Village on border rejects Smart City

Holenphai hamlet is claimed by Myanmar

Village on border rejects Smart City

Holenphai is a small, neat and blissful village right on the Indo-Myanmar border, close to the border town of Moreh in Manipur’s Chandel district. 

Situated on a hillock, the village overlooks the Tamu township in Myanmar. This village is troubled by controversy – While Myanmar lays claim on it, India was to transform it into Prime Minister Narendra Modi pet project – Smart City. The local residents first want a deal that settles the standoff with Myanmar and also want to keep the border open as it has been for centuries.

Even people in Manipur’s capital Imphal would not know about this calm village until in August 2013, Myanmar Army ‘intruded’ the village and claimed it to be its territory. Ever since, the border conflict had only escalated and Holenphai remains a disputed village.

Holenphai is one of the youngest village set up in 1992, inhabitant are 82 families from the Kuki tribe. They earn their living through Jhum (shifting cultivation) and trading timber with Myanmar, though it is largely illegal. 

At least two village roads from the Holenphai hillock runs down into the grater Tamu area in Myanmar, the porous border allow easy access of people and goods from both sides.

The Myanmarese Army had tried to erect a permanent post near pillar number 76 on the Indo-Myanmar border on a plot of land that the Holenphai villagers use for farming. They could not build the post after the Assam Rifles intervened but Myanmar Army remains in the area. The Assam Rifles also intensified its patrolling.

“After 2013, they did not cross the border any more but villagers cannot go near the pillar. We are scared of intrusion. We don’t have mobile network. We get very little power supply thus we are almost isolated. Recently we heard in the news about the Bangladesh land deal. We feel that Indo-Myanmar border disputes should be settled with the same priority,” said the village chief Lalkholun Haokip.

The village again made headlines when in may 2015 the Union Cabinet proposed 100 smart city projects, Manipur got two of them — one was Holenphai.

“Holenphai is just next to Moreh town and Myanmar is laying claims on it. Thus, both the Manipur government and Centre thought that if a smart city is made in Hoelnphai it will cater to Moreh town, which is going to be India’s gateway to South East Asia. The project will also give more legitimacy to India’s territorial integrity,” revealed a senior Manipur government official on condition of anonymity.

For the smart city, the state government has to acquire 3000 acres of land and different frontal organisations of the Kuki tribe are vehemently opposing the idea of accruing tribal land. “We cannot part with our land. Our ancestors have taught us to preserve it. If a city comes up, there will be degradation of the green cover in this area, we will loose our traditional livelihood because we will be left with no land to farm. Outsider will try to come an settle in our area, we will have cultural threats and above all our timber trade with Myanmarese will be hit,” said Jankhopao Haokip (71).

“We are far away from Imphal. Fencing would increase our isolation. We want to be part of India since we are Indian. This village cannot be given to Myanmar. But we want to trade with them since this is a new village, we get cheap raw material to build it,” Haokip added.

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