The Work of 3Gs in the 5G Era of the Internet: Google, Government and Governance in Manipur

A holistic development of the state is the responsibility of the state and the people. A relationship of goodwill must be re-established between the two main actors of a democratic state. Citizens should, at certain times, be granted humanitarian treatment that even disregards applicable procedural laws.

By Paojakhup Guite

Needless to say, “minimum government, maximum governance” is the oft-repeated liberal principle of government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at center and its governed states across the country. I would like to paraphrase the maxim appropriately as “minimal intervention, maximum intervention”. Semantically, “interference” and “intervention” have negative and positive connotations, respectively. Simply put, minimal interference, or in this context minimal government, can be interpreted as an attempt by government to minimize bureaucracy and corruption in matters affecting an individual and the growth and development of the country. This path of growth and development brings with it simpler administrative processes, for which the existing e-governance platform was strengthened with the inauguration of the Center in 2014 and therefore adopts this (e-governance) as part of a maximum intervention.

Thank you to the Manipur government for meeting the expectations of the 2014 renewed slogan of the BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign led by PM Narendra Modi.

In the state, ICT is likely to turn everything in the aspects of government, as well as the facets of governance. The internet-powered search engine called Google is fast becoming a navigational tool to show love for the land, forest, ecology, wildlife and environment.

Google for destruction or development?

This is a question that fascinates me after a series of evictions carried out by the state government in the recent past. The current dispensation of the BJP government compared to the first inning (2017) in the state is so much concerned about the most touted campaign “make forests green again”. A significant number of the allegedly illegal settlements were vacated under “duress,” residents claimed.

The government remains steadfast, pointing out the illegality of human habitation in these habitats. The government’s reservation policy establishes a forced eviction so that it can have a reserve to protect the wildlife community in those designated areas. The benevolence of forests is so conspicuous in the name of reserve forests, protected forests or nature reserves that they give space to their weaker parts of wildlife communities such as flora and fauna. But civilization doesn’t realize that there are still some human communities that make their homes, gather and hunt in the forests. These vulnerable parts of human communities are known as forest dwellers, a category for which they are de jure intended to be protected (The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dweller Act, 2006). The question now is which of the two communities—wildlife or human life (human)—must be prioritized in government civilizing policy initiatives.

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Songjang village, which was evicted on February 20, is a case in point. The village was accused of being built along the Churachandpur-Khoupum section of the protected forest. The village was not found illegal under the law but by the so-called Google map which barely shows two or three buildings/houses built before 2021. The majority of the houses with around 13/14 buildings mapped were built after 2021, therefore declared illegal and therefore bulldozed, with a prior court case served on the village chief, the government claimed. Another notice for an important purpose will be delivered to a village named Kungpinaosen, Kangvai Subdistrict, Churachandpur District, Manipur. The notice instructed the villagers to vacate it for the same reason as K. Songpijang’s.

A pertinent question is, has any government – past or present – in the state ever used the technology to bridge gaps in communications infrastructure such as roads or any kind, connecting the far flung villages to each other and each to the district headquarters? The country’s leaders want to know.

Hills more congested than city

There is a corresponding increase between the population of forest dwellers and the protected and/or reserved forests in the state’s hills. But the human population in the city is decreasing.

Why are the 90% of geographic areas with less than 50% of the state’s population more congested than the 10% of geographic areas with nearly 60% of the state’s population?

Without a doubt, most of the 90% of the state’s geographic areas are hilly and rugged. These indicated areas are not all habitable zones. In addition, forest dwellers require certain tracts of land for their traditional itinerant subsistence. For now, forget the natural resources that lie beneath the hills landmass! Given these tribal statistics and cultural practices, there is no reason to question why they should be let loose in their contact with the forests. Indeed, a minimum forest protection policy is a must on the part of the government.

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But like the unforgiving civilization, the government has dwarfed the hopes of the forest dwellers. The government has designated a significant part of the hilly areas as reserve forests, protected forests or nature reserves. Shifting to the valley is mandated by legislation such as the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2014. For fear of these legal restrictions, they are wedged between semi-valley and semi-forest areas. Therefore, the traffic system in the hilly areas becomes more and more congested.

The intervention question: Then and now

The government meticulously justifies its actions with the fact that all parts of the state belong to it. However, the village heads/chairmen are not subservient to this government claim.

My parents always told me when I was a child that the government, in full support of tribal customary law, would come to the village chiefs for the introduction of education as well as a specific part of the land for the construction of educational institutions such as elementary and/or elementary schools in villages . This was a commendable service rendered by the government to empower the socially and educationally disadvantaged sections of the community.

The relationship between the government and village chiefs today is strained. The government has abandoned its love for people and instead prioritized environmental protection. Nearly a hundred villages are losing their settlements under the guise of nature reserves, reserve forests, protected forests and other development priorities. Unlike when I was a child, the government today does not have the approval and consultation of the village chiefs/chairmen/superintendents. The confrontation between them becomes more of the order of the day, with each side citing their own justifications. No matter how hard the confrontation, the government’s case always prevails.

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The village chiefs must know the laws of the state. For this reason the government should continue its tradition of educating the illiterate villagers, chiefs and the like. Its main task has always been to educate the masses as and even better than at the beginning (colonial and post-colonial era).

A holistic development of the state is the responsibility of the state and the people. A relationship of goodwill must be re-established between the two main actors of a democratic state. Citizens should, at certain times, be granted humanitarian treatment that even disregards applicable procedural laws.

Finally, I have yet to see any CSOs from the valley come out to lend a helping hand to the displaced villagers of K. Songjang. In this respect, it is reminiscent of the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the mountain brothers provided their colleagues in the valley with the forest products at their disposal. As citizens of India in general and Manipur in particular, we will swim together and sink together.

(The author is doing an MA in Media Governance at the Center for Culture, Media and Governance and a CBCS course at the Center for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University, New Delhi. He can be contacted at [email protected]).