What the Hmars gain on the swings, in Tamenglong district, the Zeilangrong Nagas lose on the roundabouts. The area stands to be submerged by the dam, besides being affected culturally. Manipur will lose 293.56 sq km to the reservoir. Much of the support for the dam comes from some leaders in Churachandpur as well as the state government. In Tamenglong, one can count the number of people in favour of the dam, without breaking into a sweat.
The Zeliangrong Nagas are in for substantial damages. With the environmental impact assessment report still not available, the public has to depend on neepco's claims. The report says eight villages will be submerged, even though it says casualties will be minimal. Ninety villages will be affected to some extent but it does not explain how losses can occur if not by submergence. The numbers game is insidious.
neepco says only four Naga villages in Tamenglong will be submerged. It claims that out of the 13 that would have been submerged five are already abandoned. But, for Tamenglong, these are nothing but numbers. The total population of the Zeliangrong people in the district, according to the 2001 census, was 120,000. The Zeliangrong Union has estimated that about 40,000 people will be affected in some way or the other with several villages being inundated and some even losing everything.
The Zeliangrongs, typical of most Nagas in the hills, live primarily by jhum and a bit of settled wet rice cultivation if they manage to find some flat piece of land in the first place. Zeliangrong has a unique system of managing land. They have the equivalent of a chief who owns land and gives people the right to cultivate. But the right to give is often notional because people are able to choose what land they want to cultivate. The villages surveyed showed high degrees of autonomy.
There are three focal points around which the economy of Zeliangrong villages revolve: the jhum crop, settled agriculture and the produce from the lush forests. Kitchen gardens provide food throughout the year. The jhum crop is their tin of rice. Patches of graded land are remembered for their productivity. The terrace fields are more productive. Chemicals are not used in any of these regions, which makes input costs minimal. Villagers, on an average, take out 400 to 500 tins of rice through jhum. Another 150 tins comes from wetland rice. Neilolung Goimei of Tajijang village explains, "We can get vegetables to last us the year around, at times almost 20 different things, at least five or six vegetables,' he says. "The rice we eat here is of the best quality and the most expensive in Manipur. In the district headquarters it's sold at Rs 16-30 per kg. And the price rises considerably in Imphal valley.' The chillies they produce too can be sold at premium rates: Rs 150-500 per kg in Imphal.
Fishing is also lucrative. Some families make as much as Rs 40,000-50,000 annually from selling fish . But most villages are not connected by road. Therefore, they fish mostly for personal consumption. "If I could sell in the district headquarters I could make Rs 150 for a small basket of dried fish and much more for fresh fish,' says a village elder. Even a pack of small snails from a rivulet can be sold for Rs 10 to get supplementary income.
Forests are the other steady provider of cash and food. Along with meat, villagers collect herbs, fruits, tubers, wood, bamboo and timber. "My brother sells cane in Imphal. He buys it from the village and takes it there. A charcoal producing factory buys it in Tamenglong. Each cane sells for Rs 30. Our forests are stocked with cane and bamboo,' says Ramkung Pamei, editor of Dih Cham, a local daily in Tamenglong.
The villagers end up spending almost 70-75 per cent of their money in sending children to the city to study, which is why the poorest district in one of the poorest states of the country has a literacy rate of over 65 per cent. But neepco doesn't recognise this achievement and chooses to refer to the villagers as
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