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Manipur: going, going, nearly gone

Every single citizen of Manipur pays “taxes” to the Underground militants directly or indirectly. Neelesh Misra tells more.
Hindustan Times | By Neelesh Misra, Imphal
UPDATED ON JUL 10, 2007 07:30 PM IST

It is a verdict one hears from living rooms to roadside shops to government offices in Imphal: Manipur is fast becoming India’s first “failed” state, and New Delhi seems willing to do little about it.

Every single citizen of Manipur pays “taxes” to the Underground militants directly or indirectly. Government contracts, officials say, are given out by local administrators only after the approval of the militants. And citizens take their grievances to the rebels, not the police or courts.

Far away from national attention, the state is collapsing amid India’s worst crisis of governance, with two dozen militant groups practically running the state and little political will apparent to tackle them.

The state is the site of India’s most complex insurgency, with militants from several ethnic groups Meiteis in the valley and Nagas and Kukis in the hills – fighting each other, as well as Indian control.

“Those who want to speak out against the Underground, the government is not there to protect them. There is no government, in fact,” said a businessman who was abducted by militants and released for a Rs 3 lakh ransom. “All government appointments go to the Underground, and their families. Manipur is a completely failed state.”

Corruption limits the farcical. City pavements – and even sewage drains – have been sold to individuals including the families of police officials and local judges, who constructed homes over them, a top official said on condition of anonymity.

For two and a half years, until recently, thousands of employees did not get salaries. Until this year, the government assumed 80,000 people work for it, but it turned out to be 61,000. Thousands of people were “fake appointments” – drawing salaries with the connivance of superiors without being government employees.

In the education department alone, 17,000 people had been drawing salaries – but only 12,000 were actual employees, the official said. Five thousand people drawing pensions were long dead.

State Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh declined to meet HT for this story. But authorities otherwise blame almost all government sloth on the militancy.

“You hear politicians blaming the insurgency for everything. This is a leaking bucket, but you have a number of leaks and all are blamed on the original leak,” said Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of the Imphal Free Press newspaper.

Of every rupee spent by the state government, 90 paise are subsidised by New Delhi. And yet, as an HT investigation showed, no money was spent at all for many development schemes, in most areas of the state.

“We are getting the funds, though there are question marks over the utilisation,” Shivinder Singh Sidhu, the state governor who joined in 2004, told the private NE TV channel. “I am given to understand that in my predecessor’s time, even the governor did not get his salary for months … I am getting it now.”

Militant groups openly issue press releases naming its office-holders who government officials have to deal with.

Almost all industries have shut down. The government is practically the only major employer. If government officials are posted outside the Imphal Valley, they just do not go to work.

Government teachers are more innovative: they pay up to Rs 1,000 for “proxy teachers” to teach in their place. Graduates and post-graduates ply cycle-rickshaws on the streets of Imphal, their faces masked out of shame.

There are more than 6,00,000 educated unemployed people in the state – more than a quarter of the entire population. Many join the Underground.

The citizens of Imphal, the state capital, have not got piped water in their taps for as long as they can remember. They buy it from tankers.
When government employees in Manipur get their salaries, their pay check has two tax deductions: one for the government, and another, up to 10 per cent, for the rebels.

Government contractors pay them up to 15 per cent. Rebel approval is needed to build schools or roads with taxpayers’ money. Perhaps that is perhaps why many contracts were given out without competitive bidding, as the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India found. It is not even certain if work was done at all.

“In most of the cases checked it was seen that cheques were merely given to the beneficiary committees for executing the works,” the CAG said. “In the absence of any documentation it was difficult … to ascertain if in fact any work had been executed at all.”

(With inputs from Sobhapati Samom in Imphal)

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