280 Meitei families lost home as against 59 Kukis during CM Biren Singh’s eviction drive

280 Meitei families lost home as against 59 Kukis during CM Biren Singh’s eviction drive

While the Kuki groups have often claimed that Chief Minister N. Biren Singh’s drive against illegal encroachments in forest areas specifically targeted the Kukis, official data show that five times more Meitei house were bulldozed in last eight years.

Houses burnt down by miscreants in Manipur Houses burnt down by miscreants in Manipur

As ethnic clashes between Meiteis and Kukis in Manipur continue for nearly three months, one of the triggers behind this violence is the state government’s drive against illegal encroachments in forest areas. The Kuki side claims that Chief Minister Biren Singh launched this drive to specifically target the community and evicted even legal habitants. The state government, on the other hand, maintains that the drive aimed at evicting all encroachers irrespective of their ethnicity. 

The government data accessed by India Today NE corroborate this claim by the government. During the government’s eviction drives carried out between October 24, 2015 and April 18, 2023, 413 families were removed from reserved forest areas. Of these, 280 families were from Meitei community (143 Meitei and 137 Meitei Pangal) while 59 were Kukis. During the drive, 38 Naga and 36 Nepali families also faced eviction. 

The development that angered the Kukis the most was an eviction drive in the K. Songjang village in Churachandpur on February 23. This eviction happened following a forest department notification in November 2022, derecognising 38 villages in the Churachandpur and Noney districts, claiming they fell within the Churachandpur-Khoupum protected forest. The notification said that the permission for settlement was granted to the villages by an officer who was not qualified to do so. In 1970s, these 38 villages were excluded from protected forests by the forest settlement officer. 
The Kuki groups assert that under Article 371C of the Constitution, which is specifically applicable to Manipur, the state government cannot arbitrarily make amends to the scope of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, in the hill areas of the state. Article 371C provides for constitution of a committee of MLAs, including those from the hill areas, for the modifications to be made in the state rules. 
The defiance also came from within the BJP. In a letter dated April 12, and addressed to Biswajit Singh, Minister for Power, Forest, Environment, and Climate Change—who also happens to be Biren Singh’s challenger within the party—Saikot MLA Paolienlal Haokip questioned the sudden revenue and forest survey in the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest and said that it caused great public anguish and resulted in perceived injustice. Earlier in the assembly, he had pointed out the state government’s November notification was wrong. Several Kuki outfits alleged that the government’s “illegal” modification of norms was a ploy to grab tribal land. State government officials claim that rules were followed and point out that similar eviction drives were conducted in the Imphal valley too.  
The Central government also backed Singh’s stand. During a recent visit to Manipur, Bhupender Yadav, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, asserted that the 1927 Forest Act became a State subject after Independence though after the 1976 Amendment, forest land came under the jurisdiction of both the State and Central governments. The State government retains ownership of the forest and was solely responsible for protecting reserved and protected forest land, said the Union minister.

Edited By: Nandita Borah
Published On: Jul 30, 2023