a Writ Petition filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) against the Union of India, challenging that the methodology used in the estimation of poverty would reduce the number of persons identified as BPL. Nevertheless, the BPL list for BPL Census 2002 has not been finalized or submitted to the MoRD by majority of the States till date.
In view of this, the BPL list that is still being used is based on the BPL Census 1997. Under this BPL list, the number of BPL households identified in Tipaimukh subdivision is 2757 families from 52 villages. The identified numbers - 2757 - is a headcount for the head of each family. Presuming that each family has 6 members (average from the total population and total households), the total BPL persons would number approximately 16,542 (total members in a family into total BPL households). Based on the data provided by the Census of India 2001, but that identified only 40 villages in the sub-division, the percentage of BPL persons in respect to the total population in the sub-division is approximately 65% (total population into total BPL persons). If the methodology used in the estimation of poverty is flawed and there is a reduction in the poverty line as challenges by the PUCL, a large number of poor would lose not only their 'entitlements' but also the benefits provided under various poverty alleviation programmes of the Government.
Whatsoever maybe the estimated poor and the poverty line, the present conditions in the region cast doubt on whether there has been an actual estimation of the poor in Tipaimukh at all. The area has been suffering under Government's ignorance for more than a decade. The grim reality the area experience is that Government institutions have been non-functional at every level for that many stretch of years. The highest Government institution in the sub-division, the SDO office, itself is ran and managed 262 kilometres away in the district headquarters town of Churachandpur. The SDO officials attend to their area of posting whenever the situation greatly demands. Likewise are the conditions of the Governments' educational, medical, police and other institutions, which are loyally attended by cattle and other animals. The reluctance of Government officials of different departments to be omnipresent in their respective stations might be in part probably due to fear of militants dominant in those areas and also due to lack of dedication for which they are entrusted their concerned responsibilities. In such a situation where unaccounted armed militants are in complete control of Tipaimukh and its adjoining areas, can the supposed surveys so conducted with the sole aim of assessing the poverty level of the poor in those areas, be genuine and reliable? In all probability, government officials deputed for such social surveys base their reports on estimation rather than collecting precise data, which would be possible only by physically visiting all the settlements in Tipaimukh. Even if the government officials do actually visit those areas, more often than not, the methodology adopted still leaves a lot to be desired and thereby results in their veracity being questioned. The result - inaccuracies and discrepancies in the number of BPL and AAY families so identified. The CAG Report 2007 for Manipur more or less confirmed this through its survey and concluded that the addresses of BPL and AAY beneficiaries could be either incorrect or are fictitious names. The report further added that the identification conducted by the FCS Department is unreliable and there is a possibility of the passing on of the benefits of the scheme to other than the targeted beneficiaries. Moreover, to check the listing of fake beneficiaries, the required annual reviewing for addition and deletion of the BPL and AAY families have not been conducted for the last five years. This and the non-uniformity of data as published in Census of India 1991, Census of India 2001 and BPL Census 1997 cast an overall doubt on the authenticity of the collected Census data now and before.
As already mentioned, the agricultural productivity of the villagers in the area is insufficient to maintain their livelihood. This is when the intervention of the State is required to ensure that BPL families get what is their inborn right to a life of dignity which can be fulfilled in part by the state machinery through the PDS programme.
Public Distribution System (PDS) is a poverty alleviation programme of the Government of India, where essential food commodities like rice, wheat, sugar, kerosene, etc. are distributed to the people at a subsidized price. In Manipur, the Food and Civil Supplies (FCS) department is responsible for the procurement of foodgrains and other PDS commodities, building up and maintenance of stocks and their storage, supply and delivery to the distribution centres. The Central Government started allocating a monthly quota of Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) for Manipur from January 2002. The AAY families are identified out of the BPL families and are provided foodgrains amounting to 35 kilograms per family per month at the rate of Rs 3.47 per kilogram of rice since April 2002. The BPL, AAY and other poverty alleviation programmes in Manipur fall under the schemes of the Social and Rural Development of the Government of Manipur.
The monthly quota of food and civil supply items consumed in Manipur, which are procured mostly from outside the State are lifted and transported from the FCI depot located at Dimapur, Nagaland to the FCI depot in Imphal, Manipur. The lifted PDS commodities are then transported from the State capital to all the districts and sub-divisional headquarters for distribution. The Deputy Commissioners (DCs) along with the District Supply Officers (DSOs) are responsible for the supervision, checking and monitoring of the distributed items. In the Sub-divisions, the responsibility lies with the Sub-divisional Officers (SDOs). The District Administration has to ensure proper distribution through the network of Fair Price Shops (FPSs) operated by the Rationing Agents. The FPSs in turn sell the PDS items to the beneficiaries at prices fixed by the State Government. However, as already stated about the status of Government institutions in Tipaimukh, there is large-scale inefficiency and irregularity in the supply and distribution of PDS commodities to the area. This malfunctioning can be attributed for the failures of the Government - to establish stability where officials can perform their duties without fear, to check massive corruption among officials and PDS transport contractors, to intervene and verify the lifting of the PDS quota with the elected representatives consent. Also the commodities do not reach their intended destination due to the Government's inability to deal with the diversion, quota cuts, and lifting of the PDS commodities by armed insurgent groups. And this is not to mention the poor quality of the distributed foodgrains and the namesake distribution of the PDS commodities only in paper. In fact, for the past few years, there have been repeated complaints and protests by civil society groups in Churachandpur district against the Government's indifference in addressing the non-supply, non-distribution and diversion of the PDS provisions for the district. The protesters demanded the authorities to allocate more PDS quota to the district, establish an FCI depot and PDCs in the district headquarters and sub-divisional headquarters, lift the PDS items directly from Dimapur/ Aizawl/ Silchar to Churachandpur, and to investigate the scandal surrounding the PDS distribution. So far, the Government has not taken any progressive action to address the grievances of the public. It was only after directions were issued from the Central Government and a high ranking official from the Centre was to visit the State on the issue of the PDS that the Manipur State Government acted, arrested and booked one LDC of DSO, Churachandpur under the National Security Act (NSA) for siphoning off three months (February, May and June 2006) quota of PDS items meant for Churachandpur district, which has been valued at Rs. 72 lakhs. The amount of the siphoned rice totals 8602 quintals for AAY and 6457.87 quintals for BPL for three months. It is open for anyone's speculation as to where and how such a huge quantity of rice, 15059.87 quintals to be exact, can just vanish without a trace without the Government ever coming to know about it. Of course its a totally different matter altogether if the government had decided to turn a blind eye to the various 'groups of individuals' involved in the disappearance of the rice and decided not to take any actions.
The Government of Manipur openly acknowledged and confirmed the State's failure to effectively implement PDS in the State. At the same time admitting its failure it also failed to redress the issue. However, due to the mentioned resentments and huge pressure of the Churachandpur public against the Manipur Government's incompetence and indifference on the issue of large scale PDS rice scam and irregularities in the system, PDS rice quota for November 2006 and January 2007 for some of the sub-divisions was reported to have reached Churachandpur on May 2007. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether it would indeed reach the neglected remote villagers who are most vulnerable to food insecurity. There is also the question of - what about the skipped months and years that the beneficiaries have not received? The genuine sincerity of the Government, non-committal as it is to the issues of the marginalised hill villagers, could be well observed and monitored in the next 3-6 months. This is because the disillusionment of the public against the State Government on the PDS issue ought to take a backseat by then by the 'proactive' action of the Government in supplying the deserved rice quota. It would also be important to note that this method of suppression is often employed by unaccounted and unprincipled Governments to quell down dissenting democratic voices and thus the sincerity often becomes short-lived.
In regards to the average requirements and food consumption of the Tipaimukh villagers - each male member of a family (between the age group of 23-55) consumes approximately 500 grams of rice per meal. The amount of rice consumption may be concurrent with the hard agricultural labour in the rugged jhumfields. The calorie demands of their body ought to be higher than those working in another environment with different work-styles and climatic conditions. As is the 'culture' in the Hmar tribal community, a family has 2 meals a day - in the morning and afternoon. Presuming that there are 3 male members of the specified age group in a 6-member family, the family would require at least 2.50 to 3 kilograms of rice per meal and 5-6 kilograms of rice per day. Based on this presumption, a family would consume and require an average of approximately 150 kilograms of rice per month, valued at Rs. 520.5 at the rate of Rs. 3.47 per kilogram. And this is not to mention the prices for other commodities required to cook a proper meal.
From 2002 till date, the quantity of rice distributed is 35 kilograms per family per month for AAY at a Fair Price Shop (FPS) rate of Rs. 3.47 per kilogram and for BPL at a FPS rate of Rs 6.21 per kilogram. The monthly average allotment of rice for the 2757 BPL families in Tipaimukh sub-division is approximately 471 quintals for BPL and 107 quintals for AAY that total to 578 quintals of rice only. Calculating the average, this total allotment of rice for each household comes to 4.77 kilograms of rice per month instead of the 35 kilograms that is to be distributed. Taking into accounts - the distributed availability of the PDS rice and the requirements only - the allotted quantity itself is insufficient to provide and sustain a Tipaimukh family that requires at least 150 kilograms of rice per month. To add to the woes of the villagers, even that meager amount of allotted PDS rice does not reach them at all.
The fact that the PDS commodities have not reach the remote villagers is evident by the present pathetic condition where the villagers are reeling under acute food shortage. Audit Report (Civil), Manipur (2005-2006), also confirmed the non-distribution of PDS items - reporting that 99 per cent of the beneficiaries had not received food grains regularly in accordance of the scale prescribed in the scheme. Other reasons for the food insecurity are the overwhelming bamboo flowering and the villagers' inability to engage in jhum cultivation owing to their large-scale displacement to Mizoram early 2006 at the backdrop of massive atrocities committed against them. The displaced villagers returned to their homestead in July-August 2006 when the jhum period was already over. Even if they were able to initiate jhum cultivation, there was the threat of stepping on the indiscriminately planted landmines in the forests and nearby village areas by insurgent groups resulting in the maiming and claiming of many innocent lives. Thus, the fear of landmines is another factor for the existing food insecurity. The acute shortage of food commodities also compelled the remote Tipaimukh villagers to purchase poor quality rice at exorbitant prices at the rate of Rs. 15 per kilogram from neighboring State of Mizoram. The poor villagers were also compelled to buy SK Oil at the rate of Rs. 35 per litre and sugar at Rs. 30 per kilogram. The issue price of PDS items at FCS level is Rs. 7.29 (APL) and Rs. 6.21 (BPL), Rs. 3.47 (AAY) for rice, and sugar at Rs.13.50 per kilogram. It is imaginable how long the villagers will be able to survive on such famine-like situation with their limited low 'monthly income that cannot meet their daily needs. The State Government is yet to undertake any schemes to address the plights of the denied villagers.
PDS, as a poverty alleviation programme in its straightforward essence, is a commendable programme of the Government. Nevertheless, the challenges posed are concentrated on how to universally accommodate not only the poor but also the general public. There is also a need to effectively implement the system so that it reaches the targeted beneficiaries. The present PDS programme is devoid of a foolproof system that guarantees the aforementioned challenges as highlighted in the article. Also, policymakers ought to formulate schemes and policies in consultation with the people to ensure a self-sustainable livelihood in the long run whereby the marginalised communities need not approach the Government for assistance. However, it would be understandable and be a different matter altogether if the Government's insidious intentions were to craft a state of dependency whereby the people would always need to rely and look upon the Government for support.
Yet, in spite of the existing hiccups in the implementation of PDS in the present setup, the Central Government should directly facilitate a project for the establishment of a FCI depot in the district headquarters of Churachandpur. It should also ascertain the establishment of Principal Distribution Centres (PDCs) in each of the sub-divisional headquarters in the hill districts under the Hill Transport Subsidy (HTS) of the FCI. Under this subsidy, the FCI's responsibility is to deliver foodgrains at the nearest PDCs. If FCI is unable to deliver foodgrains at the PDCs, it is to deliver foodgrains from the nearest designated Base Depots for which the actual cost of transportation of foodgrains from the Base Depot to the PDC will be reimbursed by FCI to the State. Interestingly, on 01 August 2006, N. Pratap Singh, Under Secretary (FCS), Govt. of Manipur informed the Zonal Manager (NE) FCI - of the declaring of Churachandpur district headquarters and Parbung, sub-divisional headquarters of Tipaimukh as PDCs by the Government of India and the FCI authority has been permitted to transport PDS rice quota of Churachandpur district directly from FCI depot in Dimapur to the declared PDCs. However, no progressive development ensued hence. Instead, the situation deteriorated further as can be seen by the confronted food insecurity.
Accessibility and Connectivity:
Uninterrupted supply of food provisions is an indispensable privilege of people who needs access to food to meet their requirements and to tackle food scarcity. It is for this reason that the accessibility of an area also needs to be taken into consideration, as it would be irrational to establish PDCs without the PDS items being transportable. The lack-locked Tipaimukh is accessible through three routes other than by air (helicopter) - one from within the State of Manipur and two from the bordering States of Assam and Mizoram.
Within Manipur, the Tipaimukh is connected to the district headquarters town of Churachandpur via the long abandoned Tipaimukh Road - the stretch of distance of which is around 262 kilometres. The distance from Imphal to Churachandpur is around 70 kilometres. The Tipaimukh Road was declared a National Highway-150 on January 06, 1999. Despite it being given a status of National Highway, no progressive construction and maintenance work has been undertaken at this significant route. This negligence on the part of both the State and Central Governments to improve the only transportation route for the Tipaimukh people within Manipur has taken its toll today and has adversely affected their socioeconomic livelihood in terms of being unable to market their agricultural products and purchasing essential commodities for their needs. This alienation due to lack of proper connectivity affected not only the road project, but also resulted in the region being completely cut-off from other parts of the State in every level. It is ironic to note that before the highway was declared a National Highway, it normally take around a day to travel to and fro from Tipaimukh areas to Churachandpur town and vice-versa. Then, the State's bus transports regularly plied from the district town to Tipaimukh on a daily basis and people and essential commodities reached their destination in a day. After being granted the status of National Highway, Government vehicles gradually stopped their services of supplying commodities to the region. Due to deterioration in road conditions, private vehicles like trucks, which occasionally take a trip to these are, journey at least three to four days to reach the interior areas in the sub-division. Other than those villages in the vicinity of the roadway, the other villages are not accessible at all.
In Assam, Tipaimukh sub-division is accessible through the Tuiruong (Barak) River waterways. The Barak River, which originates in North Senapati district of Manipur passes and form a tributary with the Tuivai River at Tipaimukh. The Barak River then flows westernly to Lakhipur sub-division in Cachar district of Assam and down to the Cachar plains. The length of the river route from Hmarkhawlien village in Lakhipur to Tipaimukh is approximately 93 kilometres. It usually takes about one and half day to reach from Lakhipur to Tipaimukh by boat. The people from both sides of the States i.e., Manipur and Assam use the Barak waterways extensively for trade and to ferry men and commodities. Forest and agricultural produces like timber, bamboo, ginger, oranges, etc are floated down from the interior of Tipaimukh to the Cachar plains. Boats from Cachar also bring in food, consumer goods and other essential commodities to Tipaimukh.
In Mizoram, Tipaimukh is accessible from the Northeast part of the State. The Tuivai River, which flows to meet the Tuiruong (Barak) River near the Tipaimukh village, constitutes a borderline between the States of Manipur and Mizoram. The villagers of Tipaimukh use this border route by crossing over the river to and fro for supply of essential commodities, trade and travel route. The distance from Tipaimukh to Aizawl is around 115 kilometres. Due to the region's remoteness and neglect, the roads on both sides of the River are in pitiable shape though it is comparatively better on the side of Mizoram. During monsoon, stretching from June to September, the already cut-off Tipaimukh region become more closed-up with the rain widening and raising the height of the Tuivai River. The normal flow of the river also increase to such a velocity that the Tuivai River forcefully cuts through the Barak River that it meets in the confluence near the Tipaimukh village. This makes it practically dangerous for the villagers to cross over with or without their goods. The lone bridge in place for the crossover has also been washed away by the impact of the vigorous river flows. Another problem is the absence of proper water transportation that would withstand the strong water current.
The inaccessibility of the area in turn have its impact on the transportation and accessibility of food provisions for the landlocked villagers, who, as already mentioned, has insufficient agricultural produces to sustain their livelihood.
The Mizo secessionist movement, led by the Mizo National Front (MNF), is said to have been a direct product over the disillusionment of India's marginalizing policy in providing assistance on the backdrop of famine caused by gregarious bamboo flowering in the late 1950s. Though the famine being only one of the causes for the uprising, nonetheless, lessons can be learnt from the resultant political movement spanning two decades. Noteworthy also is the fact that Mizoram is not only the area where bamboo flowering disastrously affects the livelihood of the people. It spans beyond the present boundary of Mizoram, and thus affects the neighbouring States and Countries in the Northeast - in the context of this article - Manipur.
Mautam or gregarious bamboo flowering is a cyclic ecological phenomenon that occurs every 48-50 years gap. The flowering bamboos, before dying, produces large quantity of seeds from which it regenerates. The local rodent population feeds on these abundant bamboo seeds which enhances their fertility and there is a tremendous spurt in their population. After exhausting their food supply (bamboo seeds), the rodent plague raids the cultivated crops in the forest jhumfields. This attack in turn led to a large-scale devastation of crops leading to scarcity in agricultural produces and which subsequently is followed by famine in the affected areas.
In Manipur, areas affected by gregarious bamboo flowering are mostly in Jiribam, Chandel, Tamenglong, and Churachandpur districts. In spite of the prediction for the occurrence of the impending bamboo flowering, the Manipur Government remained unprepared and is yet to take any practical schemes to tackle the already reported food scarcity in the affected areas of the devastating ecological phenomenon. In spite of some reported hurdles, Mizoram as compared to Manipur, has made significant progresses in undertaking projects to tackle the impending famine. As for Manipur, it is still caught up in the planning juncture with the ecological phenomenon already causing immense hardships to the populace.
On September 2006, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) approved and sanctioned Rs. 17.82 crores, as first installment of the 85 crores, to implement various schemes to tackle the natural catastrophe in seven Northeastern States. Of the total fund to be sanctioned, Manipur is to get Rs. 9.9 crores. On 04 May 2007, Manipur Forest and Environment Minister Th. Debendra in his address to the Assembly House informed that steps has been taken to setup a Bamboo Development Agency (BDA) and plantation of mixed variety of bamboo in 2620 hectares of land in Tamenglong, Chandel and Jiribam districts. It is unknown if similar initiatives has been taken for the excluded Churachandpur district which has also been affected by gregarious bamboo flowering. The omission of the district from such schemes will have further detrimental implications for villagers in the interior hilly areas who need immediate attention. Even if established, practicability is crucial to deal with the confronted issues.
On 19 September 2006, Shri. A. Ibomcha Singh, the Director of FCS, Government of Manipur states in New Delhi that 93 Village Grains Banks (VGBs) would be established at food scarcity prone villages at the cost of Rs. 60,000 per bank. The Government of India launched the VGBs scheme targeting remote and isolated areas beyond the reach of PDS in 1996-1997. The bank is managed by the village committee, which is elected by the beneficiaries themselves who are also members of the bank. They can borrow grains from the grain banks during times of food scarcity. Had the Manipur Government initiated the establishment of such VGBs in remote areas of the Hill districts, the food scarcity faced would have been averted to a large degree. At the same time, it would also be important to create a condition to ensure that the villagers will be able to repay the borrowed grains so that they do not become forever indebted and be strangulated by the Government through the VGBs.
Although the immediate need of the ignored villagers in Tipaimukh is to be rescued from the famine-like situation, it is pertinent to draw out a framework that prohibits the reoccurrence of similar food insecurity that is currently faced in a large-scale in the region. In addition to eradicate food insecurity, there should be a shift in policy to properly understand the cultural and traditional values, community systems and livelihood of these indigenous peoples who now, as never before, has an impending task of overcoming not only food insecurity but also the challenging task to safeguard their land, identity, cultural, tradition and language which are on the verge of being gradually threatened by the foreseen globalisation that is to strike them unaware and unprepared. The commitment of the Manipur Government for achievement of food security to its people should be the present priority before it plans to undertake any larger projects. The Government should first prove itself that it can democratically handle the multi-projects that have been lying unimplemented in the State. Otherwise, new projects that is claimed to be for the interest and overall development of the people and State will meet the same jeopardized fate and have far more devastating impacts on the resources of the State.
29 October 2007
I forgot to post an article I wrote in May 2007 on food problems faced till today by the people of Tipaimukh. ~~~