A conference titled “The Future of the Bengal Tiger” was recently held in the capital city of Delhi. The event witnessed around 150 delegates, speakers and other participants from all walks of life. I considered myself fortunate enough to attend the event and involved myself in the many ongoing talks and discussions on the issue of saving tigers in India.
The Hon’ble Minister for Environment & Forests (MoEF) Shri Jairam Ramesh graced the occasion with much enthusiasm and shared many of his bold initiatives and plans – existing and those in the pipeline – that his Ministry is handling. His stand and boldness to do everything he can for saving the environment – no matter who stands up against it – reminded me of many self-claimed heroes back home in Manipur. Though they may have been tagged as ‘insurgents’, yet the motive for protection of one’s land and its resources seem to fall somewhere in the same track.
The more I listened to the talks and discussions, the more my thoughts took me back home. My mind was swinging from here to there, a flashback of a different setting. During the second session of this tiger meet, Ms. Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), spoke vividly on organised wildlife crime which has a global base. India needs to treat such crimes strictly under the criminal acts.
Every hand, small or big, behind all these illegal practices needs to be put to justice. The difficulties faced due to porous borders between adjacent countries were discussed and all agreed that its a major issue of concern. I satisfactorily nodded my head in agreement and was yet again taken back home.
March 8, 2010, villagers of Kangpat lodged a complaint with the Ukhrul Deputy Commissioner against Myanmarese troops who had intruded into Kangpat, along the Manipur-Myanmar border and arrested four villagers, including a lecturer of Pettigrew College of Ukhrul District. The complaint got forwarded to the state home department after which the Manipur State Government initiated a flurry of activities to trace the four villagers who had been arrested by Myanmarese troops.
This came back to me very strongly even as all present in the tiger meet were talking about saving the Indian tiger from border problems, especially because one among the four Manipuris caught by the Burmese army is my cousin who I have been trying hard to save. The irony of the situation brought to light many issues which I intend to share in a limited space and words. How important is an international border to a country, how protected are our borders in reality, what are the authorities really protecting, how complex can a demand for protection get and many more. But most importantly how important is this issue is to you. Are you listening?
Kangpat is a small village in the Ukhrul District of Manipur state and Manipur is a small state situated in the North-eastern part of India. The village is situated very close on the Indian side of the border with Myanmar. The officially recognized border, where all dealings take place, is between Tamu town of Myanmar and Chandel district of Manipur.
Ukhrul district has 78% forest cover and no protected forest area of any kind exists here. Manipur has only four protected conservation sites that I know of, viz. Keibul Lamjao National Park, Yangoupokpi Lokchao Santuary, Manipur Zoological Garden and Orchid Preservation Centre, Khonghampat. A proposal is under consideration currently to create five more Protected Areas in Manipur.
Often problems arising out of Manipur and Myanmar were solved through contact between the Chandel Superintendent and his counterpart in Tamu, according to official sources. In regard to the present case of arrest and abduction, the State Home Department claimed that they had sent a message to the Union Home Ministry with a request that the matter be taken up with the Myanmarese authorities.
On the other side of the border, the Myanmarese military has charged the four villagers of stealing timber from Myanmar. However a memorandum submitted by the Pettigrew College Teachers’ Association charged that the Myanmarse troops violated international rules by trespassing into Indian territory and acted illegally showing disrespect to the Indian and Manipur Governments.
No doubt the issue arose from unprotected borders and illegal passage from both the countries. While international issues need settlement, the internal loopholes remain a question which has turned into a big disappointment for the four abducted villagers and those fighting for their release.
As the world pursues sustainability in all forms, the alternative is a way out to find the amicable solution. Alternative arrangement that allows the stakeholders to have the sovereign right over their resources and land and the course of actions and processes that will shape and decide their future.
Many would agree with me that we need to protect our borders and protect our people and above all save the environment. But ‘how to’, is a challenge that we need to overcome and answer various dilemmas that exist in many of the current existing policies and acts.
Bringing my threatened cousin to Manipur will no doubt hold priority for me than the tigers for whom all the well known wildlife conservationist, researchers, media persons, bureaucrats, foresters and many others have come together and participated in such a drive towards saving the pride of India.