It is indeed very unfortunate that a welcome enactment of laws for protection of indigenous people of Manipur has turned out to be so fiercely a contentious issue that the very foundation of the state has been shaken. The earlier bills passed became infructuous. The next ones are getting stuck, sharply dividing hills and valley people of Manipur even as mutual distrust increase with each passing day.
The first blunder was committed when the bills were classified as “Money Bill”. Article 199 of the constitution lays down the criteria for Money bill, of which clause (d) relates to appropriation from consolidated fund and (e) relates to declaring any expenditure as charged to the consolidated fund. Expenditure to be incurred for creation of a Directorate cannot be declared as charged since the same is limited to grants for legislature, Raj Bhavan or High Court. Such expenditure would therefore be covered by clause (d) in which case the expenditure will be reflected in the relevant “Demand for grants” such as Home, Labour, Commerce and Industry as the case may be. They will be discussed, passed and then only included in Appropriation bill as part of third reading under normal budgeting procedure. Even speaker’s decision could however have been a bonafide mistake. Because of this, the bills were not referred to Hill area Committee as required under Article 371/C of the constitution. This bypassing of HAC is interpreted by the Hills people as Cheating (MINAMBA). The damage of this non fulfilment of a constitutional requirement has at the same time rendered the bills “null and void”.
Next comes the contentious issue of definition of people of Manipur. Attempts to verify National Register of 1951 have been abortive as the Election Commission, the Census department and the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that they are not aware with whom the register is available. Considering that the Indian citizenship act was enacted in 1955, finding out the same is as elusive as ever. Thus there is simply no information to rely upon as far as National Register of Citizens 1951 is concerned. Assam had taken 1971 as the cut off year but they even are said to be still struggling to update it. Census report of 1951 also do not contain basic information. In respect of Hills, names of chief/khulakpa of the village, number of persons indicating their community only are available. Village Directory also indicates the names of the Chiefs/Khulakpas and the number of houses only. It may be pertinent to mention that Manipur, having been merged only in Oct 1949, administrative set up, then hardly existed. Tamenglong and Ukhrul were sub-divisions while Churachandpur, Tengnoupal, Mao and Sadar Hills were circles. There were not even Middle Schools. Illiterate Lambus were said to have conducted Census by indicating the number of persons with cut stick of thatches of nearby villages only which they could visit. Village Directory was also said to be prepared by visiting only those villages known to them. Educated persons were not htere to conduct census or survey. The apprehension of the hill people is that they have been automatically excluded and this will lead to deprivation from benefits and employment as they will be required to prove their bonafide without any basic information. While majority community can better overcome similar in the same manner the bills got passed. The problem can be possibly solved by having the definition of Manipur people as follows:- Manipur people means (1) all indigenous inhabitants/tribes of Manipur and (2) domiciled persons of Manipur whose names are in the National register of Citizens, Census report and Village Directory (Cut-off date as may be agreed upon by all the stakeholders be adopted. )
With regards to issue of so called inner Line Permit to all and sundry citizen of India as stipulated in clause 4 of Section 4 of Protection of Manipur Bill 2015, The same had been earlier turned down by UPA Govt. when Sushil Kumar Shinde was the Home Minister. What view the NDA Govt will take is yet to be known and it is not possible to hazard any guess. Perhaps, the intention is to throw this unpalatable decision to the court of centre now ruled by NDA as a breathier to be not answerable during next election. With regards to amendment of MLR Act (Seventh Amendment Bill 2015) it may be recalled that there was vehement opposition from the hill people when the bill was enacted as a result of which the same was extended to four valley districts only. Therefore, insertion of one more clause i.e. clause (3) under the “title and commencement that the same will extend only to areas covered by the principle Act, I hope it will take care of the problem.
Even warring groups in history make peace and reconcile. Then, why can’t we, inhabitants of the same State sit down together and talk things over to restore harmony.