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Strike hits Manipur orange fest

Imphal, Dec. 14: The two-day strike called by the United Naga Council on the Imphal-Jiribam highway has put a dampener on the 10th edition of the annual orange festival which started today in Tamenglong district, through which the highway passes.

Official sources said the number of farmers participating in the festival has dwindled this year because of the strike. Last year, 300 farmers brought more than 25,000 metric tonnes of oranges for the festival. This time there are less than 250 farmers who have brought 23,750 metric tonnes for the festival being held at Noney common ground, 66km from here.

Official sources said the strike has kept away not only farmers but also buyers from the festival organised by the horticulture department, jointly with the Tamenglong district administration.

“Any strike creates hardships for farmers and robs them of their livelihood. If the oranges can’t be taken to markets, they will rot. Therefore, no group should do anything that puts farmers in a difficult situation,” governor Ashwani Kumar said while inaugurating the programme.

Chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh said any grievance should be sorted out through dialogue. “Because of the strike, many farmers and people could not take part. This is a loss for the farmers and the state,” he said.

The Naga council, apex body of the community in Manipur, had called the 48-hour strike from Thursday midnight to protest a statement by Shambhu Singh, joint secretary (Northeast) in the Union home ministry. Singh was quoted saying the council’s demand for an alternative arrangement for Nagas in Manipur was “quite hazy”.

Tamenglong is the orange bowl of Manipur since half the orange produce comes from this Naga-dominated district. In addition to the strike, official sources said drying up of orange plants because of disease had resulted in low production this year. The chief minister assured the farmers that his government would do everything to resolve their problems.

The governor suggested there should be a fixed date for the festival, preferably December 9. An Orange Queen contest, music and dance performances capped the daylong programme, which is part of Manipur’s tourism festivals.