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93-day Manipur economic blockade partially off

Last updated on: November 1, 2011 11:22 IST

93-day Manipur economic blockade partially off

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One of the two outfits behind the crippling 93-day economic blockade on two national highways in Manipur lifted it on Tuesday after the state government's assurance to it that district status will be accorded to Sadar Hills.

Official sources said on Tuesday that the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee, which had launched economic blockade on two national highways -- Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati (NH 39) and Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar (NH53) -- to press their demand for conversion of Kuki-majority Sadar Hills area in Naga-majority Senapati district called off the economic blockade after talks with the government.

Source: PTI; Agencies

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Image: Manipur.

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However, the blockade by the United Naga Council on the two highways opposing the demand of the SHDC was still continuing, sources said.

Representatives of the SHDDC and the government held discussions over the issue last night, the sources said adding the government had agreed to grant district status to Sadar hills area after receiving the report of the District Reorganisation Committee headed by Chief Secretary D S Poonia.

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Image: Vehicles lie damaged after an ethnic clash in Manipur.

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93-day Manipur economic blockade partially off

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Sources said the committee would study the boundaries of all the districts in the state before taking any decision on Sadar Hills issue.

Reports from Senapati district said civil organisations have appealed to the UNC to call off the economic blockade since the SHDDC lifted the economic blockade but there was so far no response from the UNC.

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Image: A Manipuri girl breaks down while describing her plight.

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The Sadar Hills District Demand Committee launched the economic blockade on Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati National Highway and the Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar since August 1 demanding conversion of the Kuki-majority Sadar hills area in Naga-majority Senapati district into a full-fledged district.

Senapati district happens to be inhabited largely by different communities of the Kukis, the Nepalis, and the Nagas.
Within the district, Sadar Hills is dominated demographically by the Kukis.

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Image: Indian Parliament.
Photographs: Reuters
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93-day Manipur economic blockade partially off

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On the other hand, United Naga Committee, opposing the Kukis' demand for granting district status to Sadar Hills, launched a counter-economic blockade on the same two national highways on August 21.

UNC was against the Kukis' demand as they felt it would frustrate the UNC's ultimate goal for a Naga homeland or a Nagalim.

On Monday, Home Minister P Chidambaram had appealed for withdrawal of the blockade.

"My appeal to all groups, especially the Kuki groups and other groups agitating for a separate district to be curved out of Jiribam, that they should suspend their agitation and allow the District Reorganisation Commission to look into the matter and give its report," Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi on Monday.

Manipur's Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh had appointed the DRC and had requested both Kukis, and the Meiti groups that they should wait for the DRC's report.

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Image: P Chidambaram.
Photographs: Reuters
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93-day Manipur economic blockade partially off

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The blockade had thrown life out of gear in this northeastern state.

The efforts to ferry in supplies from outside the state by security forces were being disturbed by volunteers picketting on the national highways.

This spelt terrible suffering for a population of 27 lakh (2.7 million) in the state which is spread over 22,327 square kilometres.

The Cabinet met seven times on the issue of Sadar Hills in the past two months, but could not take a decision fearing an ethnic clash between Nagas and Kukis.

Over 1,000 people were killed in the early 1990s in Kuki-Naga clashes in hill districts because the Nagas wanted to drive out Kukis from Naga-settled areas.

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93-day Manipur economic blockade partially off

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Prior to the blockades, over 300 trucks brought in essential supplies one or twice a week on the two national highways with security escort.

According to sources from Manipur, the prices of local commodities like rice and cereals have gone up so much so that local people are surviving on hunting.

An LPG cylinder is costing Rs 2000 to Rs 2,500; petrol is selling at Rs 120 per litre.

Power supply is non existent.

In hill districts like Ukhrul, the price of a kilogram of rice is Rs 70 to Rs 100, which many cannot afford.

LPG is not available in the hill areas and people are depending on a precarious supply of wood to survive.

Potatoes and Onions cost Rs 80 to Rs 90 per kilogram.

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The economic blockade of national highways in Manipur has been a frequent practice in recent years.

It has become a new means of protest for the hill tribes of the state.

Geographically, 90 per cent of the state area is hilly and contains 35.45 per cent of the tribal population.

These encircle the valley which contains 64.55 per cent of the state's total population. Such blockades have greatly affected the people of the valley, primarily the Meities, as well as other settlers (including non-Manipuri businessmen), and has created hatred and distrust against the tribes.

Manipur is connected with three national highways -- NH-2, NH-202 and NH-37.

Besides these, NH-102 extends from Imphal to Moreh (an Indo-Myanmar border town) which is a part of the Asian Highway and linked to Bangkok through Myanmar.

Successive blockades have created shortages of basic commodities like medicines, oil, cooking gas in the state for years.

Now, the government needs to take steps to put an end to the UNC stir as well.


Image: A blocked national highway of Manipur.

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