Tuesday, July 7, 2020

National Sports University, Manipur in alleged ‘Tribal land row’

July 7, 2020, 2:51 PM IST  in The WriteClick | India | TOI

TS Haokip & Dr. Haokam Vaiphei

All is not well with the proposed National Sports University, Manipur- the first Sports University in Asia. The Varsity, the foundation stone of which was laid by the Prime Minister in March 2018, is broiled in controversy even as construction for the said varsity continues amidst all the ensuing dramas. Issues concerning to; land ownership, process of allocation of the site, and naming of the varsity have been the bone of contention for years, at least to the villagers of Haraothel. The site of the proposed National Sports University is located 17 kilometres from the state capital and is said to be located in Koutruk, Imphal West, which the villagers of Haraothel, Kangpokpi District have been contesting the claim for long by holding their ground firmly that the Varsity is located at Haraothel village.

Legal status of the varsity site

A writ petition No. 667 of 2009 of the then Imphal Bench – Guwahati HC, now the High Court of Manipur has been filed by one Mr. Khaidem Megha Singh of Senjam Chirang and others including Mr. Nongthombam Rajan Singh of Senjam Khunou petitioning the invocation of the writ of mandamus for conducting revenue survey of Senjam Khunou village and Senjam Cherou village. The writ also claimed that ‘HARAOCHING’ is a hillock located near Koutruk village – a village last surveyed in 1960 by the Revenue Department, GOM and recorded as Dag. No. 1 of Village No.47 – Koutruk. That Haraoching is the hill land of the villagers of Senjam Chirang and Senjam Khunou. Interestingly, the writ petition has now been withdrawn.

Haraothel villagers had also filed a writ petition in 2017 stating that the said hillock and Koutruk Dag No.1 belongs to the village of Haraothel and falls under Kangpokpi District, then Senapati District since time immemorial. As the said land falls under Tribal Hill land, MLR &LR Act 1960, does not apply to the region, and as such no pata exist. According to the Chief of Haraothel, as mentioned in his press release dated 13-06-2020, published in a few Manipur state dailies, the current Land allotted and utilized for NSU Complex unconditionally and inevitably belongs to the Hill people i.e Haraothel, Konsakhul & Leilon Vaiphei Village since time immemorial claiming with the written record of Case No. and dated;

a) In the Court of PMSD Hill Mics. Case no. 388 of 1920-21
b) In the Court of Hill Minister misc. No.94 0f 1947-48
c) In the Court of SDC Sadar + Thoubal Hills Criminal Case No. 121/ S + Th. Hills of 1952
d) In the Court of Chief Commissioner Manipur CC Hill Cril. Appeal Case No.5 of 1953.

Signed by

i) C. Gimson ICS, President Manipur State Darbar, Dated 06/12/1920
ii) R. Khuthing, BA, MBE M-C Minister i/c Hill Administration, Dated 02/07/1948
iii) Maisnam Nabakumar Singh SDO Sadar, Dated 08/11/1950
iv) R.P Bhargava, Chief Commissioner, Manipur Dated, 07/08/1953

Concerns on Tribal land

The Government’s allocation order, which has been kept aloof even to the Chief of Haraothel Village, constituted Koutruk Dag No. 1 that comprises the entire 147 acres land of Haraothel village, under Saitu Gamphazol, Kangpokpi District – a tribal land. Therefore, the villagers of Haraothel feel it only justified to demand an acknowledgment in return by naming the varsity as National Sports University, Haraothel and not NSU, Koutruk. Notably, the Hill Area Committee was bypassed while passing the Act for the establishment of the National Sports University. When faced with the statement that NSU does not include tribal land, a Petition has been filed by Haraothel villagers to the National ST Commission. The commission had instructed the State Government to furnish details supporting claims that the proposed varsity does not include tribal land. The reply is reportedly awaited till today.

Issue of Fair compensation

The acquisition order for the varsity had proposed compensation of acquired lands at the rate of Rs. 1000 per acre. This seems to be another act of rubbing salt to the wounds of the Haraothel villagers, who, apart from being embroiled in the issue of compensation have to walk the extra miles in finding justice regarding ‘the allocation of their lands through erroneous process’ without taking into concern the people’s voice. If the stance that- the project has majority of the land under Haraothel village, a tribal land, is true, the project will require proper rehabilitation so that the tribal villagers of Haraothel are not robbed of their right to fair compensation and transparency as per Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

Communal Angle

Issues in Manipur are easily given communal twists and the NSU issue is no different. Since Haraothel village comes under Kangpokpi District, their issue has been taken up by Kuki Inpi Kangpokpi, Kuki Students’ Organisation, Sadar Hills, and Zillai Leilon Block (Vaiphei Students’ Association) to bring justice to the issue of compensation, land acquisition process and the naming of the University. When the representatives were denied a meeting with the Chief Minister who visited the site on the 9th of June 2020, the Kuki CSOs unimpressed by the CM’s act of disregard and ignorance to one of the most important stakeholders to the project i.e representatives of Haraothel villagers, have proposed an economic blockade. The move was opposed by the Meitei based Senjam Khunou & Senjam Chirang Joint Development Organisation (SKSCJDO) which issued a statement demanding for the immediate withdrawal of the blockade. The statement also appealed to all concerned to consult only with the representatives of Senjam Khunou and Senjam Chirang villages with regard to any matter concerning National Sports University and threatened the villagers of Haraothel, Kuki Inpi Kangpokpi for any undesirable outcome as a result of the economic blockade, if effected.

The tension was only resolved after a Cabinet Minister of the State Government met the representatives of the Kuki Inpi Kangpokpi and promised them of resolution. The call for the economic blockade was eventually lifted though the present assurance by the Government to resolve the issue is not the first instance of such. The Kuki Inpi Kangpokpi District, however, cautioned that in case of any element attempting to create issues or problems out of the National Sports University site, the Kuki people in Kangpokpi District will oppose and fight tooth and nail.

Voice of the villagers

‘We want the National sports university in the village. It is in fact a privilege not just for the village but the entire Hill people of the state, who so far has not been blessed with the opportunity of any institute of national importance established in the Hill Districts . But, due process should be followed in terms of compensation, land acquisition, and also the naming of the site,’ said Mr. K. Vaiphei of Haraothel Village. As for the villagers of Koutruk, they have alleged that Haraothel village is a recently established village; the land has always been part of Haraoching Hills of Koutruk village. Therefore, the varsity should be named National Sports University, Koutruk. Interestingly, the villagers of Koutruk have donated 200 acres of land for the construction of the varsity free of costs. The proposed map, though it has more than 400 acres of it, most works which are under construction are situated in Koutruk Dag No. 1, which is the whole of Haraothel village.

Way forward

National Sports University is too good a facility for Manipur to be bogged down by issues that the State Government is more than capable to handle it. Before the issue is blown into an ugly communal tussle, if not another Hill-Valley debacle, the Government should amicably resolve the issue by involving all the stakeholders. Memories of month-long economic blockades on the national highways and its inconvenience to the people of the state are still fresh in the memory and it will be the last thing that people would want at this interval of time when, not just the nation but the world is faced with an indomitable task of controlling the pandemic. Compensations, allocation of lands, the naming of the varsity are issues that should have been long resolved before the construction begins. Nevertheless, as physical construction works continue for National Sports University, Haraothel, it is the hope of the people of the state that the University will see the light of day without any injustice to all the stakeholders concerned.

(Mr.T S Haokip is a former development professional and has served as a consultant to the Ministry of Rural Development. He is the author of the book HILLY DREAMS. Dr. Vaiphei is Assistant Professor, Political Science at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi)

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