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Poverty in Manipur

There is a marked difference in the extent and nature of poverty between the valley and the hills in Manipur. Besides the poor and uneven economic performance of the state and the lackadaisical implementation of poverty alleviation schemes, the failure of land reform measures in the hills is of particular importance in explaining the persistence of poverty.


Poverty in Manipur

There is a marked difference in the extent and nature of poverty between the valley and the hills in Manipur. Besides the poor and uneven economic performance of the state and the lackadaisical implementation of poverty alleviation schemes, the failure of land reform measures in the hills is of particular importance in explaining the persistence

of poverty.


he problem of poverty in Manipur usually manifests itself in terms of social tension and unrest, which of course have multidimensional roots. There is a marked difference in the extent and nature of poverty between the valley and the hills of the state. This article examines poverty in Manipur, mainly at the district level, and studies the land reform measures and poverty alleviation programmes to assess their impact on the poor in the state.

Profile of Manipur

Manipur is characterised by wide differences in terms of development between the valley and the hills. The hills constitute about 90 per cent of the total area of Manipur, while the valley constitutes the remaining area. The majority of the population in the hills are scheduled tribes, while the Meeteis and Muslims mostly inhabit the valley. There are 33 different scheduled tribes belonging to different ethnic groups of the state. Manipur has nine districts, of which five are in the hills, viz, Senapati, Tamenglong, Churachandpur, Chandel and Ukhrul, and the remaining districts are in the valley, namely, Imphal West, Imphal East, Bishnupur and Thoubal.1 The population of Manipur was about 23 lakhs in 20012 with a population density of 107 persons per square km. As mentioned earlier, 28 per cent of the population (in 1999-2000), that is, seven lakh people live below poverty line.

Infrastructure development, in terms of power, transport and communication, has been very slow over the years, contributing to industrial backwardness. The social and economic infrastructure index of 75.39 in 1999 was one of the lowest in India.3 Although per capita consumption of electricity increased from 7.7 kWh in 1974-75 to 69.5 kWh in 1990-2000, yet this figure is very low in comparison to most of the other Indian states.4 Manipur has a limited transport network; apart from road transport, which has a comparatively low density compared to other states, there is no other form of transport other than by air.5 Even after 1991, Manipur has not been able to attract much investment, which is consistent with the view that investment in the post-liberalisation era has tended to concentrate in states with better infrastructure. Manipur has recorded a low per capita flow of investment among the north-eastern states. Per capita institutional investment and total credit utilised have shown the lowest figures among the northeastern states.6

Poverty Figures and Social Indicators

The poverty ratio of Manipur increased from 49.96 per cent in 1973-74 to 53.72 per cent in 1977-78. It, however, started decreasing thereafter, except for a marginal increase in 1993-94. This can be seen from Table 1. Rural poverty, except for an increase in two years, dropped from 52.67 per cent in 1973-74 to 40.04 per cent in 1999-2000, while urban poverty continuously declined from

36.92 per cent in 1973-74 to 7.47 per cent in 1999-2000. The increase of overall poverty in the year 1993-94 was due to an increase in rural poverty, from 39.35 per cent in 1987-88 to 45.01 in 1993-94. The absolute number of persons below poverty line can be observed from Table

2. Though there was a decline in poverty ratio the number of persons below poverty line increased from 5.86 lakhs in 1973-73 to 7.19 lakhs in 1999-2000. Over the same period, the number of rural persons below the poverty line also increased from 5.11 lakhs to 6.53 lakhs, while that of urban persons fell from

0.75 lakh to 0.66 lakh.

District-wise, poverty in Manipur reveals a poverty ratio more than 50 per cent in all the hill districts, except Senapati, in 1988. The highest poverty ratio was found in the hill district of Chandel, which was 64.07 per cent.7 In the valley, it was found highest in Imphal

(48.87 per cent) followed by Thoubal

(42.02 per cent) and Bishnupur (38.01 per cent). The least headcount ratio was observed in Senapati district (21.57 per cent). However, in terms of absolute figures, Imphal had the highest number of persons below poverty line among the districts (3,31,462).

The social indicators of the state in 1991 and 2001 are summarised in Table 3. As can be observed, life expectancy for males has risen, while that for females

Table 1: Poverty Ratio of Manipur

(Per cent)

Year Rural Urban Combined
1973-74 1977-78 1983 1987-88 1993-94 1999-2000 52.67 59.82 42.6 39.35 45.01 40.04 36.92 32.71 21.73 9.94 7.73 7.47 49.96 53.72 37.02 31.35 33.78 28.54

Source: Planning Commission, Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002-07).

Table 2: Number of Persons Below Poverty Line

(Lakh persons)

Year No of Persons

Rural Urban Combined

1973-74 5.11 0.75 5.86 1977-78 6.09 1.11 7.2 1983 4.71 1.13 5.84 1987-88 4.68 0.85 5.53 1993-94 6.33 0.47 6.8 1999-2000 6.53 0.66 7.19

Source: Same as in Table 1.

Economic and Political Weekly January 20, 2007 has fallen. Access to safe drinking water seems to have deteriorated somewhat.

Hills and Valley

As regards the Manipur valley, Begum (1997), in a case study of Laphupat Tera in Thoubal district, examined the problems faced by the rural poor and the programmes taken up by various agencies to alleviate poverty from the rural tracts of the state. She found that 49.65 per cent of families lived below poverty line in the area under study. She also confirmed that poverty alleviation programmes had not been able to bring substantial benefits to the poor in the village. According to a case study by Kumar (2004) in Bishnupur district,8 the overall headcount ratio in the area under study, based on the income criterion, was 32.01 per cent, while it was

32.75 per cent in the rural areas and 30.62 per cent in the urban areas. Based on the consumption criterion, the overall headcount ratio was 15.91 per cent, while it was 16.59 per cent and 14.63 per cent for the urban and rural areas respectively. Explaining the low figures for the headcount ratio based on the consumption criterion, the study pointed out that consumption measures did not capture some important dimensions like debt and access to common property. Serto (2000) studied the poverty situation in some of the hill districts of Manipur. According to his findings, the problem of poverty still continues to be serious among the scheduled tribes in the hills of the state. The study reveals that out of the total of 325 families in two hill districts of Manipur, 278 families (85 per cent) are found living below poverty line.

The poverty profile in the state is closely related to the nature of its terrain, the climate and economic characteristics. The hill districts, except Senapati, have a higher proportion of population living in abject poverty in comparison to the valley districts. Marked by shifting cultivation, tribal population, primitive economy and social structure, the hill districts continue to reel under poverty despite the rich resource base, the lush green forests and precious mineral wealth. According to Begam (1997), lower incidence of poverty in the two valley districts, viz, Bishnupur and Thoubal, is due to their hospitable terrain, settled cultivation and double cropping with help of irrigation facilities. On the other hand, Imphal district has an exceptionally high proportion of population below the poverty line because of the nature of urbanisation and the mainly push-type immigration of people from other parts of the state for jobs and other vocations. The same study has also pointed out that poverty in the Manipur valley is inversely related to the size of landholdings and correlated with landlessness. The bulk of the families below the poverty line consist of marginal farmers, agricultural labourers and small farmers. Rural artisans and non-agricultural labourers constitute the rest of the poor households in the region.

In a case study of Bishnupur district of Manipur by Kumar (2004), it is found that the percentage of population below poverty line in rural areas was only marginally higher than that of the urban areas. In that district, poverty is found to be associated with low literacy, poor sanitation, hunger, malnutrition and illness. Poor people do not have an access to relevant information, and as a result, they are not aware of developmental schemes.

The same study has also pointed out that more than two-thirds of the poor households are engaged in agricultural and allied activities.

The tribal economy is essentially an agricultural economy. Land is the primary means of production and source of livelihood. The most common method of cultivation prevailing in the region is shifting or jhoom cultivation. Multiple cropping cannot be adopted in the tribal economy because of the absence of irrigation in the hills. Wet cultivation is adopted in some scattered and low-lying areas. According the case study of two hill districts by Serto (2000), tribal people in the hills generally lack education, training, communication facilities, etc. The economy is primarily an agricultural economy, characterised essentially by subsistence production. The study reveals that more than 50 per cent of the people below poverty line are illiterate. The population below poverty line mainly consists of landless and marginal farmers. The proportion of school-going children below the age of 15 years


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Economic and Political Weekly January 20, 2007

accounted for only 36.16 per cent of those in that age group.

It has been pointed out that the dichotomy between the hill and plain economy has intensified because there has been no common economic framework till now.9 The transport bottleneck in the hills has made the hill economy costlier than the valley, and in turn, imposes a double constraint on development. Firstly, real wages are quite low in the hill economy because of the low level of economic activity. Secondly, prices are very high as transportation costs are very high. According to Kamei (2000), the hill people face a number of basic problems. The poverty of the hills is reflected in illiteracy, ill health, unemployment, failure of commerce, and the general lack of development, and the resulting dissatisfaction is manifest in political agitations, including the problem of insurgency in the hills.

Unemployment is one of the main causes of poverty in Manipur. According to the 2001 Census, the workforce participation rate was only 43.6 per cent in 2001, implying that more than 50 per cent of the population is unemployed or not in the labour market. According to a 2002 White Paper of the government of Manipur, the problem of unemployment has been accentuated in the state because the avenues for employment in government and quasi-government sectors have been seriously curtailed in recent years and, at the same time, employment opportunities in the private sector are restricted due to lack of an industrial base. According to the Economic Survey, Manipur, 2002-03, the state finds itself in great difficulty in making any significant dent on the problem of poverty and economic backwardness.

Poor Economic Performance

The sectoral composition of state’s income reveals a structural shift over the years. The share of the primary sector in the gross state domestic product (GSDP) at current prices reduced from

35.49 per cent in 1993-94 to 29.57 per cent in 2001-02, and that of secondary and tertiary sector increased from 18.61 per cent and 45.90 per cent respectively to

23.10 per cent and 47.33 per cent respectively over the same period. The economy of the state seems to be caught in a lowlevel equilibrium trap [Sachdeva 2005].

The trend of per capita income over the years shows a widening gap between national and state growth rates. If this continues for another decade, it will have serious socio-political implications, particularly for a state like Manipur where there is already a serious sense of grievance at all levels of the society. All the same, the decline in urban poverty is due to the growth of employment opportunities in the service sector [Singh 2005]. The service sector is booming in income and employment generation while the agricultural sector is in a slump. Uneven development in the state is evident in the fact that between 1990 and 2001, the per capita income of Imphal and Bishnupur improved by 47.2 per cent and 33.9 per cent respectively, while that of hill districts Chandel, Tamenglong and Senapati changed by 5.0 per cent, 4.3 per cent and (-) 9.6 per cent respectively over the same period.

Lackadaisical Implementation

Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) was implemented since 1996 in all the nine districts of Manipur. However, according to an official report, the IAY remained ineffective because of shortfalls in the release of funds by the central and state governments, underutilisation of available funds, non-transparency in the selection of beneficiaries, poor coverage of targeted beneficiaries, and shortfalls in the release of assistance to the beneficiaries. As against the targeted construction of 12,687 dwelling houses during 1997-2002, 5,564 houses only could be completed. Swarnajayanti Gram Yojana (SGSY) was launched in April 1999 to cover 30 per cent of rural BPL families in five years (1999-2004). The scheme was considered ineffective because of poor coverage of BPL families, short release of funds by the state government, poor response of bankers in extending credit to swarojgaris and incorrect disbursement of subsidy.

Failure of Land Reforms

The development of agriculture in the hill areas of Manipur is a cause for concern. The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform Act, 1960 has not yet fully been extended in the hills.10 Land in the hills is subject to customary law. Although the land-person ratio is higher in the hills than in the valley, agricultural productivity has been very low. The most urgent need of agricultural development in the hills is land reforms. Currently, farming practices are generally done in the form of shifting cultivation. However, there are no land records in the hills. There is also a lack of transparency in the assignment of existing land rights. One of the reasons for the lack of investment in the hills is that financial institutions shy away from advancing loans to the hill people due to lack of collaterals [Singh 2005].

Studies in Manipur have shown that poverty is inversely related with size of landholdings and correlated with landlessness. It follows that land reform measures can be considered as an effective strategy for reducing poverty in Manipur. The Eighth Plan (1992-97) had an outlay of Rs 150 lakh for taking up programmes for updating of land records and strengthening of revenue administration in the state. The schemes – extension of survey and settlement of land in the hill areas, re-survey operation and updating of land records in the valley areas, and strengthening of revenue administration and updating of land records – have however remained stuck due to socioeconomic and political problems prevailing in the hills. The mid-term appraisal of the eighth plan had pointed out that progress in hill survey had been very slow because of the objections raised by chiefs/ headmen. The non-extension of the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform Act, 1960 to the hill districts has been a serious obstacle to the progress of the hill survey.


There is a marked difference in the extent and nature of poverty between the valley and the hills of the state of Manipur. What stands out is the poor

Table 3: Indicators of Social Development in Manipur

1991 2001

Life expectancy (years)
a) Male 68.64 71.9
b) Female 72.42 71.2
Infant mortality rate
(per thousand) 2 8 1 7
Death rate (per thousand) 5.4 5.1
Birth rate (per thousand) 20.1 18.2
Literacy rate (per cent) 59.9 68.87
Access to safe drinking water 38.72 3 7

Source: Government of India, Economic Survey, 2003-04.

Economic and Political Weekly January 20, 2007 and uneven economic performance of the state, lackadaisical implementation of the poverty alleviation schemes, and the failure of land reform measures in the hills. The policy options for reducing poverty in Manipur rest not merely on promoting economic growth in the state, but taking account of the marked economic disparity between the hills and the valley. The poverty alleviation schemes need redesigning and proper planning and implementation, as also, close monitoring and public accountability. Expenditure on rural development and the social sector, particularly health and family welfare, water supply, sanitation and housing, should not only be substantially increased, but measures should be put in place to ensure that the funds are spent effectively. The state needs strong political will to implement the land reform measures, particularly in the hills, and expand employment opportunities all around.




1 Imphal district was bifurcated into Imphal East

and Imphal West in 1997. 2 Census of India, 2001. 3 Report of the Eleventh Finance Commission. 4 A memorandum of association (MoA) was

signed on July 26, 2004 between the ministry of power, government of India and the department of power, government of Manipur, as a joint commitment for implementation of the reforms programme in power sector. Another MoA was signed between the GoI and the states, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, for the constitution of a Joint State Electricity Regulatory Commission for the three states. The objective is to achieve 100 per cent electrification of villages by 2007.

5 Airlifting of traffic is likely to play an important part in connection with transport between Imphal and other parts of India. However, certain commodities have been found that can bear the higher charges for air transport.

6 Planning Commission (2002): Tenth Five-Year

Plan, 2002-07. 7 Draft Eighth Five Year Plan, 1990-95. 8 The case study was conducted in Bishnupur

district of Manipur. It was based on primary data collected from 11 rural samples and 6 urban samples of the said district. A total number of 170 households were selected for detailed survey from 11 census villages and 2 towns of the district, out of which 110 households belonged to rural areas and 60 households belonged to urban areas. The total population covered by the survey was 1,056, out of which 687 persons were in rural areas and the rest in urban areas.

9 Cited in Amar Yumnam (2005).

10 The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 has been extended particularly to 25 villages in Senapati district and 14 villages in Churachandpur district. Altogether 45 villages have been brought under the provisions of the Act in the hill districts.


Begum, Janatum (1997): Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development: A Case Study of Manipur Valley, Rajesh Publications, New Delhi.

Government of India (2001): Census of India, 2001, Office of the Registrar General.

  • (2000): Eleventh Finance Commission Report.
  • (2002): State Plans – Trends, Concerns and Strategies, Tenth Five-Year Plan, Vol III, Planning Commission.
  • Government of Manipur (1990): Draft Eighth Five-Year Plan, 1990-95 and Annual Plan 1991-92: Review and Outline, Volume I, Planning Department.

  • (1991-92 to 2001-02): Finance Accounts.
  • (1994): Mid-Term Appraisal of Eighth Plan, 1992-97, Planning Department, 1994.
  • (2002): Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, March 31.
  • (2002): White Paper on Manipur State Finances, Finance Department, July.
  • (2003): Estimates of State Domestic Product of Manipur (1993-1994 to 2001-2002), New Series, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Government of Manipur, Imphal.
  • (2004): Economic Survey Manipur 2002-03, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Government of Manipur, Imphal.
  • (2004): Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, March 31.
  • (2004): Statistical Abstract Manipur 2004, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Government of Manipur, Imphal.
  • (2005-06): Annual Administrative Report 2005-06, Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Manipur.
  • (2005-06): Annual Administration Report, 2005-06, Department of Food and Civil Supplies, Manipur.
  • Kamei, Gangmumei (2000): ‘Problems of Development in the Hill/Areas of Manipur’, in M Horam (ed), The Rising Manipur, Manas Publications, New Delhi.

    Kumar, N Roshini (2004): Poverty in Manipur: A Case Study of Bishnupur District, unpublished PhD thesis, Manipur University.

    NSSO (January-June 2004):Household Consumer Expenditure in India, 60th Round, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, 2005.

    Sachdeva, Gulshan (2005), ‘Preparing the Northeastern Economy for the Future’, Eastern Quarterly, Manipur Research Forum, Vol 3, Oct-Dec 2005, Delhi, pp 183-95.

    Serto Kom Thangneireng (2000): Poverty of the Scheduled Tribes in Manipur: A Case Study of the Kom Tribes in Churachandpur and Chandel Districts, unpublished PhD thesis, Manipur University.

    Singh, M Iboton (2005): ‘Political Economy of Manipur: Transformation within the Mixed Economy Paradigm’, Eastern Quarterly, Manipur Research Forum, Vol 3, Delhi, pp 170-182.

    Singh, E Bijoykumar (2005): ‘Development Discourse in Manipur: Hills vs Valley’,Eastern Quarterly, Manipur Research Forum, Vol 3, Delhi, p 167.

    Yumnam, Amar (2005): ‘Development Intervention in the Northeast: A Critique’,Eastern Quarterly, Manipur Research Forum, Delhi, Vol 3, October-December 2005, p 197.


    Economic and Political Weekly January 20, 2007

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