under act east policy, manipur focuses on development to fight insurgency challenges

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Manipur will become the centre of the Act East policy, Army chief General Bipin Rawat told a group of journalists who visited the state recently

LEIMAKHONG: Manipur is now focusing on development and hoping that projects including under the central government’s ‘Act East’ policy, which aims at improving relations with the country’s eastern neighbours, will help combat some of the persistent challenges in the state which has been battling inadequate amenities, drug abuse and a decades-long insurgency.

Manipur will become the centre of the Act East policy, Army chief General Bipin Rawat told a group of journalists who visited the state recently.

“The Asian Highway 1will link India to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) through Manipur,” he said.

The proposed highway will connect India to Myanmar and Thailand through Manipur, and is expected to boost trade and commerce in the region.

Welcoming the initiative, Chief Minister N Biren Singh said, “The insurgency will not affect the highway because people want development and the insurgents will not go against the people’s will.”

Meanwhile, the Manipur government is trying to reach out to the remotest corners to provide basic facilities to people across the state. It has started the ‘Go to Village’ scheme, under which officials visit all villages and keep tabs on the progress made by them.

Lack of drinking water and poor connectivity are among the biggest problems facing people in many villages. “My village can only be reached by foot. The nearest motorable road is 20 km away,” said 45-year-old MM Kutarfa, chief of Moithel village.

Moreover, the state has not been completely rid of insurgency. As locals have little choice but to put up with insurgents without complaint, and even to help them if they belong to the same community, security forces find it difficult to conduct checks in villages as they face protests from residents. The army, however, is doing its bit to wean children and youth away from insurgency by paying for some of their education and training them for military recruitment.

Some people said there was perceptible change in the state. “In the past, there would be regular firing between security forces and insurgents. I remember hiding under my bed when it would happen.... AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) is a bad thing,” said a woman who did not want to be identified. “But now the security forces have confined operational spaces, which is good for us.”

The army blamed insurgency for the lack of development in the state while reiterating that AFSPA is a “prerequisite” for operations and that soldiers are “sensitive” about human rights.

The woman cited earlier claimed that extortion still happened in some parts of the state. “A few months ago, insurgents extorted Rs 3 lakh from my uncle, a bank manager. We didn’t report it because our life would be in danger... no one supports insurgency but we put up with it out of fear,” she said.

The Manipur CM admitted to the extortion problem. “Many insurgents are under suspension of operations (SOO). They sometimes sneak out of their camps and do these things. When the SOO is settled then extortion won’t happen,” he said.

The army is also trying to prevent “tax collection”, a form of extortion, by the insurgent groups, said officials.

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