Expansion of Imphal Airport displaces 116 Manipuri settlements.
Since independence, over 10 crore Indians have been displaced in the name of development. They have been forcibly uprooted from their homes, farmlands, fishing areas and forests to make way for dam reservoirs, irrigation projects, mines, plantations, highways, and tourist resorts. Less than 20% have ever been rehabilitated.
This is the first of four videos that Video Volunteers produced in partnership with international media and human rights ngo WITNESS and Imphal-based human rights group Human Rights Alert which attempt to document the stories and ground realities of Forced Evictions in North-East India. We hope their voices will prevail.
About the Video: The historic Tulihal Airport, first established as an Allied Air Force base during World War 2 in Imphal, the capital city of the state of Manipur in North-East of India is currently the centre of yet another conflict. Only this time, common Manipuri citizens are fighting a losing battle to save their homes, neighborhoods and paddy fields from the clutches of the State Government and the Airports Authority of India who have acquired over 800 acres of private land surrounding the airport towards an ambitious but dubious plan at expansion.
The planned terminals, runways, lounges and cafeterias have displaced several villages (a total of over 116 settlements). These settlements were established communities with functioning systems like schools, health centres, water, roads and electricity. These families were tax-paying, voting, registered, law-abiding citizens.
The government maintains that compensation has been provided but it has been far from a fair and just deal for the people. The land allocated to the evicted families is sizably smaller than the ones they were forced to give up. It lies in a godforsaken hilly location unconnected by roads and public transportation. There are neither schools nor hospitals in the vicinity. For the most basic of amenities people are forced to make a long journey through difficult terrain to reach Imphal city.
Agriculture is the predominant livelihood in the region. Few of the people are land-owners and most others work as farm labourers. The shift from the fertile land of the plains to the less fertile hills takes a sizable toll on the produce. The once prosperous and proud communities have protested against the treatment the government has meted out to them but they are increasingly running out of options. They are being left with nowhere to go but deeper into the margins.
Community Correspondent says: IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent Achungmei Kamei who produced a powerful and evocative video on the displaced village of Ningombam says that the voices of people who have been questioning and resisting the expansion are increasingly going silent. “The people are getting tired,” she says. “They protested for so long but they were going unheard. They are caught between a sense of outrage and the idea that life needs to go on. They have given up on the government and the media.”
“Who will put bread on the plate if they keep on protesting? They are not very rich. Many people have just quietly accepted the compensation. At the end of the day, they have mouths to feed. It is this vulnerability that the government and the airports authority have cheaply exploited. And to what end? Construction on the airport has not even started.”
The Issue: Over the years, the Tulihal Airport has already been through four separate plans of expansion. Every acre of development has come at the cost of cultivable lands, community ponds, homes, lives and livelihoods. To mean its ends, the Government invokes the famously draconian Land Acquisition Act passed in the colonial India of 1894 which allows them to grab large expanses of privately owned land at throwaway prices under the pretext of ‘development’.
The UN has specified basic principles and guidelines for development-based evictions and displacement which specify that displaced communities must have access to basic amenities and services like food, shelter, water, education, health etc. But the Indian model of rehabilitation which involves one-day notices prior to evictions, inadequate compensations, zero monitoring and unplanned implementation which abandons the people at their most vulnerable. Most displaced communities end up helpless and destitute. The government hopes that these people do not attempt to raise their voices and quietly waits till the gross human rights violation is forgotten by public and the media under the sheen and euphoria of a new modern bridge or an extended highway.
Many in Manipur are questioning the validity of the expansion plans for Tulihal Airport. It has light air traffic and the need for more runways and night landing is dubious. At the current rate of arrivals and departures, the current airport structure can easily accommodate more flights. Also, since the acquiring of the land, no construction has begun yet. The airports authority has categorically stated the expansion plans are still in the “conceptual” state. Even the required environmental clearance has not been obtained. If it was all still mere “speculation”, why then was the land acquired?
There are also voices of the common people imploring the government to first look into the abysmal state of the roads and highways in Manipur and improve these essential facilities before deluding itself with misguided fixations on an international airport.
Call to Action: The Government must adhere to the values of the ‘Basic principles and Guidelines for Development-based Evictions and Displacement’ as specified by the UN. Article 21 of the Indian constitution holds the ‘right to adequate housing’ as a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. The process of compensation and rehabilitation must be transparent and monitored.
While planning for development, the Government needs to listen to its people. It can start by fixing the roads.
About The Community Correspondent:She has always been an outsider. In her home state of Manipur, Achungmei Kamei is caught between the state who insists she’s Indian and the separatists who call for a separate Naga country. When she moved to Bangalore for further studies, her classmates kept mistaking her for Chinese or Korean or Nepali but definitely not an Indian. She completed her degree in Mass Communications anstad returned to her state to work for the national radio station. Back home, she once again saw divisions- blockades, strikes, violence etc that were forcing her to choose sides. It is this precarious situation and the stories of the innocent people caught in between that she wants to report to the world. Watch her videos here.