An opportunity be afforded to the valley brothers and legislators

Aaron Keishing *

Assembly building as a component of the Capitol Complex at Chingmeirong, Imphal in February 2013
Assembly building as a component of the Capitol Complex at Chingmeirong, Imphal in February 2013 :: Pix - Bullu Raj

In my last Article, I said that the movement for implementation of ILP system in the State of Manipur is a common issue for both the hills and valley, and communications between the parties was recommended. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Consequently, passing the 3 Bills and the sudden uprising in hill areas came to be emerged like ‘a bolt from the blue’ for both the parties. The result could have been altogether different had the hill brothers been consulted even without the Bills being referred to HAC.

“The beginning of a thing is a mirror of its end,” said A.K. Ghalib. The movement began and ends without hills, that is to say, the civil societies and ordinary citizens. Is this the essence of Chingmee-Tammee Amattani, or passing on the legacy of ‘separate but equal’? This is more of segregation than integration so as to go separate ways. To me, Ichin-Inao signifies joint works to reach a common end; it suggests collectivism, not separatism. It’s time to realize that ‘Chingmee-Tammee Amattani’ is not a mere phrase, but an imperative principle of action which state man will hence forth ignore at their peril, because, it would remain true.

A Legal judgment goes:- “That, in launching any movement or agitation on common issues affecting the interests of both hills and valleys, the parties should be informed and or consulted and reasons must be made known with ground in launching the movement in the nature of the intensive form. This having been not done and no reasons are officially communicated to the hill people, the two-months long intensive movement, and the subsequent Bills passed by the State Assembly dated 31/08/15 for implementation of the ILPS or a mechanism similar to Regulation 1873, cannot be said to be common interest of hills and valleys.

That, prior to launching of the movement the hill people were not consulted by the valley people to support the movement as well as the opinion for the requirement of any pass or permit to enter the State, even though the hills too participated earlier. Consultation not having been done by the valleys nor informed the intensification of such movement, and entered the intensive statewide agitation without intimating the hill people amounts to violation of the rights to participate in the common issue, and a communal misconduct on the part of the majority community.

That, even the valley people did not inform the hill people as to whether in case of their involvement in the agitation for implementing of ILP system would be necessary, and if so how to support the same. As such, the three Bills so passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly amounts to violation of principle of natural justice and deprived the hill people to submit their say in that regard.

That, every Bill, affecting wholly or partly the Hill areas shall be referred to the HAC (except a Money Bill). The State failed to do so in the instant case. Hence, the proposed Bills are deemed to be arbitrary, and violative of the provisions of Constitution, in particular, the Art. 14, 371C, and the subsequent Order, 1972.

Whether the Bills infringed the rights of tribes: To the readers, interpreters and or legislators, who are inexpert in customary laws, particularly, the valley people and their representatives, there is great comfort in newly inserted Sec. 14A & 14B of the proposed Act, namely, The MLR & LR (7th Amendment) Bill), 2015; and Sec. 2(b) read with Section 8(a) of The PMP Bill, 2015. But for the traditional land owners and people living in the far-flung hill areas who did not access or avail the services of National Register, Census Report or Village Directory during 1940s or 50s, it is not incorrect to say that the Bills came to be passed like ‘a bolt out of the blue’.

And, under the customary land holding system of tribes, the territory of a hill village, and the lands owned by different individual tribes have been clearly demarcated with boundary points, and no tribe is competent to transfer his land even to another individual tribe if he is not a member (citizen) of the village. I don’t say MLR & LR Act, 1960 shall never be extended to Hills in any form till the end; a time may come for that. But everything should be with full knowledge of pros ands cons by hill brothers. And here, I am only attempting to signify the flaws as claimed by hills, so as to bring a win-win solution at the earliest.

1. MLR & LR (7th Amendment) Bill, 2015 - The traditional land holding system of the tribes of Manipur may be of different forms. As such, there is no common terminology related to tribal land ownership in the hill areas of Manipur due to wants of uniform codified land laws. However, for better understanding of our customary land holding systems vis-a-vis the recently-passed controversial Bill, I may do my own US-type classification of tribally owned lands into two kinds:

(1). Village Headman holds customary title of land but the beneficial interest on land remains with the individual tribe who use the land for cultivation or other purposes.

(2). An individual tribe holds both the customary title and beneficial interest, but with customary restrictions against alienation or encumbrance.

Since, there is no codified land law of tribes, so far, the question of acquiring legal title or and legal restrictions against alienation or encumbrance under specific statutory authority has never been arisen. Now, after passing the MLR & LR (7th Amendment) Bill, 2015, “a non-Manipur person who intend to purchase any land shall obtain prior approval of the State Govt., before such purchase is made by him.” [Section 14A (1)].

In my own interpretation of the proposed Act, the situation may come like this: (1). The State government of Manipur holds legal title though the beneficial interest remains with the tribe. Or (2). The tribe holds legal title but with legal restrictions against alienation or encumbrance. Or (3). The tribe acquires legal title under specific statutory authority, and also enjoy beneficial ownership, but subject to legal restrictions against alienation or encumbrance.

Here, it is, where the traditional forest dwellers detected the fallacy of the said land Bill, 2015, that is to say - the proposed Act transfers the traditional title (equivalent to legal title) of land ownership of headman/tribe to the State Cabinet/State Government, though the beneficial interest remains with the tribe, meaning though they possess the land, they don’t owned the legal title. Ownership and possession are quite different things.

Examined in this light, the proposed Act is deemed to have infringed upon the traditional land ownership’s right over the constitutionally and customarily protected lands owned by the tribes of the State. If the State Government has a final say in sale and purchase of land, a donation deed or a sale deed of land, for example, executed by village headman or land owners without the prior approval of the State Government becomes illegal, thereby legislating a new system of land holding in contravention of customary law, special provisions of Constitutions, Forest Act, 2006, etc.

2. The Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015- Section 2(b) read with Section 8(a) of the People Bill, 2015 which provides that: “The provisions of Manipur people defined in Section 2(b) will not apply to the native people of the State of Manipur,” seems tolerably clear, however, the right to be exempted is only a right to enjoy it if he/she is a Manipuri as defined by Sec. 2(b), for the 2(c) says that “Non-Manipuri” means a person who is not covered by Sec. 2(b).

As such, even if it be said that the Bill on the face of it is not discriminatory, it will be so in its effect and operation, and therefore has to be adjudged unconstitutional. Because, according to the proposed law, in order to get the benefit of Sec. 8(a) three conditions mentioned in Section 2(b) of the proposed law must be satisfied simultaneously, which is not operational for hill people who did not maintain proper records of their own, and or did not avail register services at the time then (1951).

There is no definition of native people in the proposed Act which is the most important factor in deciding the status of Manipuri, and hence cannot be ignored its definition. The proposed law is not clear whether the indigenous Kukis and Nagas, or even Pangal and Meiteis will continue to enjoy the status of native people of the State if their names were not recorded in the aforesaid records, 1951. Why should we bring a legislation only to deprive our citizenship? Citizenship is a most precious right.

To deprive anyone of his citizenship would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. By mere accident of their names been not found in the said three registers, they cannot lose their citizenship. It is devoid of reason. I support ILP only to the extend where the rights of native people are not affected in any sense. I am more on migration of people than changing of land holding system at this moment. And, our ILP shall not result into depriving the rights of fellow citizens.

In conclusion, the legislation and implementation of a law or a mechanism similar to (ILP) system viz. by amendment of MLR & LR Act, 1960 so as to reduce the pressure on tiny inhabitable areas of the State is one of the aspirations of constitutionally unprotected people living in valley areas of the State.

On the other hand, the tribes, that is to say, Kukis and Nagas who occupied the larger part, but mostly uninhabitable forest areas of the State are unlikely to enter into the wisdom of such a policy or Act where their customarily or constitutionally protected interests under different provisions and Acts are being infringed upon only to safeguard the interests of the dominant community.

Now, we could see two conflicting interests between two parties within a State. These two conflicting aspirations of valleys and hills could be met by mutual accommodation and cooperation of their interests, least of all trading it, i.e., trading or exchanging interest for interest, aspiration for aspiration so as to achieve, promote and maintain peaceful co-existence.

We may never really achieve peace where all communities join hands willingly at the same time and on the same issue, due to wants of common aspirations, or uniform strategies. However, when the necessity of one community is met by the other in exchange of developing relationship, it can lead to peaceful co-existence, and territorial integrity.

As the legislators and the JCILPS are now willing to sit together with the hill brothers as a post- legislation consultation, even though they let go by the full opportunities over a period of 2 months, and are ready to rectify the flaws, an opportunity be afforded to them, in the larger interest of peaceful co-existence.

* Aaron Keishing wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao and The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 6, 2015.

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