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Manipur govt denies allegations made by a fact-finding team of the Editors Guild

Guwahati: Manipur government denied the allegations made by a fact-finding team of the Editors’ Guild of India (EGI) that Manipur government did not follow due procedure in declaring parts of hills as “reserved” and “protected” forests.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests SS Chhabra in a seven-page letter to the Manipur government said the allegations against the forest department in the report – published by the three-member EGI team after staying in Manipur for four days – are “wrong” and “unverified”, and they have “led to misinformation… and tarnished the reputation of the forest department.

The report released recently alleged the state government in Manipur branded all Kuki tribes as “illegal immigrants” after some 4,000 refugees fleeing the military coup in neighbouring Myanmar crossed into Manipur. The EGI report said evictions from and demolitions in “forest areas were carried out only in non-Naga inhabited areas,” which led the Kukis to suspect they were being “singled out”.

State government stated no reserved or protected forest has been declared during the tenure of the current government, and so the claim by the EGI team “that the declaration of new reserved forests and protected forests in the hills by the N Biren Singh government, cancellation of land ownership documents in these areas, and eviction drive led to confrontation between the state authorities and the Kuki community is without any basis.”

Chhabra said the allegation that Kukis were “singled out” was a blatant lie, as many people from other communities who have been living illegally in reserved and protected forests had been removed too.

From October 2015 to April 2023, the forest department has removed 413 encroachers from reserved and protected forests across the state – 143 Meiteis, 137 Meitei Pangals, 59 Kukis (including 21 unoccupied huts in Kanglatombi-Kangpokpi reserved forest), 38 Nagas, and 36 Nepalis.”Since 2015 till date, no encroacher has been evicted from reserved and protected forests in Churachandpur and Tengnoupal districts. The report of the EGI that the demolition drive began in Kangpokpi district, a Kuki-dominated area, extended by 2023 to Churachandpur and Tengnoupal districts, which is a preponderance of Kuki-Zo community, is manufactured and without any basis,” the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests said in the letter. For its report on Manipur, FIR was lodged against four members of the EGI. A three-member fact-finding team of EGI after visiting Manipur, published its report in New Delhi recently, claiming that the media’s reports on the ethnic violence in Manipur were one-sided, and accused the state leadership of being partisan.

“It should have avoided taking sides in the ethnic conflict but it failed to do its duty as a democratic government which should have represented the entire state,” the 24-page EGI report said in its conclusions and recommendations.

Imphal-based social worker N Sarat Singh filed the FIR against- Seema Guha, Sanjay Kapoor, and Bharat Bhushan. The EGI president has also been mentioned as an accused in the FIR.

The FIR has been filed with Imphal West district police under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including promoting enmity between different groups, and using as true such declaration knowing it to be false. The members have moved the Supreme Court and the court had told the authorities not to take any coercive action against the EGI team named in the FIRs till Monday.

Sorokhaibam Thoudam Sangita, who filed the second FIR requested for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the case.

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