Army officer with his sharp business sense turns a small neglected village into a sweet tourist spot

Sashank Chakraborty

With a mere 300 people residing in this Meitei village in the hills of Manipur, the main source of their livelihood is producing Soibum, making charcoal and selling agar woods. In the early 2000s, this village was exposed and prone to insurgents and was a center for breeding of terrorist activities.

Due to several insurgencies, unit of the Assam Rifles got posted in this village, to put a check on nefarious activities. Being in such a remote part of the hilly state, the locals never had any exposure to Imphal until Major Birjit Taorem, Company Commander, Assam Rifles set his foot in this part of the world.

Major Birjit in his quest to build a fruitful relationship between the locals and his armed forces, started to put his mind to things that would help the fear of the army go away, among the locals and contribute towards the development of this village.
Soon after being posted, Birjit found that the main source of the village's income is "Soibum". Soibum is a fermented bamboo shoot which is in high demand in Imphal and other parts of the state. Soibum is generally being taken by middlemen from the village and then sold in Imphal at a very high price. Birjit observed that while the price per kg of this product is Rs. 30-40 in the viilage, it is being sold in Imphal at Rs.150/kg.

This was enough info for Major Birjit, who decided to change the business model that this village has been working with.
Major along with some of his friends, from diverse backgrounds, soon began to plan for the Soibum festival in Kwatha Village, to not only make people aware of the origin of production of Soibum but also to inform about the low prices of this product, leading to the total elimination of middlemen.
With planning and support from the locals, the first and now famous "Kwatha Fest" an eco tourism festival was organized on 22nd and 23rd October, 2016.

The first fest witnessed the footfall of more than 4,000 people who were mesmerized by its beauty and the hospitality of the locals. The two-day fest had local Manipuri music night on the first day and the Rock Music Night on the other day.
The villagers earned the whole year's income in those two days of the fest, the value of which stood around Rs. 20,000 (approx.). As a result of growing communication between the traders from Imphal and the villagers, Kwatha people could now earn around Rs.100-150 daily, on an average. Manipur has always been known for the scenic beauty of its hills and so is Kwatha. The fest triggered the idea of tourism business among the youth of the village. The village was now witnessing an impressive number of tourists round the year arriving at Kwatha to enjoy its heavenly beauty.

Major Birjit's consistent efforts led to the second edition of "Kwatha Fest" in October 2017, which witnessed a massive participation from all parts of Manipur.

One thing led to another. Now, under the project 'Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojna' (SAGY), Rajya Sabha MP K Bhabananda was given the consent to adopt Kwatha and develop it into a model village. As a part of SAGY, modern infrastructure development projects such as construction roads, educational institutions, healthcare centre, etc. have been taken up to be completed within a stipulated time.
Today, Major Birjit is the role model and care taker of the Kwatha village, a guardian of their secured future.

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