A Critical Lifeline for Manipur Facing Unprecedented Challenges

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As Manipur grapples with the persistent cycle of violence that began in May last year, the repercussions are not confined to human displacement and property loss alone; they extend to the very fabric of Manipur’s economy. The conflict between the Kuki-Zo and the Meiteis has taken a toll on the state’s economic stability, with severe consequences reflected in the staggering retail inflation rate of 11.63 percent in November 2023, surpassing the national average.

The crucial lifelines, National Highways 2 and 37, blocked by Kuki-Zo civil bodies, have led to Manipur residents paying double the price for essential commodities compared to the rest of the country. The nine-month-long cycle of violence has particularly burdened ordinary people, especially those in the unorganized sector, such as manual laborers, street vendors, private transporters, construction workers, artisans, performance artists, agricultural laborers, and small-scale traders.

Economist Elangbam Bijoykumar Singh highlights the pre-existing unemployment challenges in Manipur, where the youth faced a stark 19.7 percent unemployment rate even before the eruption of violence. The ongoing crisis has likely contributed to an increase in this rate, with approximately 60,000 individuals displaced and many losing their jobs. However, Bijoykumar expresses confidence that once the crisis subsides, the inflation rate will naturally decrease, drawing on historical patterns of economic blockades.

The impact of the crisis is acutely felt in rural areas, urging both the populace and the government to rethink strategies for agricultural enhancement. Bijoykumar stresses the importance of adopting scientific methods, encouraging multiple cropping, and supporting proper land use through economic incentives to revitalize the rural economy.

Amidst these challenges, Moreh town emerges as a pivotal economic hub along the Indo-Myanmar border, acknowledged as the gateway to Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recognition of Manipur’s role in advancing the North East as the center of the Act East Policy underscores the significance of this region. Irom Rajendra Singh, an experienced international trader based in Moreh, emphasizes that the town is one of the most important trading hubs in Manipur, sustaining half of the population directly or indirectly.

Moreh, often considered the third lifeline of Manipur, operates predominantly on informal trade practices. Despite the absence of a notion of permanent trade, local traders like Rajendra, with import-export licenses, play a crucial role in sustaining the town’s economic vitality. As Manipur faces unprecedented challenges, the role of Moreh in transforming lives becomes increasingly crucial. The town’s potential to drive economic growth and alleviate the impact of the ongoing crisis cannot be overstated, making it a focal point for recovery and revitalization in the region.

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