Step into the office of the Class 1 Contractors’ Association in Aizawl and you wonder if any civil construction happens in Mizoram at all.Tucked away on the ground floor of an unremarkable building behind the excise office, the office is decidedly laidback. Next to an unattended reception desk, two women roll a large number of Vaihlos, the local cigarettes. Further inside, four men each sit around four tables, playing cards – dus patta.
Their languor is surprising, the first in a series of questions.Mizoram is witnessing a large road building programme. There are bigger roads coming up linking Mizoram to neighbouring Myanmar and Bangladesh and smaller roads connecting towns and villages to the existing grid of highways. Most of these contracts are awarded by the state Public Works Department. Class 1 contractors, allowed to bid for projects of any size, should ordinarily be bagging some of the bigger jobs and all the smaller ones.
That they are playing dus patta instead confirms what is often heard in Mizoram, from PWD officials, businessmen, contractors and politicians – that most road contracts here go not to local contractors but to a handful of companies owned by non-Mizos. These are Silchar-based ABCI Infrastructures, its sister company GP Projects, Kolkata-based Tantia Constructions, and finally Sunshine Overseas, whose registered office is in Delhi.
To know why, read the story. Also, this is the final story from Mizoram under the Scroll #EarToTheGround project. You can see all those reports here.
About 300 years ago, a time when India’s North East was a hive of tribal chiefdoms and tiny kingdoms, Manipur was invaded by Tripura. After a pitched battle, Manipur defeated the invaders. The aggressors were on the run, the Manipuris in pursuit, when a seer reminded Manipur’s ruler King Pamheiba that a sacred Manipuri code forbade attacks on retreating enemies.The king called his troops off. The Tripuris were fed, given new clothes and allowed to go back safely. After that gesture from Pamheiba, ties improved between the two kingdoms, so much so that they started seeing matrimonial alliances.
Cut to the present. There’s another rule of engagement being discussed again in the region.
Last week, as an army convoy was ambushed in Manipur, it became clear that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act – which gives the military near-absolute immunity in areas labelled “disturbed” – has failed to bring peace to the state even after 60 years. It has in fact contributed to the spiral of violence, turning Manipur into one of the most lawless parts of India.
How does the state break out of this deadly pattern? One answer to that can be found in Manipur itself, in understanding the sacred code the seer reminded King Pamheiba of.
also see this earlier story on AFSPA’s imprint on Manipur.
Stacked on a dining table which doubles up as a workdesk in the office of Human Rights Alert lie postcards written by schoolchildren in Manipur and addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and save democracy in India.
For years, Manipur’s people have been appealing and agitating for the removal of the act which grants immunity to military forces operating in parts of India declared as “disturbed” areas. But in the last week of May, the efforts received an unexpected boost when Tripura lifted AFSPA. “We wanted to send 25,000 cards,” said Babloo Loitongbam, the executive director of Human Rights Alert, an Imphal-based organisation, “but the post office did not have enough. We are sending 3,500 in the first batch.”
Unlike Tripura, where the act was put in place in 1997, AFSPA and its colonial precursors have been in force in Manipur since 1950. The colonial Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance of 1942 was first deployed in the state to quell popular unrest when Manipur was merged into India. It became the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act in 1958 which was put in place to help the army crack down on the violent ethnic insurgencies taking root in the state.
Sixty four years under AFSPA and its predecessor have scarred Manipur. Despite the heavy military presence, the state remains one of the most violent parts of India. Over the last decade and a half, several insurgent groups in the state have morphed into extortion rackets. There is an accompanying breakdown in the functioning of the state government. Corruption is high. Not to mention a runaway VIP culture.
My field report from Manipur.