ILPS for valley, 6th Schedule for tribals
- Part 2 -

Jalun Haokip *

ILP : Churachandpur protest against introduction and passing of three Bills related to ILP :: September 3 2015
ILP : Churachandpur protest against introduction and passing of three Bills related to ILP on September 3 2015 :: Pix - Thangpu Samte

The Statement of Object and Reasons in the bill referred to "Manipur" as "one of the small hill States in the North-Eastern region of India". In spite of the fact that Manipur is comprised of hills and a valley, the use of the term "small hill" in reference to the state smacks of dishonesty and deception to affect uniform land laws for the whole state of Manipur, without any exception to hill or tribal area, and also to legitimise the demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for Meiteis, which the tribals believe is a sinister conspiracy to deprive the tribals of their rights over their land and identity and privileges.

During a meeting organised by the all-powerful All Tribal Students' Union Manipur sometime in September 2015 whereby tribal legislators were called for a deliberation on the 3 bills, all the tribal MLAs in attendance defended the bills and the way they were passed in the Assembly. Some of the senior tribal legislators, like Phungjathang Tonsing and TN Haokip, who spoke on the occasion asserted without any substantial evidence that the Bills in no way will affect the tribal interests and that the bills were not referred to Hill Area Committee (HAC) as they were money bills. This explanation is not different from what the State Government and supporters of the Bills have been saying.

Interestingly, some of the tribal MLAs are understood to have said off record that they had no idea about the content of the bills, but they supported it to follow the diktat served by their seniors or boss.

The wrath of the tribal people on the tribal legislators had nothing to do with the procedural lapse but their failure to act in the interests of the people they represent and oppose the bills regardless of whether they would have been able to prevent the bills from getting passed in the Assembly where they are outnumbered by representatives from the valley by at least 20 (out of 60). Except for the 4 MLAs from Naga People's Front who had tendered their resignation, none of the other tribal MLAs (all of whom are from Congress party) has resigned despite the call made by the tribals for their resignation over the Bills.

The futile explanation provided by the State Government and supporters of the bills that the bills will not affect the hill or tribal area sharply contradicts clause 1(2) of the introduction to the PMP Bill which states "It shall extend to the whole of the State of Manipur". Further, Statement of Objects and Reasons spelt out in the bill indicates Manipur (State of Manipur) as covering both the hills and valley of the State. Hence, as stated clearly in the bill itself, clearly the bill covers the whole of the State of Manipur without any exception to tribal or hill area.

Proponents of the bills downplaying tribal concerns by quoting clause 8(a) of the bill which states, "The provision of this Act shall not apply to the native people of the State of Manipur" have only added insult to injury as the bill nowhere defines the term "the native people of the State of Manipur". This presumably means the definition of the term "Manipur People" will apply to the "native people of the State of Manipur", which, as already discussed, will exclude many tribal people. There may be differing or conflicting interpretations of the term and there may be a debate among legal practitioners, however unless it is specified, explained, clarified or defined in the bill itself, the tribals, as is the case, are not prepared to take it for granted.

Although the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 restricts purchase of land in the hills by non-Scheduled Tribe by making an exception to the hill area, it has already adversely affected tribal land ownership rights due to its applicability in some parts of hill districts. The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015 which apparently aims to do away with restrictions on purchase of land in the hill districts by non-Scheduled Tribe and also provides for regulating purchase or allotment of land to "Non-Manipur persons" is seen by the tribals as unacceptable because of the use of the term "Non-Manipur persons".

The term "Non-Manipur persons", although not defined in the bill, appears to have the same meaning as Non-Manipur people as opposed to "Manipur People", the term used in the PMP Bill. If this is the case, the tribal people who do not meet the eligibility criteria for "Manipur People" will be "non-Manipur persons" and they will be further deprived and disempowered due to the new legislation.

The failure of the HAC, which is sanctioned under Article 371-C of the Indian constitution to provide constitutional safeguards for hill areas of Manipur, to protect tribal interests in the Assembly, non-extension of 6th schedule, imposition of Meitei Mayek (Meitei script/language) upon tribals, continuing systemic discrimination meted out to the tribals in various forms and the demand for Scheduled Tribe status for Meiteis have compounded the concern of the tribal, necessitating a search for a permanent solution to tribal issue. The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 1971 or the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council (Third Amendment) Act 2008, which according to the tribal people is a mere deceit, is far from meeting the aspiration of the tribal people.

According to a press release by JAC on the 7th June "there are three other prominent demands by the 'dominant' valley community in the pipeline which are perceived as the 4th, 5th and 6th anti-tribal 'bills' that have the potential to be more detrimental to the rights of the tribal people namely, the Manipur Population Commission, the Manipur Land Reforms Commission and the demand for inclusion of Meiteis in the Scheduled Tribe list." The said press release regarding announcement of a further agitation beginning 9 June was made following a joint meeting of JAC with the Outer Manipur Tribals' Forum (OMTF), a tribal apex body of the Hmar Inpui, Mizo People Convention, Thadou Inpi, United Naga Council and Zomi Council. This means if situation demands the tribal people are ready to go beyond the three bills in their fight for justice.

To close the gap between the valley and hill people and to heal the wound, it has become most imperative that the Government of Manipur extends 6th schedule of Indian constitution to hill area covered by the six Autonomous District Councils in hill districts without any further delay for protection of tribal interests and rights. Or else, tribal resentment against the State Government will only exacerbate and the tribals' demand for a separate administration will gain momentum in the days to come.

The valley people want to be constitutionally protected through ILPS, so do the tribals through at least the 6th schedule of the constitution, if not a separate administration. These genuine and most legitimate tribal concerns need to be earnestly appreciated and addressed.

Should the demand of the dominant and relatively advanced community, the Meeteis/Meiteis, who have already attained 8th schedule of the constitution of India, for inclusion in the list of scheduled tribes be surprisingly accepted, 6th schedule provisions will not be sufficient to protect the interests of vulnerable tribals, for the Meiteis would have the same rights as the hill tribal people by virtue of being a scheduled tribe and hence be able to gain access over tribal land and deprive them of their rights and privileges.

In such a scenario the already disadvantaged and dis-empowered tribal people who are indigenous to the hills of Manipur will feel they are left with no option but compelled to demand a separate administration a Union Territory or a State or to merge with Nagaland or Mizoram of their choice depending on their respective connections unless there is a special protective provision or a special alternative arrangement for tribals within Manipur.

The presenting issues in relation to the bills should serve as an opportunity for the state government and all the stake holders, including the tribal/hill and valley people, to sit down together and work out what is in the best interests of the state and its people on the basis of mutual respect and understanding. I cannot overemphasise the need for people or community to be involved in the process of making decisions that will affect them. It is hoped that the bills which are due for re-examination by experts will be amended or reintroduced taking into account the interest of the tribals.

If the tussle over the bills lingers on the situation could get out of control, putting the state at risk of communal clash. Both the State and the Central Government need to act timely and diffuse the highly volatile situation before it is too late. In the meantime the Central Government must start considering imposition of President's Rule in Manipur as a precautionary or preventive measure.

And for the return of peace and normalcy and for a lasting solution to the hill-valley divide and for protection of indigenous people of Manipur, the only way forward seems to be a protective permit system in the valley, based on eligibility criteria inclusive of all people of Manipur, and 6th schedule in the hill area for the protection and empowerment of tribal people. I believe every person in Manipur has the right to a fair go and I believe this proposal is reasonable or acceptable to all indigenous communities of the state.


* Jalun Haokip wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer, a native of Manipur who finished Master of Social Work degree from Flinders University in Adelaide, is an Australia-based social worker with experience of working with mainstream Australians and indigenous Australians in different areas of social work. He can be reached at jalunhaokip(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on June 24 , 2016.

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