COVID-19 Pandemic: Responses & Challenges in Manipur

| Jul 9, 2020

By Christina Lamremdik and Jiten Yumnam, Centre for Research and Advocacy – Manipur (CRAM) 

COVID-19 IN MANIPUR: On March 24, 2020, Manipur in India’s North East reeled in much panic among its populace with the confirmation of its first COVID-19 positive case, a 23-year-old student returning from the United Kingdom. Since then, the state has recorded a steep rise in cases of the coronavirus, worsened by the relaxation of travel restrictions by the Government, which allowed operation of special trains and buses to transport natives of Manipur from other parts of India since first week of May. This led to an exponential surge in COVID-19 cases in Manipur. By the 30th of June, COVID-19 positive cases rose to 1,227 patients, while half a million positive cases confirmed in the whole of India. While no deaths have been recorded as of the end of June, fears of community transmission remain strong in Manipur.

THE LOCKDOWN AND COMMUNITY CHALLENGES: The Government of India has responded to the pandemic by imposing complete lockdown from the 23rd of March. The Government also imposed public curfew under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, prohibiting movement of civilians during lockdown. The enforcement of lockdown, however, led to cases of human rights violations targeting common people.

Human rights defenders who voiced their concerns regarding the State’s handling of the situation on social media were arbitrarily detained. For instance, the police summoned Dr. Debabrata Laifungbam, President of Centre for Organization Research and Education on April 3 at the Imphal West Police Station with no arrest warrant to question him about his Facebook post[i]. Another example is the case of Dr. Ningthoukhongjam Haraba, a medical practitioner who was returning home from his COVID-10 duty. He was physically assaulted by two sub-inspectors of Manipur police on June 11[ii]. But more than arrest and assault, there were also reports on civilian killings under police custody. A widespread protest marred the streets of Tamil Nadu after a father and son were reportedly killed after arrest and torture while in police custody for violating the lockdown.

Apart from human rights abuses, the lockdown also heavily impacted the local economy. For example, a traditional market in Manipur managed by indigenous women has been closed, affecting their economic activity and crucial role in the community. Meanwhile, peoples who lost their lands due to unsustainable projects like the 105 MW Loktak Project, Mapithel Dam, Khuga Dam, etc. has been suffering more due to shortage of food and neglect from authorities. There is indeed lack of State support to address the economic impacts of the pandemic to the vulnerable and marginalized, specifically the workers, street vendors, and daily wage earners, among others.

The government’s negligence of health infrastructure affected their appropriate response to the rising cases of infection in Manipur as well as in other parts of India. While the Manipur government established seven Quarantine Centres (QCs) with additional 770 community QCs[iii], the QCs are marred with limitations. There was shortage of food, sanitary facilities, and inadequate testing facilities. On the 16th of May, doctors and health workers at quarantine facilities voiced their complaints about the inadequate provision of Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) from the government[iv]. Many doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients at Churachandpur and Bishenpur QCs were thus infected. People then came to the QCs to protest, such as at the Presidency College Quarantine Centre at Motbung in Kangpokpi district over the lack of basic amenities, viz, water supply, electricity, and separate rooms despite the confirmation of positive COVID-19  cases in the facility[v]. The rooms in QCs are often packed with 2-8 patients, sometimes even more[vi].

COMMUNITY SUPPORT: Despite the shortage of food and neglect from concerned authorities, indigenous peoples’ access and management of their land and resources has proven to ensure their livelihood in difficult situations such as in this COVID-19 outbreak by providing food and medicine to neighboring communities. Villagers from each hill district in Manipur gathered their agriculture products and shared it with nearby villages, quarantine centres, and hospitals during the lockdown. To remedy the insufficient quarantine centres provided by the State, indigenous communities set up their own quarantine facilities to house returnees. Such generous response of the indigenous communities was made possible because of their traditional management of land and resources.

To aid in alleviating the impacts of the lockdown, the Centre for Research and Advocacy – Manipur (CRAM) also provided relief to several villages whose livelihood were undermined due to submergence of their land by the Mapithel Dam and 105 MW Loktak Hydroelectric Project, among others. Food items like rice, lentils, potatoes, salt, and sugar and sanitary items were distributed in April and May[vii]. CRAM coordinated with other organizations like the Social Upliftment Association to create awareness on safety measures and to provide food and sanitary items among marginalized communities which most vulnerable to COVID-19 infections, such as those living with HIV/AIDS as well as orphans, widows, elders, etc.

CONCLUSIONS: The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 has unveiled the poor medical infrastructure, food insecurity, and dependency from outside the State. Currently, the biggest concern of communities is the lack of adequate medical infrastructure and testing facilities and the limited capacity of hospitals to provide treatment for COVID-19 patients. The Government of Manipur should take urgent measures to strengthen the health infrastructure in all districts and create awareness, including in indigenous languages to reach all communities. Similarly, the Government of India should ensure timely provision of essential items like food supplies and sanitary items. Special attention should also be accorded to ensure adequate supply of safety equipment and other essential needs in quarantine centres.

Moreover, as evidenced by the community support documented above, the Government of Manipur should recognise that strengthening indigenous people’s food production system, protecting land and resources, improving necessary health infrastructure, and desisting unsustainable development processes in the State compose the rightful path to people-centred development of Manipur that leads to an effective and efficient response in emergency situations like this pandemic. The Government should also ensure full adherence to human rights standards in its response to COVID-19, protecting the people first and putting them at the core of any emergency response.


[i]COVID-19: NHRC sounded on Manipur rights defenders’ detention (2020, April 06), The Hindu.

[ii]AMNEWA condemns assault on doctor (2020, June 11), The Sangai Express.

[iii]Manipur Speaker runs quarantine centre without government funding. Sumir Karmakar (2020, June 04). Deccan Herald. Retrieved from

[iv]Provide PPE to doctors, health workers at quarantine centers: Manipur speaker to govt (2020, May 16), Deccan Herald.

[v]Many fears of infection say inmates at Manipur quarantine centre. Vangamla Salle K S, (2020, June 11), East Mojo.

[vi]At the Manipur Quarantine Centre, I’m in, We Have to Arrange for Our Own Food, Bedding. Meiraba Mangang (2020, May 26), The Wire.

[vii]Relief works to several villages in four districts of Manipur (2020, April 27)

CRA urges government to drop MoUs with oil companies

The Imphal Free Press, 10 August 2020

The Centre for Research and Advocacy (CRA) has appealed to the government to drop all MoUs and all granted licenses with oil companies, mining companies, dam building companies etc. “signed without recognising the people’s self-determined rights over their land and their consent”.

Stop Oil Exploration in Manipur

A release stated that the production sharing contract and petroleum exploration licenses to oil companies should be withdrawn. All MoUs signed for mining and to build dams should be revoked, it stated.

CRA expressed their concern on the aggressive pursuance of extractive industries, unsustainable energy projects and large infrastructure projects under India’s East policy. Several MoUs were signed for dam building, oil exploration, mining, agribusiness etc; one of which is with the Jubilant Energy and Oil India private limited in the year 2012 and 2017 without the people’s consent in Tamenglong, Churachandpur, Imphal west districts etc, it stated.

CRA alleged that the oil companies failed to recognise indigenous people’s rights over their land and resources. The government has also signed MoUs with mining companies to commence chromium and limestone without people’s consent, it added.

It further said that building of large dams continues to pursue despite the controversies of adverse impacts, failures and wastage of public resources by large dams in Manipur like the devastation of Mapithel dam and Loktak project.

The government should rather ensure the right to health of all in Manipur during this pandemic and accord primacy in improving health care and facilities urgently, it stated. “Development aggression with the military should not be pursued. The government should uphold the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, 2017 and recognise their right over their land and resources with the need for their consent before development intervention on their land, it added.



CRA appeals to revoke MoUs for extraction of minerals

The Imphal Times, 9 August 2020

Imphal, August 08 2020: Ahead of the World’s Indigenous Peoples Day which falls on August 9, the Center for Research and Advocacy , Manipur (CRA) greets the people of the state and expressed serious concern with the increased case of infection of indigenous peoples to COVID -19 infection, abetted by limitation in health in health infracture and inadequate testing facilities in Manipur.

Kwatha Village No to mining

A statement said that the increased loss of lives due to denial of urgent medical needs of non-COVID patients by medical establishment in Manipur on pretext of following Covid -19 regulations if a matter of serious concern.

The CRA also stated that the aggressive pursuance of extractive industries, unsustainable energy projects and large infrastructure projects under India’s Act East policy. Several memorandum of understanding were signed for dam building, oil exploration , mining , agribusiness etc. in Manipur .

The jubilant Energy and Oil India Limited commenced oil and gas exploration woks in the year 2012 and 2017 without peoples’ consent in Tamenglong, Churanchandpur , Imphal West Districts etc.

The CRY demanded the government of Manipur to withdraw MoUs and all licenses granted to oil companies, mining companies , dam building companies etc without recognizing peoples’ self determined rights over their land and without their consent.

It demanded to revoked all MoUs signed for mining and and for revocation of dam building proposal.

NGO concerns on indigenous peoples rights

The Assam Times, 9 August 2020

Imphal: The Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur (CRA) extends warm greetings to all the indigenous peoples in Manipur and beyond on World’s Indigenous Peoples Day on 9th August 2020. At the foremost, CRA expresses our concern with the increased case of infection of indigenous peoples to Covid 19 infection, abetted by limitations in health infrastructure and inadequate testing facilities in Manipur. The increased loss of lives due to denial of urgent medical needs of non-Covid patients by medical establishments in Manipur on the pretext of following Covid 19 regulations is a matter of serious concern.


CRA also expresses our concern with the aggressive pursuance of extractive industries, unsustainable energy projects and large infrastructure projects under India’s Act East Policy. Several Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) were signed for dam building, oil exploration, mining, agribusiness etc in Manipur. The Jubilant Energy and Oil India Limited commenced oil and gas exploration works in the year 2012 and 2017 without peoples’ consent in Tamenglong, Churachandpur, Imphal West Districts etc. The oil companies failed to recognize indigenous peoples’ rights over their land and resources.

Similarly, the Government signed MoUs with mining companies to commence Chromium and Limestone mining in Manipur without the consultation and consent of indigenous communities and without conducting impact assessments. The Government of Manipur signed MoUs with M/s Sarvesh Refractories Pvt. Ltd, M/s Rourkela Minerals Pvt. Ltd, 14/s Gulf Natural Resources, M/s Balassore Alloys Ltd etc in 2017 without informing and discussing all implications of mining in Manipur.

The building of large dams continues to be pursued despite the controversies, adverse impacts, failure, and wastage of public resources by large dams in Manipur. The Government notified expression of interest for building large dams despite the devastations of Mapithel dam and Loktak project. The 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam, 190 MW Pabram, bang dam etc will destroy indigenous peoples’ livelihood sources.

The dilution of policies to facilitate India’s neoliberal development agenda abetted with financing by the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency etc is a matter of urgent concern that will undermine indigenous peoples human rights and entrap Manipur into debt. The Draft Forest Policy 2018, amendment of Indian Forest Act, 1927 in 2019 will alienate communities from the traditional forest. The Draft Environment Impact Assessment notification 2020 will intensify pursuance of extractive industries etc without Environment Impact Assessments.
The Government of Manipur should withdraw MoUs and all licenses granted to oil companies, mining companies, dam building companies etc without recognizing peoples self-determined rights over their land and without their consent. The production sharing contract and petroleum exploration licences to oil companies should be withdrawn. All MoUs signed for mining and to build dams should be revoked.

The Government should urgently ensure the right to health of all in Manipur during the Pandemic and accord primacy in improving health care and facilities. Development aggression pursued with militarization should not be pursued in Manipur. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, should be repealed. The government must uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 and recognize indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination over their land & resources and their right to free prior and informed consent before development interventions on their land. 4 44-46 4.71AbetrIM/ Preskint Cents far alma& Advocacy

Manipur’s biodiversity facing degeneration

Babie Sarin, The Imphal Free Press, 27 July 2020

First Published: July 26, 2020, 9:39 p.m.

Reconsider mining proposal call issued

The Sangai Express, 25 July 2020

Imphal, July 24 2020: Environment Protection Association Ukhrul District has demanded the Govt of India and State Govt to reconsider the proposal to mine minerals from several villages in Ukhrul, Tengnoupal and Chandel districts. The association has demanded to ensure rehabilitation and resettlement of the villagers prior to the launch of the project.

The villages which are going to be affected by the proposed mining had urged the Union Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change to conduct environmental impact assessment, cumulative impact assessment and other assessments before granting the forest and environment clearance to avoid any complexity like the inferno at the oil refinery at Bhagajan. Tinsukia district, Assam in May this year.

In a release, the association said that the villagers are still not aware of any feasibility study of the mining project and the authorities concerned didn’t take prior consent of the people while adding that more than 10,000 families are dependent on the forest for their livelihood by collecting fire wood, fruits, vegetables and fishing from the rivers and streams that originate from the mountains.

It may be noted that many companies like Sarvesh Refractory Pvt Ltd, Balasore Alloys Ltd, Anand Export Ltd etc. signed MoU with the Govt of India and State Govt for the mining project.  The villagers urged the State Govt not to take up any mining activities until all the safeguard measures, rehabilitation of the people are ensured.

Mining MoUs and concerns in Manipur

The Imphal Free Press, 14 July, 2020,

By Jiten Yumnam

Implication of Draft EIA Notification, 2020 in Manipur

E-Pao.Net,  5 July 2020

By Christina Lamremdik & Jiten Yumnam

Pic: Destruction of Forest Areas by infrastructure projects – Trans Asian Railway Works in Manipur. Impact assessments has long been a concern.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India released a Draft Notification on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), 2020 on 12th March last. The introduction of the draft EIA Notification provoke controversy among the environmentalist and civil societies on the long-term implications of such draft, that is perceived as continued dismantling of environmental regulations in India.

The introduction of the draft comes at a time when various energy projects, extractive industries, mining plans, agribusiness and large infrastructure projects are aggressively pursued in Manipur and in North East India under India’s Act East Policy. Various mining companies are engaged in mining surveys and operate plans to extract minerals present in Manipur, primarily Chromite and Limestone in Ukhrul, Kamjong, Tengnoupal and Chandel Districts.

The Geological Survey of India estimates around 20 million metric tonnes of limestone deposits in Hundung, Phungyar and Mailiang villages in Ukhrul district and at Toupokpi, Chakpikarong, Haikot etc in Tengnoupal and Chandel Districts. Several MoUs for mining were among the Thirty-Nine (39) MoUs signed during the North East Business Summit held at Imphal, Manipur from 21st till 22nd November 2017, for commencement of Chromium and Limestone mining in Manipur in addition to setting up of infrastructures to facilitate oil and gas exploration.

The companies involved in oil exploration in Manipur includes the Oil India Limited (OIL), Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Jubilant Oil and Gas Private Limited, the Tullow Oils, Asian Oilfields, Alphageo Company, involved in oil exploration and survey works in Manipur since 2010. At least 32 dams are proposed to be built over the Rivers of Manipur.

These projects require a rigorous and meticulous assessment of impacts on environment, people, livelihood, and even inter-generational survival of indigenous communities of Manipur. The deregulation of policies and enactment of new policies stem from the free trade agreements that India signed with various developed countries and with countries of South East Asian Nations, for ease of business.

The EIA notification is a crucial regulation through which the impacts of land use pattern, tree felling, pollution, waste, and effluent management for industrial and infrastructure projects can be studied, given India’s ambition to become an economic superpower. However, the introduction of draft EIA notification 2020 during Covid-19 lockdown, accord negligible space for environmentalists, civil societies and concern organizations to examine the details and for meaningful consultation on the draft and hence requires critical review.

The Draft EIA Notification 2020 moves towards further dilution of environmental regulations in India by weakening the EIA processes. The new Draft makes ‘environmental clearances’ easier by placing large unsustainable projects, like large hydropower projects upto 25 MW under Category B2, which were earlier categorized as Category ‘A’ projects, thus removing them from mandatory environmental appraisal at the level of Government of India and exempts many unsustainable development projects etc. from the need of public consultations while seeking environmental clearances.

In the 2006 EIA notification, category ‘B’ project was treated as category ‘A’ project if the project fulfilled the ‘general conditions’, which meant if they were located (in whole or in part) within 10 km from the boundaries of protected areas, critically polluted areas, eco-sensitive zones, or inter-State and international boundaries.

“But as per the new notification, ‘B1’ projects fulfilling the general condition will be appraised by the expert appraisal committee, but they will no more be treated as category ‘A’ projects. This explicit clarification does seem to imply that they will undergo less rigorous appraisal. Earlier, an approval or clearances from the expert panels – the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and 10 Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) – is necessary for projects to get green clearances from MoEFCC.

The draft EIA notification 2020 will simplify and dilute such requirements from different environment related ministries. Further, similar projects within National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, or Ecologically Sensitive Areas will be subjected to public consultations only within that specific district, regardless of its ecological impacts to nearby areas. This undermined the longstanding demands of a cumulative impact assessment, viz. in cascade dams, infrastructure projects and extractive industries in river basins, which dotted the terrains of Manipur and across North East.

Another major concern is how environmentally unsustainable industries like extractive industries, mining projects and oil exploration, are accorded much flexibility in the Draft Notification. The Draft will exempt “coal and non-coal mineral prospecting,” from impact assessment of ecological impact and damage apart from impacts on communities depending on such resources. The non-coal mineral prospecting will include oil and gas exploration and drilling, confirmed as one of the most environmentally devastating projects.

The draft extended the duration of environmental clearance from the earlier 30 years to 50 years, considering the duration as part of the “construction phase.” This is alarming for Manipur and in North East as mining and oil exploration pursued in the region for long are testament of severe environmental impacts, such as the Baghjan oil spill in Assam since 27 May 2020.

The Draft also exempts all defence and “national security” projects, as well as any other projects involving “strategic considerations as determined by the government” from “environmental clearances”. This gives a virtual carte blanche to the government who could declare, for instance, oil exploration as “strategic projects” and thus evading environmental scrutiny.

The most challenging aspect of the Draft EIA Notification 2020 is the wide-ranging freedom given to project proponents to engage in violation of conditions under which they were granted environmental clearance.

“Dealing with violation cases” is a new section in the draft notification, that overlooks all type of violation relating to forest clearance and other environmental violation by simply imposing fines, categorize the terms of violation in four ways —
Suo moto application of the project proponent;
or reporting by any government authority;
found during the appraisal by Appraisal Committee;
or any violation found during the processing of application by regulatory authorities.

The draft condones violation of any environmental norms by simply imposing fines, graded depending upon whether the project proponent admits to such violations or exposed by government agency. The levy of fine of project proponents by declaring a ‘crime’ as a ‘non-crime’ legitimizes the violation.

The draft EIA 2020 undermines the orders of the National Green Tribunal that ruled against post-facto approvals by attempting to legitimize violations committed by huge industries, construction agencies and all those that are involved in development related activities. A project that starts without an Environment Clearance is a violation of the Environment Protection Act 1986. The proposal of MoEFCC in the new draft EIA notification to allow projects violating the law is against the ‘polluter pays principle’ and instead, propagates a “pollute and pay” principle by paying fine.

The draft attempts to uproot ‘public consultations and public hearings’, despite their flaws and limitations of such hearings. The draft notification provides for a reduction of the time up to 20 days for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance. It requires the public hearing process be completed within 40 days, compared to 45 days under the EIA 2006 notification.

This will further weaken the public hearing process. Without adequate time, public hearing will lack transparency and credibility. The reduction of time would particularly pose a problem in those areas where information is not easily accessible. The notification of 20 days’ time for consultation is inadequate for indigenous communities in remote areas, needing translation of project documents in local dialects and for consultations appropriate to indigenous peoples’ way of life and traditional institutions.

The EIA notification with processes to further dilute the public consultation process by shortening the time for consultation and exemption of certain key projects, such as fossil fuels and those determined as ‘national projects’, from impact assessment and environmental clearance processes, will infringe on indigenous peoples rights over their land and natural resources and for their consent.

Building of large dams, oil exploration and mining in Manipur have long caused controversy over environmental and social impacts, which affected communities highlighted in “environmental public hearings”. The regulatory dilution will further deny peoples’ right to assert concerns in public hearing on impacts of unsustainable projects. The draft EIA 2020 will usher in catastrophic changes to indigenous peoples’ way of life by unleashing rights violation, eviction, and ecological destruction.

The government pursued “creating enabling environment” for corporate bodies to improve the “ease of doing business” in India by diluting all regulations that project proponents viewed as obstacles to investment and insatiable pursuit of profits.

The core concept of draft EIA 2020 is to pave the way for multinational corporations to legally exploit the land and resources of indigenous communities, such as in Manipur and in North East without environmental scrutiny and by removing all perceived hindrances for corporate bodies in their business, such as ‘environment clearance’ and ‘public hearing’. This is alarming for Manipur where large dams, mining of Chromite and drilling of oil and gas has been pursued in biodiverse and ecologically sensitive areas.

An urgent introspection of the long term implications of the Draft EIA notification, 2020 if approved on the environment and rights of indigenous peoples of Manipur is highly critical, given the plans for building large dams, mining, oil exploration, large infrastructure projects, agri-business under Act East Policy.

On 11 August 2019, media reported that at least Thirty-Two (32) potential sites for Hydropower development has been identified in a “Potential Mapping” over Rivers in Manipur. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) already signed Memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Government of Manipur to construct the 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam on 28 April 2010. Additionally, NEEPCO signed MoU agreement with the Government of Manipur on 28th August 2014 for construction of 190 MW Pabram Dam, the 67 MW Khongnem Chakha Dam, 60 MW Irang Dam etc over the Barak and Irang Rivers and the 51 MW Tuivai Dam over Tuivai River.

The total loss of trees and bamboo groves in both Mizoram and Manipur due to the submergence by Tipaimukh dam is estimated at over eight (8) million trees and over four (4) million bamboo groves. The Mapithel dam submerged more than 600 hectares of forest land. The pursuance of 32 dams will significantly disturb the fragile ecology and destroy the rich flora and fauna of Manipur, also falling in high seismic Zone V.

The intense pursuance of extractive industries becomes an obvious reality after several mining companies began involved for survey work and oil exploration in Manipur in the last decade. Eight blocks of limestone over an area of 34.37 and ten blocks of chromite over an area of 38.96 have been notified for exploration and mining with nine private companies signing Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) on 22 November 2017 with the Government of Manipur (GOM).

The GOM signed Seven MoUs for chromite exploration and mining with M/s Sarvesh Refractories Pvt. Ltd, Rourkela, M/s Rourkela Minerals Pvt. Ltd (RAMCO), Rourkela, M/s Kotak Resources, Mumbai, M/s Gulf Natural Resources, Gurgaon, M/s Visa Steel Ltd, Odisha, M/s Manipur Mines and Minerals Pvt. Ltd., M/s Balassore Alloys Ltd, Odisha etc in 2017.

The project for mining at Singcha was approved in 2017 and 2018 even without receiving Environment and Forest clearance for the project. The mining company, RAMCO misinformed the absence of forest area in Singcha Gamnon in its pre-feasibility study for Chromite mining plan. Villagers of Hundung village confirm how the Cement production in Hundung Cement factory caused health impacts.

Multinational oil companies from India and beyond like Jubilant Energy, Tullow Oils and Oil India Limited has been pursuing oil exploration and drilling in Manipur with tacit support of the Government. The oil companies failed to conduct any impact assessment including for 2D and 3D seismic surveys on the land, people and environment of the proposed villages and sites of oil surveys and drilling operations in ecologically sensitive areas of Manipur. The initial EIA prepared for the public hearing by SENES consultancy group negated the existence of endemic species in Manipur.

Oil Exploration, mining, dam building etc are confirmed as one of most environmentally damaging projects and the exemption of such projects from EIA will violate indigenous peoples’ rights and destroy environment. Manipur indeed falls in two of the World’s Biodiversity Hotspot, the Eastern Himalayas Biodiversity Hotspot, and Indo-Burma Hotspot, that explains the rich biodiversity in Manipur.

The oil spill in Baghjan in Assam continues since 27 May 2020 and unleashed massive environmental damage in Dibru Saikhowa National Park and displaced several thousands of communities in and around Baghjan area in relief camps during Covid-19 pandemic. The Oil India Limited, the company responsible for the oil spill has been unable to control the oil spill and the subsequent fire that caused massive social and environmental impact.

The Assam Pollution Control Board (PCB, Assam) even directed the Oil India Limited to close its Baghjan Oil drilling site on 19 June 2020. The closure notice, sent by PCB, Assam to OIL, also cited several environmental transgressions by the oil company. Such oil spill in Baghjan that caused widespread social and environment impacts further necessitates a detailed environmental and social impact assessment and the involvement of affected communities with due recognition of their rights to draw up appropriate mitigation plan and measures.

Manipur is indeed identified as the zone of confluence of three major species streams namely the Malayo-Polynesian species, the Tibeto-Chinese species, and the Indian sub-continent species. No cumulative impact assessments have ever been conducted for all the mining plans in the four districts in Manipur.

Exempting the oil and gas and mining companies and weakening of environment regulations for energy projects like large dams pursued in environmental fragile and ecologically sensitive areas from environment impact assessments under the draft EIA notification, 2002 in the pretext of facilitating corporate plunder and expropriation of Manipur’s land and natural resources will be disastrous for Manipur. Such destruction will be unfortunate, which the coming generations will never forgive the present generations for facilitating such destructions.

The draft EIA notification provides environment clearance validity for 50 years for mining projects, against 30 years in the present notification, 15 years from river valley projects against 10 years. Such provision of extension without adequate safeguard and regulatory and accountability mechanisms even when companies are involved in environmental destruction and social impacts will only reinforce corporate unaccountability with support of the State.

Manipur cannot afford an unsustainable economic growth of a country that destroy peoples’ lives, land, and nature. Another problem with the new notification is the extension of the time given for submitting a compliance report throughout the term of the project, as against earlier submission of report every six months. During this period, certain irreversible environmental, social or health consequences of the project could go unnoticed because of the extended reporting time. With these provisions, the draft EIA 2020 goes against the environment and the people while favouring the corporate bodies and political elites that work in tandem with them.

The proposed EIA 2020 aims to reduce the legal and social standards for environmental scrutiny of projects, especially the unsustainable and destructive ones. A public input for proposed and expanding projects has further been reduced and many critical projects are outside the purview of public consultations. The draft EIA notification will only legitimise environmentally degrading projects.

The draft will further facilitate the government’s legalised take-over of the nature and environment, intrinsic to community’s survival, identity, and culture. Indeed, the EIA 2020 is designed to deny citizens the social, legal, and political forums available, to protect the environment from government decisions affecting the people and environment.

The failure to conduct impact assessment and additional exemptions by the draft EIA, 2020 especially conceding to oil companies and mining companies will intensify widespread environmental and social impacts by multinational companies with Government and plundering of indigenous peoples’ land and natural resources in Manipur. The draft EIA notification, if it comes into force is a move towards seeking investment and business friendly environment.

The implementation of the new draft EIA notification will entail widespread destruction of the rich ecology and biodiversity of North East given the 200 mega dam, extensive oil exploration, mining plan and infrastructure projects pursued aggressively in Manipur and across India’s NE region. The environmental impact assessments are crucial for energy projects, extractive industries, infrastructure projects etc. pursued in an ecologically fragile place like Manipur. It will be imprudent for Manipur to leave its land and pristine resources to profit mongering corporate bodies without public scrutiny.

The proposed amendment of the Draft EIA notification 2020 should be completely scraped. The government should ensure provisions to conduct detailed and holistic impact assessment on environment, social, health, cultural and other impacts by development projects with due rightful participation of all communities to foster sustainable development that really benefits the people. Environmental regulations and accountability mechanisms for corporates, international financial institutions and States rather needs to be strengthened to meet India’s sustainable development goals and climate change mitigation objectives.

Baghjan Oil Spill: Rethinking Oil exploration in India’s North East

The Imphal Free Press, 11 June 2020

By Jiten Yumnam

Oil Spill Bagjjan wetlands

CRA raises apprehension over oil exploration and survey work done in Manipur

The North East Today,

NET News Desk

In pursuant to the oil spill and fire at the oil drilling site of the Oil India Limited (OIL) at Baghjan Village in Assam, the Centre for Research and Advocacy, CRA Manipur has raised apprehension over the oil exploration and surveys works done in Manipur since 2010.

Expressing concern over the ongoing oil spill and fire at Baghjan Village in Assam the CRA in a press statement has said that the OIL has failed to control the oil blowout, which has led to the displacement of more than 3000 community members in Baghjan Village and surrounding areas and contaminated much of the Maguri-Motapung wetland, part of the eco-sensitive zone of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. “The oil spill has had an adverse effect on the biodiversity of the two eco-sensitive zones.”

The CRA while highlighting the oil exploration and survey works in Manipur which had been going on since 2010, stated, “The OIL company has contacted experts from Singapore based Alert Disaster Control to control the oil spill. OIL’s seeking help from foreign countries indicates the failure or the lack of capacity of the OIL company to handle major oil spills, which is a concern for indigenous peoples across North East, where Jubilant Oil and Gas Private Limited and Oil India Limited are involved in oil exploration and survey works like in Manipur since 2010.”

The CRA alleged that the Oil companies have downplayed the impacts of oil exploration in Manipur. It also claimed that OIL carried out surveys in Khaidem, Moidangpok, Sangaithel villages in Imphal West district in Manipur since March 2017 without providing any detailed information to the villagers and in the absence of their consent. The CRA further expressed apprehensions that the oil exploration and related spills like in Baghjan which entails massive social and environmental impacts, would affect Manipur which falls in two of the World’s Biodiversity Hotspot- the Eastern Himalayas Biodiversity Hotspot, and Indo-Burma Hotspot.

“The Oil India Limited unleashed human rights violations by contaminating the land and water bodies and by denying the livelihood of communities depending on rivers and wetlands, such as in Baghjan Area of Assam. The oil exploration moves in Manipur failed to recognise indigenous peoples’ rights over their land and resources. The effort to explore and drill oil in Manipur involves a process of disrespect and non-application of a human rights-based approach to development, one that recognises Indigenous peoples’ rights, more with self-determined development over their land and resources,” stated the press release.

While stressing on the need for investigating the Baghjan incident the CRA cautioned that “the continued oil spill and uncontrolled fire at Baghjan should lead to serious review and rethinking of oil exploration and fossil fuel-based industries pursued aggressively across India’s North East.”

It further asserted that the communities affected by the oil spill should be fully compensated and rehabilitated to restore their livelihood and health. It also demanded that OIL should be held accountable for social impacts and irreparable loss of biodiversity. “An investigation should be pursued to prosecute responsible officials of Oil companies involved. The Government should refrain from pursuing unsustainable extractive industries, like oil exploration without recognizing community rights and without taking their consent.”