Imphal: Union Minister of State for External Affairs & Education Dr RK Ranjan has emphasised on the immediate need for effective implementation of Manipuri Pony Conservation and Development Policy to protect Pony which is decreasing at an alarming rate.
Inaugurating the national workshop on “Manipur Pony Conservation and Sustainable Management: Emerging Issues and Challenges” held at CAU, Iroishemba, Dr RK Ranjan conveyed that the Manipuri Pony Conservation and Development Policy was notified by the State Government in 2016 but the implementation of various programmes under the policy is yet to be started, which of course requires a more proactive action without delay.
For sustainable management of Manipuri Pony, RK Ranjan suggested that the State should declare “two-three Reserve Areas’ in different districts for pony grazing and polo under which effort must be made by all stakeholders to develop natural grazing grounds in different districts of the State.
He asserted that effort must be made by the Department of School Education, Government of Manipur to include lessons in the academic syllabus to sensitise the younger generation on the cultural heritage surrounding the Manipuri Pony breed and Sagol Kangjei and also making necessary arrangements for promoting the sport. Attempt must be made to preserve and propagate this rare natural heritage and to reinstate Manipuri polo ponies to their old glory by way of reinvention, he added.
He also suggested provision for incentives for Pony players/owners in both public and private sectors of the State, establishment of Horse Riding/ Training Schools in the State, recruitment in State Police /Paramilitary forces (Mounted City Police/ Force) and to take up registration and breeding policy of ponies and year-round protection from diseases through vaccination and treatment.
He said that Manipur State, well known for its fascinating landscape abundant natural endowments and rich cultural heritages has also occupied a prestigious position in the world and has been universally accepted as the origin of the world famous royal game of modern polo, which has been developed from the indigenous game of Sagol Kangjei.
Elaborating on the genesis of Polo, he said that the game was introduced to British officers at Cachar by Manipuris who had settled before, during and after the Seven Years Devastation of Manipur from 1819 to 1826 by the Burmese and the earliest club was the Cachar Kangjei Club founded in 1859 in Assam, India established under the initiative of Captain Sherer. The oldest Club still in existence is Calcutta Polo Club established in 1862. The Game was introduced into England from India in 1869 by the 10th Hussars at Aldershot, England, he informed.
However the population of this magnificent animal is decreasing at an alarming rate with the rapid loss of its living habitat in recent years. The population of the breed recorded as per 20th Quinquennial Livestock Census, 2022 was only 1089. However, this figure was not accepted by many who had worked in this field at the grassroot level who indicated the number to be around 500, the Union Minister said.
Continuous loss of areas of its original habitat due to urbanisation, deforestation, loss of water bodies, disadvantage of traditional rearing system, health management of pony in the wake of declining grazing resources, increased occurrence of pony related physical injury and traffic accident, lack of budgetary support for welfare programmes to pony owner, lack of utility values of pony etc are important emerging issues which need to be addressed by the State and by all stakeholders without further delay, he continued.
Dr RK Ranjan noted that a holistic approach to conserve Pony for posterity is the need of the hour considering the unique characteristics of Manipur horses and its historical and socio-cultural importance.
Observing that the conservation and management of livestock genetic resources require a great deal of scientific and sustained multifarious approaches, he informed that in the breed conservation programme, the genetic characterization of local breeds is a major prerequisite.
He said that characterization at the morphological and genetic levels is the first step towards formulating breeding policies and prioritizing the breeds for conservation in an effective and meaningful way. Hence the important step in this context is to characterise the animal on the basis of its phenotypic traits and to further evaluate its genetic makeup at molecular level. The programme will also require various information, like the status on its housing, feeding and breeding behaviour towards developing a meaningful management standard for Manipuri horses, he added.
However, it is believed that there has been a dearth of information on the status, phenotypic and genetic characterization of Manipuri Pony breed until Institutions like ICAR-National Research Centre on Equines, Hissar; ICAR-National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, Karnal and Central Agricultural University, Imphal has, in the recent time, carried out some remarkable works on this breed, the Union Minister said.
He urged the scientists to continue such scientific efforts on the endangered Manipuri breed so as to make the conservation effort more meaningful.