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Forest & Future of Manipur Tribals[*]

Written by  Dr. R. Sanga Published inR-Sanga Sunday, 28 May 2017 22:02

~ Dr. R. Sanga




Forests are among the most important repositories of terrestrial biological diversity. Together, tropical, temperate and boreal forests offer very diverse habitats for plants, animals and micro-organisms. Blessed with an amazing variety of flora and fauna, 67% of the geographical area of Manipur is hill tract covered forests. Depending on the altitude of hill ranges, the climatic condition varies from tropical to sub-alpine. The wet forests and the pine forests occur between 900-2700 m above MSL and they together sustain a host of rare and endemic plant and animal life. Coveted the world over as some of the most beautiful and precious blooms, orchids have an aura of exotic, mysteries about them.


In Manipur, they are abound in their natural habitat growing in soil or on trees and shrubs speaking their beauty and colour, stunning the eye that is not used to seeing them in such profusion. There are 500 varieties of orchids which grow in Manipur of which 472 have been identified.


Biological diversity is the basis for a wide array of goods and services provided by forests. The variety of forest trees and shrubs play a vital role in the daily life of rural communities in many areas, as sources of wood and non-wood products, as contributors to soil and water conservation, and as repositories of aesthetic, ethical, cultural and religious values. Forest animals are a vital source of nutrition and income to many people, and have vital roles in forest ecology, such as pollination, seed predation, dispersal and germination, and predation on potential pest species. Forest biological diversity is one of the seven thematic elements of the concept of Sustainable Forest Management approved by the General Assembly of the UN in 2007, together with the Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests.


Losing forest diversity means missing opportunities for medicines, food, raw materials and employment opportunities, in one word: welfare.


The hill areas of Manipur surrounding the valley are the home of different ethnic groups, viz., Nagas and the Kuki-Chin group or the Zo People, categorized as Schedule Tribes in the constitution of India and the indigenous people as per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Ethnographers and anthropologists have attempted to differentiate the Nagas and the Zo people by the land holding system they practiced. Though the Nagas in Manipur are somehow similar to one another, when it comes to the whole of Nagas there are variants of land holding systems among them. Unlike the Nagas, the Zo peoples are rather homogeneous in terms of their land holding system, which is in a way intertwine with the hereditary chieftainship and the sole  ownership of land is with the chief of the village and Village Authority.


The tribal people of Manipur, from time immemorial, have been under the leadership of their Chiefs and his council. They are the custodians of tribal culture, customs and traditions. In Manipur State the tribal people are protected through the Chiefs against total and absolute exploitation and suppression from external aggression and domination especially in the matter of land holding system. The tribal Chiefs of Manipur hold title and ownership over the village land under their jurisdiction, and share it with the villagers. Thus sustainable tribal economy evolves out of this practice. Bertram S.C and Truck H. N in The Chin Hills (reprinted in 1976): p 3 wrote:


“The government of the Naga tribes is distinctly democratic. Their chieftainships do not necessarily pass from father to son, but are practically dependent on the will of the tribesmen, and the Naga Chiefs are therefore without much individual power and their rule is based on the general approval of the clan. The Kuki chiefs, on the other hand, invariably inherit their position by the right of birth and take the initiative in all matters concerning the administration of their clansmen, by whom they are respected and feared. Of course, even among Kukis, it sometimes happens that a Chief fails to govern his clan with a firm hand or is so overbearing that he is deserted by his people, who fly to another village and to the protection of a more lenient ruler.  The braves of a tribe, too, will not always forsake the excitement of the war-path at the command of a peace-loving Chief. It is true that the elders of the village, called “Vaihawmte in the north and “Boite” in the south and by the Lushai officers, “Kharabari and Mantri,” surround the person of the Chief, but although they will discuss questions together, they have no power to over-rule the decision of the Chief himself. . . .”


The Manipur Forest Rules, 1971


In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 26, 32, 51 and 76 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 (XVI of 1972) the Lt. Governor (Administration), Manipur made Rules and issued Notification No. 56/27/70-For Secretariat: Forest Department on the 10th day of September, 1971 for the management and administration of Forests in Manipur namely, “The Manipur Forest Rules, 1971.”


There was no policy on forests. The commercial extraction of forest produce started only after 1889 through the DFO Cachar on 75:25 revenue sharing bases between the State of Manipur and the Cachar Forest Division, under the agreement with the Assam Government. However, prior to British rule in India (1891) there was no system of forest management in the State. The population of the State was very low and hence whatever extraction had taken place was below the annual increment in the forest produce. The value of the produce could not be appreciated for lack of market and communication.


During the early period of British rule, no separate forest officer was appointed. In the year 1931, the Forest Department was set up with a separate forest member in the erstwhile Manipur State Darbar. There was considerable improvement in the management of forests with a brief forest policy highlighted under the Darbar Resolution No. 10-A (1932) which envisaged the following types of forests:


The first forest officer involved in the management of forests in the state was Mr. D.C. Kaith, an officer from Himachal Pradesh taken on deputation in the year 1932. His assignment was to write about the forests of Manipur specially the Jiri Barak drainage forests which at present covers the Western, Southern, Jiribam and a portion of the Tengnoupal Forest Divisions. He divided these areas into nineteen timber blocks for proper management and extraction. Mr. Kaith’s report was very comprehensive and is taken as the Foundation of forestry in Manipur. In spite of the tribal Chiefs being the lord of the forest/soil within their respective village territory; they were not consulted in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them. It is a violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Article 19 for which India is also one of the Independent States who has ratified this Declaration in the year 2007.


Status of Forest in Manipur  

Table 01: Forest Classification in Manipur

By legal classification

Area in sq. km.

P.C. to Total Forest Area

Reserved Forest



Protected Forest



Other Forest







Table 02: Land-Use Classification

Geographical Area

  Area (In sq. km.)

P.C. to State

Forest including pasture and barren



Agriculture land



Crop land



Urban sites



Current Jhum







Wildlife Protected Areas in Manipur

Table 03: In-Situ Conservation Sites:

Sl. No

Name of Conservation Site

Location (District)

Area in Sq.Km.


Keibul Lamjao National Park

Keibul Lamjao, Bishnupur Dist.



Yangoupokpi Lokchao
Wildlife Sanctuary

(Chandel District)



Shirui Hill National Park

Ukhrul (Ukhrul District)




Kailam Wildlife Sanctuary

Kailam (CCPur District)



Jiri Makru Wildlife Sanctuary

Tamenglong District



Bunning Wildlife Sanctuary

Tamenglong District



Zeliad Wildlife Sanctuary





Table 04: Ex-situ Conservation Sites

Sl. No

Name of Conservation Site

Location (District)

Area in Sq.Km.


Manipur Zoological Garden

Iroisemba, Imphal West



2nd Home SANGAI

Iroisemba, Imphal West



Orchid Preservation Centre

Khonghampat, Imphal West



Future of Manipur Tribals


Indigenous Tribal Peoples’ future in the present State of Manipur wholly depends on the people themselves. The Indigenous Tribal Peoples of Manipur should realize the value of unity wherein it lies their full strength and absolute powers as it is well known that divided we fall. Why we are unable to unite at this juncture? In spite of experiencing such all odds of discriminations the tribal peoples are still continuing hatred and divided amongst themselves instead of united together with each other due to the works of selfish motives on the line of ethnic groups’ interest driven by covert evil forces. It is imperative to forge our future together by setting common goals based on common interests and the threat perception we have shared.


It is pertinent to note that the National Commission to Review the working of the Constitution (under the Chairmanship of Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, Former Chief Justice of India) in its report dated 31-3-2002 has recommended that the provisions of Sixth Schedule should be extended to the Hill Districts of the State of Manipur. In spite of the Manipur Cabinet Ministers unanimously adopted resolutions three times in a different occasions saying that the Sixth Schedule provisions maybe extended “with certain local adjustment and amendment” within the existing Autonomous District Councils of Manipur. However, no action has been taken up yet; instead, these resolutions are surprisingly kept in abeyance till date, for reasons better known by the State Government of Manipur.


Manipur was a princely State that merged with the Indian Union in 1949 after some initial reluctance on the part of the then Maharaja. A peculiar feature of the State is that out of its total geographical area only 10% is in the valleys, which is home to around 65% of the total populations (overwhelmingly non-tribal) while the hill areas are inhabited by various tribal communities belonging to Naga, and Zo Indigenous Peoples (Chin-Kuki-Mizo). The outbreak of insurgency in the Naga Hills in the 1950s affected Naga inhabited Northern, Eastern and Western Hills of the State too. Similarly, eruption of violence in Mizo Hills in the 1960s caused disturbances in the Southern hills dominated by kindred tribes. The Valley inhabited largely by the Meitei community, too, has been the scene of insurgency caused by local armed groups from the 1970s.


“Integrity” of the State has been a major issue as there is a demand from certain Naga groups for merger of areas dominated by them in the Greater Nagaland. The Kuki underground group (KNO) demanded a full-fledged State and at the same time, the Zomi, Hmar and Kuki group under the umbrella of United People’s Front (UPF) has demanded Autonomous Hill State within the State of Manipur under Art. 244A of the Constitution of India while maintaining territorial integrity of Manipur. In short, the State has remained in the midst of conflict and violence for long.

Article 371C (1) of the Constitution makes some special provisions for safeguarding the interests of tribal minorities of the State, which reads as under:- 


“Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the President may, by order made with respect to the State of Manipur, provide for the constitution and functions of a committee of the Legislative Assembly of the State consisting of members of that Assembly elected from the Hill Areas of that State, for the modifications to be made in the rules of business of the Government and in the rules of procedure of the Legislative Assembly of the State and for any special responsibility of the Governor in order to secure the proper functioning of such committee.”


The Parliament of India should have referred to the unimplemented Standstill Agreement signed between Union India and the then Maharajah of Manipur, when the Constitution of India was amended for making some special provisions under Article 371C to safeguard the interests of the tribal minority groups of the State, as it was already agreed upon by the then Maharajah to federate on terms which covered the exclusion of the Hills from his direct control (Reid, 1997 [1942]: 95). However, special powers have been vested with the Governor relating to the hill matters, albeit, a separate administrative unit is not there; but the Hill Areas Committee is being empowered with budget and plan provisions for safeguarding the interests of the tribal minorities of the State of Manipur by the President of India in the Hill Areas Committee Order, Notification issued on the 20th June, 1972.


In terms of Regulations framed under this provision, members of the State legislature elected from the hill areas have been given powers to deliberate on legislative proposals concerning matters affecting land, water, forests and tribal customs in such areas- subjects which essentially form part of Paragraph 3 of the Sixth Schedule. In spite of specific power vested in the Hill Areas Committee Order, 1972 – the Committee is not properly functioning for discharging its duties and responsibilities as it should be in the interests of the indigenous tribal peoples of Manipur that pertaining to the HAC Order promulgated by the then President of India, Shri. V.V. Giri. Here lie the whole future fates and prospects of Manipur Tribals.


The Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reforms Act, 1960 is extended to the whole of Manipur except the hill areas but the   provisions of the Act had been applied in as many as 1167 villages in four hill districts. Law Research Institute, Guwahati High Court observed many problems created by the extension of the Act to the selected hill villages. Das. J.N (Cf.1989:144) states thus:


“The extension of MLR & LR Act, 1960 to the village inhabited by the Kuki tribes has created many problems beside that of annual pattadars….but the customs relating to the land system of these villages are different… The villagers were his tenants, and they used to pay regular rents in kind besides other presents…. Without abolishing the ownership rights of the Chiefs, how could these be brought directly into contact with State Government? Yet, this was done, -wrongly in our view . . . .”


The introduction of the MLR & LR Act in the midst of oppositions from the Chiefs and the public is natural for those who understand and comprehend the possible complications. It appears that any amount of persuasion of the hill people by the valley people to directly amend the land system of the hill areas and introduction of the MLR & LR Act of 1960 is the hill areas with a bait of making the hill plots mortgage-able commodity for securing bank loans is an erroneous approach. The Gauhati High Court Research Institute found that the land systems prevailing in the hill are different from those prevailing in Manipur valley and observes as:


“The MLR & LR Act, 1960 is better suited to the villages of Manipur Valley than those of the hill districts. Even its well-meant provisions may create unforeseen complicacies, as have been seen in the few villages where it has been already extended. Different systems of inheritance and different methods of cultivation are followed among the different tribes and these have a direct bearing on the  prevalent land-system, Right over land everywhere are acquired either by clearing jungles or by inheritance or by transfer. Difference in these three methods creates differences in the land-system, too.”


Where Do We Stand Now?


Today we are in a new world which respects only strength. A nation is made “great” by its own people, - people from its own soil. We are now living in the world of extortion, overwhelmed by frequent economic blockades, insurgency problems, and general strikes called by various organizations demanding one’s own political aspiration whether the demands are genuine or not are not at all cared for within the purview of the Constitution of India in Manipur State. Ahead of us is the uphill task; but under any circumstances we, as the tribal people, cannot compromise the historical necessity for acting on a carefully designed blue-print and roadmap of strategic departure to establish a new social and political order in the hill areas of Manipur. Overt and covert attempts have been made many times by the Government of Manipur to extend the MLR & LR Act, 1960 to the whole of hill areas of Manipur trying to dominate and control the entire Hill Areas of Manipur inhabited by various hill tribes. Such kinds of attempts are unjustifiable and intolerable because it against the fundamental rights of the tribal people as a whole according to the Constitution of India. Secondly, the 3 Anti-tribal Bills passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly on the 31st August, 2015 was one of the most serious attempts to oppress and subjugate the indigenous tribal peoples of Manipur, which was overtly experienced by all sections of the hill tribes. Under Section 158 the Special provisions regarding Scheduled Tribes are inserted in the Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reforms Act, 1960 as follows:


No transfer of land by a person who is a member of the Scheduled Tribes shall be valid unless:

(a) the transfer is to another member of the Scheduled Tribes; or

(b) where the transfer is to a person who is not a member of any such tribe, it is made with the previous permission in writing of the deputy commissioner; or

(c) the transfer is by way of mortgage to a co-operative society.


Concluding Suggestions:


There is only one land holding system in the entire State of Manipur so far whereas in Assam there are about three land holding systems. The Hill Areas Committee (HAC) is responsible for initiating to framing of Rules and Regulations for land holding system to be implemented in the hill areas of Manipur in the interests of indigenous tribal peoples in accordance with the provisions given under the Second Schedule of the Hill Areas Committee Order, 1972 since the MLR & LR Act, 1960 is purely meant for the valley people. After lapses of even more than 44 years the HAC is not properly or fully functional till date.  


Across India’s forest areas, people are fighting for democracy, livelihood and dignity. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, is one instrument in that struggle. The Manipur Forest Rules, 1971 may sincerely be checked by the tribal people’s representative and these rules should not be contradicted to the customary laws and traditional practices of indigenous tribal ancestral land holding system under the chieftainship institution in the State of Manipur.


The long cherish political aspirations of the indigenous tribal peoples of Manipur may be addressed within the frame-work of the Constitution of India by both the Central and State Governments in order to protect the territorial integrity of the State of Manipur. Due protection of tribal lands by extending the provisions enshrined in the Constitution of India under the Sixth Schedule be given top priority by State and Central politicians before it is too late so as all the inhabitants of Manipur be peacefully and harmoniously living together within the State of Manipur without having any reservation in mind.         




Das, J.N. 1989. A Study of the Land System of Manipur, Gauhati: Law Institute Eastern Region, Gauhati High   Court, Gauhati: Edited by P.M. Bakshi ... Published: Bombay: N.M. Tripathi.

The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960(No. 33 of 1960)

Govt. of Manipur. 2013. Rules of Procedure and Conduction of Business in Manipur Legislative, Imphal: Assembly Secretariat [Ninth Edition].

Govt. of Manipur, Forest Dept., Statistical Booklet of Manipur Forest 2008 – 2009, Imphal: Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, on the 25th March 2009.

Kamkhenthang, H., “State Land Resource Management,” Paper presented on A Two-day workshop on state land resource management organized by Revenue Department, Government of Manipur On the 25th and 26th August 2007

Reid, Robert .1997 [1942]. History of the Frontier Areas Bordering on Assam from 1883–1941. Delhi: Spectrum

Sanga, R. ‘Rights of Tribals on Land, Forest and Natural Resources’, Paper presented on One Day Seminar On Suppression And Exploitation of Tribals and Social Divide In Manipur at Hotel Imphal, Banquet Hall, Organized by the Tribal Youth Council, Manipur, May 11, 2013.      

[*] One Day Seminar On Tribal Rights & Forest Organized by The Tribal Youth Council Manipur (TYCM) at Tribal Research Institute Hall, Chingmeirong, Imphal on the 27th day of May, 2017.


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