In Conversation with Lok Sabha MP (Inner Manipur constituency) Rajkumar Ranjan Singh who is battling for land reforms in the country
Rajkumar Ranjan Singh is an Indian politician and member of the 17th Lok Sabha, representing Inner Manipur constituency, Manipur. An academic at heart who holds a Doctororate in Philosophy from Gauhati University awarded to him in the year 1982, Dr. Rajkumar Ranjan Singh retired from government service as Director of the College Development Council, Manipur University.
A climate change activist who has been spearheading the need for conservation of the environment since the 1970s, even before the landmark Stockholm conference took place, Dr. Singh is currently a member of a parliamentary committee set up to deliberate on climate change. He is also an ardent supporter of land reform movement and believes that a land re-classification exercise is the need of the hour in the State.
A politician who has always kept the duties of his land above his own personal life, Dr. Singh lives with his wife, Ch Debala Devi, and two sons. His only daughter Diana Rajkumari, who was very close to him, passed away rather unfortunately on July 30 last. It may be prudent to know that his daughter used to handle his campaign for him during the last Lok Sabha elections when he contested from the Inner Manipur Lok Sabha seat. Her absence when he won the elections this year has been greatly felt by this leader and his wife, but instead of grieving about their loss in the public sphere, this charismatic politician has been continuing to discharge his public duties with the required degree of graceful conduct.
In a recent discussion with mélange, Dr. Rajkumar Ranjan Singh talks about his journey so far. Following are excerpts.
- Please tell us about your childhood and growing up days.
Ans: I was born to RK Nilamani Singh and RK Aehonbi Sija as the eldest of eight siblings in a locality called Kongba Nandeibom Leikai, which is currently in Imphal East district. My father was a tailor master and he used to earn about Rs 80 per month in a district hospital of Imphal. He later shifted to Regional Medical College of Imphal as a tailor master and with the meager amount he earned, he and my mother used to provide for all the educational and living expenses of my brother and six sisters! We had a big family and my father and mother really worked hard to provide for all of us. My brother, who was more meritorious than me, was attached to the Fishery department of Manipur but has now retired from government service.
I was brought up by my aunty throughout my school and college days. I was not so conscious but I remember that my aunty took a lot of pains in bringing me up. I now remember that she had a table clock made in Japan by which she would monitor by activities and I was debarred from venturing out with my friends for local festivals. However, today in retrospect, I am very thankful for her upbringing.
- Sir, we heard you are a descendent of the royal family of Manipur?
Ans: Yes, I belong to the RK (Rajkumar) family and a distant descendent of Maharajkumar. I am a descendent of the last dynasty of the Royal family of Manipur before it merged with the Indian Union. We have two major lineals in the ruling group – Narsingh and Karta – although both belong to the same forefathers. The Narsing group ruled for the longest duration in the State while the Karta group is popular for ushering in the cultural renaissance of Manipur, like establishment of classical dance forms and assimilation of our culture with Aryan civilization.
- What were your interests as a child?
Ans: In those days we did not use to receive a lot of proper guidance like children receive nowadays. As a child, I wanted to be a civil administrator. There was some kind of local selection by the government for IAS coaching and although I was selected, nothing materialized as the selection process fizzled out. So I continued my education in the general stream. I was also an Under Officer in the NCC and was also selected to go for regular Indian Army training in Bomdila just after the Indo-China aggression. However, I was debarred from going to that side of the country by my parents!
- Please tell us about your educational life.
Ans: I was educated in local schools throughout my schooling days – right from Lower Primary to High School. I completed my graduation from DM College – which was a premier college of Imphal in those days. Although I wanted to take up Geography as my honours subject, I could not get admission in the Honours seat and had to take up Political Science as my honours subject. So I had to come to Guwahati to complete my MA in Geography in the year 1971-72.
We were so well taught by the professors of Gauhati University and I am really thankful to them for whatever they taught me. One of most efficient professors was Prof. M Taher and I continued my research work under him on the topic, 'Problems of Land Use in Manipur Valley'. Later on, the Department of Geography of Gauhati University invited me to speak in the 3rd Memorial Lecture of Prof. M Taher in the university. Such has been my relationship with Gauhati University!
- You are a strong advocate of land reforms in the country….
Ans: During the course of my field research work on the subject 'Problems of Land Use in Manipur Valley', I was astonished to find that all the sampled households in the rural areas were cultivators but they did not own a single piece of land! All the peasants were landless and were in reality, tenants on the agricultural land in which they have been settled for generations!
I later found out that in the year 1960, there was the first land revenue survey of the State. After the survey was over, the peasants demarcated their land based on ancestral occupation. But when the time came for them to pay the premium to the government, they were in a quandary as they did not have a single rupee with them. In those days, there was a scarcity of coins as agricultural produce was abundant for their livelihood. So they were faced with the prospect of losing all their land. In desperation, they immediately rushed to the businessmen in Imphal and requested them to pay the premium amount for their paddy fields, making them the legal owners, and to show them as tenants on that land. Like that, all the paddy fields of the rural areas of Manipur came under the possession of non-agriculturists.
I always wanted to find out how we can undertake a land reform exercise in our country. I remember one of our professors in Gauhati University advocating that non-agriculturists should not own arable land in India. Over course of time, however, I realized that it is not possible in a democracy like India where we have a lot of fundamental rights, and as a result of which, these problems of land-holding structure still loom over our heads. After our Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, he has been announcing and implementing many schemes for the welfare of the peasants, like Fasal Bima Yojna, Crop insurance, etc.
But there is a problem here. Whenever there is any natural calamity like drought and flood, the government officials ask the peasants to submit their land pattas. And since the peasants are tenants on that land, whatever compensation is announced by the government goes directly into the hands of the non-agriculturists owner. Such cases of grievances are also being recorded.
- So do you feel that land reforms are very crucial in India?
Ans: These reforms are very important because the number of homestead landless people is also increasing. In urban and peripheral areas, the number of arable land is being fragmented into small pieces after being handed down over the generations because of the hereditary system. As a result of which the fragmented pieces of land are not big enough to construct a single room house. On the other hand, all the foothill areas are lying unused. So I feel that a new land reform exercise should be undertaken in the country keeping in mind the principles of 'Right to Environment' or 'Right to Life' and 'Right to Homestead Land'. Prior to that, we should have a detailed land use survey. Of course, the present government is using a soil health card. Every district and sub-division has to issue a soil health card to all the arable land holders. We can undertake a land classification exercise on that basis or also use modern technology like remote sensing satellite imagery to help us undertake such an exercise.
I also feel that a proper procedure of planning should be followed while implementing government schemes. Let's say, for instance, the Centre announces a scheme for expansion of airports of the country. So there are instances when the airport authorities of a particular town or area, without any deep consideration of the issue, embarks on the expansion of the airport just to utilize the funds of the scheme. In many case, these kinds of activities are not taken on the basis of 'need for expansion' but just because "they have to use the funds". Even in this case, most of the land near the existing airport which is procured by the government for expansion is owned by non-agriculturists and not peasants. So the non-agriculturists are happy with this expansion move as they get the compensation while the peasants are debarred from their occupation.
- You have been an ardent activist for a greener environment.
Ans: I have been an environment activist since 1971 and have been trying to make people of Manipur and Northeast, through different organizations like 'Rhino Foundation' and others, aware about the need for conservation of the environment. I think the Stockholm Declaration was made in 1972 and by 1975, we had started celebrating World Environment Day in the region. We were extremely influenced by an Australian journal 'Plain Truth' and the issues of environmental pollution highlighted in that journal were really thought-provoking. I still don't know how that journal reached my hands but in case, it left an inedible impression on my mind. So along with likeminded friends, we embarked on a series of awareness programs for maintaining the water-cycle, environment conservation, to stop environmental pollution, problems of land use, etc.
However, climate change is not a localized phenomena and is a result of worldwide global human interventions. Cherapunjee was once famous for being the wettest place in the world but now it no longer holds that position. Similar destruction is going on in Kaziranga, Brahmaputra, Deepor Beel, Loktak lake and other rich eco-systems.
- In the face of such rampant global climate change and global warming, what should be the way forward in the Northeast?
Ans: It is a muti-faceted problem which demands equal attention from all stakeholders. Corruption has to stop. Right from 1971 or 1973, when Loktak lake was declared a Ramsar Convention site, the Central government and various international funding agencies have sanctioned almost 86,899 crores for the lake! Compared to that amount, our annual plan budget is only 16,000 crores! While there has been no tangible result in the conservation of the lake, the situation of the lake has rather worsened over the years!
- You were also associated with the Manipur University…
Ans: The Manipur University came up in 1980 and by 1984, I joined as Assistant Professor in the Dept of Earth-Sciences. By 1985, the University wanted to appoint a Deputy Registrar. I was appointed for that post but after three months, I realized that I was not suited for that job. However, when I wanted to go back to my teaching job, the VC would not let me go and forced me to go to IIM- Bangalore for a three months long training in Educational administration. After that, he sent me to Chandigarh for training in man management. Then I was assigned to control the university vehicles. So it continued in that fashion till a long time.
- Please tell us about your family.
Ans: I am married to Ch Debala Devi, my classmate from college and my best friend and wife. We got married in June, 1984. She is an educationist and retired as an associate professor in Geography from a government college. We have three children – two sons and a daughter. My eldest son Ranadeb Rajkumar is a Mechanical Engineer and is now pursuing photography in Paris while my second side Awangba Rajkumar is a M Tech in Computer Engineering. My only daughter Diana Rajkumari, who did her M. Sc Biotech and who was a PhD scholar of Orchids of Northeast, however, passed away rather unfortunately on July 30 last because of brain tumour. We have been in mourning ever since she left us.
In fact, my daughter handled my entire campaign when I contested the elections in 2014. I lost the elections that time. Although I won the elections this time, I do not find any reason for happiness or joy at becoming a MP. I and my wife are lamenting the loss of our only daughter and not celebrating our success in the elections.