Oil and Gas root of Manipur crisis
by Sandhya Jain on 03 Jul 2023 11 Comments

The genesis of the current crisis in Manipur lies in the discovery of Oil and Natural Gas in the southern, tribal regions of the State, over a decade ago. Early estimates suggest that Manipur is sitting on nearly five trillion cubic feet of oil, worth several trillion dollars. Manipur is also rich in minerals, namely, limestone, chromite, nickel, and copper, amongst others.


The trigger for the current spate of violence – the Manipur High Court’s directive to the State to consider inclusion of Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list – was perceived by the Hill Tribes as an attempt to alienate them from their resource-rich lands. The apparently “communal” confrontation between the largely Hindu Meiteis in Imphal Valley and the converted Tribes (Baptist, Methodist, Catholic), is actually a fight for the wealth deep in the soil.


In 2010, Jubilant Oil and Gas Pvt. Ltd, Noida, the Indian arm of the Netherlands-based Jubilant Energy, was given a licence for oil exploration in the Manipur districts of Jiribam (Imphal East), Tamenglong and Churachandpur. Besides these districts, Pherzawl district is also said to be rich in oil and natural gas.


A four-year agreement was signed by the State’s principal secretary of Commerce and Industries, O Nabakishore (DO No.0-12012/4/2010-ONG III). The elaborate process of agreements and licenses for exploration was completed by November 2010, without the knowledge of the people of Manipur.


The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report by SENES Consultants India Pvt. Ltd. identified 30 potential oilwell locations, each requiring seven hectares of land, and an initial expenditure of Rs 40 crore. Each well would have a target depth of 2500-4500 meters.


From the start, environmental activists expressed concerns over the terms of the contract between the state government and Jubilant Company. Ram Wangkheirakpam observed that the agreement did not specify which party would be responsible for oil spills or other hazards. He pointed out that an oil spill by ONGC in Wokha district of Nagaland had ruined agricultural land, forests and water bodies.


Dr RK Ranjan of Manipur University detected flaws in the EIA report as it failed to properly list the region’s flora and fauna, such as the monitor lizard. He questioned how the waste water from the wells would be managed and if the technology is fool-proof, because the integrity of one of the most biodiverse regions in the world is at stake. The EIA report itself (table 5.3, Block 2) indicates that at least 25 catastrophic events and 20 major events are anticipated.


These fears led the local communities to mobilise against the oil exploration, citing lack of transparency and accountability regarding the terms and conditions of the contracts and licensing agreements between the government of India, the government of Manipur, and the Jubilant Oil and Gas Private Limited (JOGPL), and its benefits, if any, to the people of Manipur. They complained that innocent villagers in Churachandpur and Jiribam districts were asked to sign no-objections letters for Seismic surveys by Alphageo Company, without being informed about the purpose of the surveys, oil explorations, and drillings, and its impact on the environment and their lives. Insurgent outfits in Manipur allegedly offered their services in this regard.


The local residents expressed resentment that a private company, JOGPL, was conferred full-ownership of all oil resources in Manipur. The indigenous communities state that they were not even informed that oil was found in their land.


Indian laws, namely, the Oil Fields (Regulation and Development) Act, 1948, the Oil Industry (Development) Act, 1974, the Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act, 1962, and the Petroleum & Natural Gas Rules, 1959, confer exclusive propriety rights of all oil and gas resources on the Government of India. By awarding the contract with hundred percent interest for oil in Manipur to a private company, the Government of India was asserting that it can sell oil and natural gas at will.


The communities now demand a say on resources in regions where they live, a share in the management of the wealth generated, and the right to define their development goals. There is a case for the Central Government consulting the local communities regarding its objectives in the region.


It is pertinent that the EIA report fails of take cognizance of the fact that Tamenglong, Churachandpur, and Jiribam fall in an eco-sensitive zone, where survival sources of wildlife and communities goes beyond national parks and sanctuaries. Oil exploration (testing, drilling) could lead to oil spills, accidents and bursting of pipelines, thus contaminating the region’s water bodies and rivers, as happened in Ogoniland in Nigeria, Ecuador oil fields, Gulf of Mexico oil spill, refinery explosions in Venezuela and Vishakhapatnam in India.


Oil exploration could thus endanger the soil and water, and pollute agriculture, ground water and decimate the forests. Gas flaring would adversely impact the Barak River and its tributaries, Irang River, and Makru River. Simultaneously, thousands would be displaced and their means of livelihood destroyed. It is not even known if the oil is proposed to be transported by pipelines or tankers.


The indigenous communities point out that oil could trigger an influx of immigrants in Manipur, increase militarization and trigger human rights violations, especially against women.


Scheduled Tribe status


Historically, Outer Manipur and Inner Manipur had distinct administrations, but after Independence, the Government of India amalgamated these into a single administration. Thereafter, The Manipur Land Revenue And Land Reform Act, 1960 was enacted to regulate issues pertaining to land.


At the time of the merger of Inner Manipur with the Union of India in 1949, the State was offered a choice of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) status. But the Meitei King of Inner Manipur, Bodhichandra, declined to be placed in the same category as tribes from Kakching, Sekmai, and Andro within Inner Manipur, and the Kuki or Naga from Outer Manipur. In 1974, Chief Minister Yangmasho Saiza again offered the Meitei of Imphal Valley a chance to be listed as Scheduled Tribe, but the community rejected the proposal.


The mainly Hindu Meitei (8% Muslim) are currently listed as Other Backward Classes (OBC) or SCs. They began to demand ST status about a decade ago. On March 27, 2023, a single-judge bench of the Manipur High Court, comprising Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidaran, directed the State government to consider their request within four weeks, and send a recommendation to the Union government, as any change will have to be approved by Parliament. 


This triggered the current confrontation.



1)     30 Oil Wells Detected In Manipur, Paojel Chaoba, July 15, 2012.


2)    INDIA: Oil exploration: boon or bane for Manipur, Jiten Yumnam, August 30, 2012.


3)    Oil and gas scenario in Manipur, Kh Dilip Singh, March 17, 2023. 


4)    Mineral Exploration by GSI and State Geology & Mining Divisional Development, Government of Manipur. https://dcimanipur.gov.in/en/mineral-based-product/

5)    Manipur High Court directs State to consider inclusion of Meitei community in Scheduled Tribes list, Abhinav Lakshman, April 20, 2023.


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