The Forest, Environment, and Climate Change Minister of Manipur, Th Biswajit, has responded to recent protests against the government’s alleged violation of the hill people’s rights through eviction drives in reserved and protected forests.
Speaking to the media at the Sanjenthong office of the Forest Department on Sunday, Biswajit clarified that the eviction drives are not aimed at targeting any particular community. Instead, they are in accordance with the Indian Forest Act and the Supreme Court’s ruling to secure the people’s future by protecting forests.
Minister further said Manipur’s total geographical area is 22,327 sq km, with a forest cover of 74.7%. However, the forest area has been diminishing over the years, with the total area being 17,418 sq km, as per the 1989 records.
Despite the lack of understanding among many people regarding reserved, protected, and classified forests, the state government has been working tirelessly to protect the forests in line with relevant government statutes. This is necessary to mitigate the impacts of climate change and ensure the future of the next generation.
Manipur has 36 reserved forests and 22 protected forests. The total protected forest area is 4171.70 sq km, while the reserved forest is 984.26 sq km, accounting for just 4.4% of the state’s geographical area. The protected area network, including wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, covers 1132.015 sq km, constituting only 5.07% of the total geographical area. The total area of unclassified forests is 11,130.725 sq km.
The state government’s activities for protecting forests strictly comply with the Indian Forest Act. Encroachment into reserved forests and protected forests is illegal, and the government will never remain silent if someone encroaches into these areas.
The Forest Minister stated that the Indian Forest Act 1927 cannot be manipulated by the State Government, and invited those with grievances against the Act to a joint discussion. Previously, the Central Forest Division had evicted huts and structures built by encroachers inside Heingang Reserved Forest, and there were no complaints. The Forest Minister asserted that all activities carried out by the State Government under the Indian Forest Act were lawful.
The Churachandpur Forest Division declared the Dampi area a reserved forest in 1951, and a notification was issued to this effect. Similarly, the Nongmaiching Reserved Forest was declared in 1980. Cheklaphai was declared a reserved forest in 1945 by the State Durbar, and Kangchup Chiru was declared in 1948. The Forest Minister reminded that when 69 houses built by encroachers in Waithou Protected Forest along Imphal-Moreh National Highway were demolished, no legitimate complaints were made.
Likewise, encroachers’ 19 houses in Langol Reserved Forest, 26 houses in Iroisemba-Langol Reserved Forest, 86 houses in Heingang Reserved Forest, and 76 houses in Nongmaiching Reserved Forest were demolished. The State Government has already issued a notification stating that all houses and structures built in violation of the Indian Forest Act 1927, Forest Conservation Act 1980, and Manipur Forest Rules 2021 are illegal.
Minister Th Biswajit pointed out that in 1995, the Supreme Court passed a judgment that any settlement by an individual or a group of individuals within reserved forests or protected forests would be considered encroachment. He stated that the Government has been removing all encroachers without discrimination, and no one would be allowed to clear woods or build structures within reserved and protected forests.
On February 20, 2023, K Songjang under Noney Forest Division was evicted as it was a new settlement not recognized by the Government.
The Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest was created in 1966 after due notification was issued, and the state government has been working to protect it. The government has already issued a notification stating that all structures built without following the Indian Forest Act 1927, Forest Conservation Act 1980, and Manipur Forest Rules 2021 are illegal.
Moreover, a Supreme Court judgment passed in 1995 states that any settlement within reserved forests or protected forests will be treated as encroachment.
Biswajit urged everyone to work collectively to protect forests. The eviction drives are not aimed at targeting any particular community but are in the interest of the people’s future by protecting forests. The state government has been working hard to save the protected forests of the Churachandpur-Khoupum region and will continue to do so. The government does not work in a sectarian or discriminatory manner and has never evicted any recognized village.
Chief Conservator of Forest, L Joykumar, the Conservator of Forest for Western Circle, Gaithaolu Thaimei, the Conservator of Forest for Central Circle, RK Amarjit, and the Divisional Forest Officer for Noney, Napoleon Rongmei, were also present at the press conference.
On March 7, the Forest, Environment, and Climate Change Minister, Th Biswajit, handed over 100 firearms to Forest Guards assigned to protect forests and wildlife. Biswajit stated that 49 Forest Guards had received training on handling firearms, and the next batch of 51 Forest Guards would follow.
Additionally, a documentary film titled “Lamlakki Lan” produced by the Forest Department was premiered at the event.