Imphal, Nov 21 : The indigenous Hmars of Manipur, who inhabit the southern parts of the state, largely in the Tipaimukh subdivision, fear that their race would be extinct once the oil exploration and drilling process starts in the region.
According to Hmar Inpui, the apex body of the tribe, the fate of its people has been sacrificed on the altar of profit by oil and gas tycoons. Their fear comes from a series of MoUs signed recently by the Centre and Manipur government with oil firms that allow exploration of oil and natural gas in the Tipaimukh and Vanghai areas of the state.
The licence for exploration of oil in Manipur’s Hmar-inhabited areas has been awarded to Jubilant Oil and Gas Private Ltd. Under the same block, the same company has also been given the licence to explore oil and gas in the adjoining Tamenglong district, mainly inhabited by Zeliangrongs.
The community has not been taken into confidence by both the Central and Manipur governments in deciding to award the licence to the said company, said Lalawilien Hmar, president of Hmar Inpui, GHQ, and Lalhminthang Hmar, president Hmar Inpui, Vanghai region, in a joint statement to the media. Calling the whole process a covert one, the duo said that the episode was shrouded in secrecy and no information was made available to the people.
“This is contrary to the principle behind the Right to Information Act,” the Hmar leaders said.
“We have been made to realise that the project is anti-people. Despite the high-risk the proposed projects involve, the government has not only failed to inform the people about their adverse impact, but also to represent their approved consent. In short, the projects did not take into consideration the existence of the indigenous people and their rights. We shall not allow our ignorance to be plundered by the oil and gas tycoons in the name of ‘development’,” the statement said.
The Hmar Inpui also accused the state government of instilling injustice by not adopting a democratic process to weave consent of the Hmar people who stand to lose the most.
The Hmar Inpui also accused the state government of addressing the oil exploration project as a “vehicle” to redress the social, economic and political exclusion of the community after years of deprivation.
“It will alienate the people and their rights from their ancestral land, forests, rivers, and natural resources,” said t he Hmar leaders. A consultation meeting held at Ankhasuo on November 16 a sked the state government to declare a moratorium on the exploration apart from asking the oil giants to withdraw from the Hmar areas.
The meeting also reiterated an earlier demand by the other bodies to scrap the MoUs signed by the government with the companies and declare them null and void. Oil exploration in both Man ipur and Nagaland under the eighth round of the New Exploration Licencing Policy has been mired by stiff resistance from the local people.
The government has been forced to hold public hearings for oil exploration under heavy security cover after protesting villagers stormed the proceedings.