TODAY -

Need for New Laws, Constitutional Amendment and Enforcing Laws
To Protect Indigenous Ethnic Groups in Manipur

Dr. N. Somorendro Singh *

ILP : Sit-In and other agitation at Indo Burma Road, Tidim Road and Mayai Lambi :: 14 August 2015
ILP : A Human chain at Tidim Road on 14 August 2015 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



Issues and Perspective

The present intense phase of the demands for Inner Line Permit System (ILPS) and protests seem to be resulted from two factors. One is the government's apparent 'betrayal' to the people on ILPS issue earlier. Second is the 'mishandling' of the protests specially the death of a student. It also reflects disconnect between the people and their representatives in Manipur despite elections.

For decades neither various laws have been made nor the existing laws implemented properly in the state. One possible explanation for this: law making is time consuming and serious activity but does not have % system; no financial gain as in the case of construction, contract work and implementation of centrally sponsored schemes. Making laws and their effective implementation are the essence of democracy and civilized society. Manipur is failing in this crucial aspect and the consequences are clearly visible.

Why the demand for ILPS in Manipur? What is the government's response to it? What will be the future and options on ILPS? How to protect the rights of the indigenous ethnic groups of Manipur? The answers can be found in the larger context of Indian political system. The emerging features of India's democracy and federal systems include failure to protect the rights and aspiration of the indigenous ethnic groups like Meitei, promotion of group based privileges to some while denying the same to others, the majoritarian bias and number game, centralization in decision making and discretionary resource allocation and the continuation of British colonial administrative system and other legacies.

All these go against the values and principles of democracy and genuine federal system. There are political demands and protests in North East India for many decades. The demands for ILPS should be seen in such context. It will be counter-productive to term ILPS as demands of the few and to treat it as mere 'law and order problem'. The issue is political but has deeper socio-economic and identity questions and future of the indigenous ethnic groups in the state.

There is absolute necessity for sensible approach and urgency to make new laws, to amend the Constitution and to enforce the existing laws to protect all the indigenous ethnic groups in Manipur and North East. This is to ensure safety, security and protection of the lawful citizens, to prevent further demographic imbalance, to protect culture and identity of all the ethnic groups in Manipur and to prevent possible social, economic and political conflicts and violence in future. This is within constitutional system and as per international laws. The issue should be understood in the historical perspective, socio-economic and political process in Manipur, North East and Indian political system.

From Past to the Present

Manipur is one the oldest political entities in the entire South Asia and South East Asia. It was an independent kingdom for centuries with its boundaries extending beyond the present one. It was under Burmese control during 1819-1826. During British rule from 1891 to 1947 Manipur was a Princely State with indirect rule with the King having control over the internal administration and had Permit System which regulated entry and exit of people in Manipur. After 'forceful integration' into India in 1949 without the consent of the elected assembly and responsible government (1948-1949), Manipur's status and population have undergone fundamental changes.

The elected assembly and responsible government were abolished after the merger. As a Part C State in Constitution of 1950, Manipur was administered by a Chief Commissioner who abolished permit system in 1950. With the integration into India for the first time in Manipur's history, the self-governance was abolished and complete domination by the people from outside Manipur in the administration, decision making; economy and trade and commerce began. These historical facts need to be understood for proper understanding of political issues and their resolution in Manipur.

For various reasons Manipur both valley and hills is a safe land for the unauthorized internal migrants and illegal foreigners since her merger into India in 1949 and abolishment of permit system in 1950. This has been despite imposition of Armed Forces of Special Act, 1958 and large scale deployment of central security forces all over Manipur for many decades.

The issues of citizenship and foreigners and law making, regulation and deportation etc lie with the centre; not with the states. Unauthorized internal migrants and illegal foreigners provide cheap, easily available and negotiable labour market and many of them run small and big business in the state. Similar religion Hindu of the Meitei in the valley with migrant Hindus and migrant Muslims with local Meitei Pangals(Muslims) have played their role. Military rule in Myanmar, porous border and similar ethnic groups in Manipur has contributed to inflow of illegal Myanmar nationals into Manipur.

Out of the total area of 22, 237 sq.km, valley constitutes only about 1/10 but accommodates about 2/3 of 27 lakhs population of Manipur. Valley is the traditional home of the indigenous ethnic group Meitei which includes Meitei Pangals (Muslims) who cannot settle in the vast hill areas by law. There is no constitutional protection to Meitei and small valley area as in the hill areas and scheduled tribe areas of India. Many Meitei feel threatened and feared that in few decades they will be reduced to insignificance in their own homeland.

It is popular sentiment and consciousness due to every day real encounter with the migrants and popular cinema, songs, writings and drama/sumanglilas in the state. Some Meitei even demand ST status for Meitei to protect land etc which needs separate discussion. Some of the politicians are even accused of making many of the unauthorized internal migrants and illegal foreigners legalized by including them in the voter lists.

Statehood since 1972 has not changed much except the establishment of political intuitions like legislative assembly and council of ministers. The higher civil and police administration in the state including Chief Secretary and DGP in Manipur have been dominated by persons from outside Manipur. The economy, trade and commerce in the state are at the hands of 'outsiders'. It is largely a market for the goods produced in the rest of India and neighbouring countries without internal increase in production and export. The common people of all the indigenous ethnic groups remain largely deprived of livelihood opportunities and dignified existence for many decades with high unemployment of general population and educated youth. The number of the alcoholic, drug and substance abusers and tobacco consumers is increasing indicating socio-economic disorders and stress.

The public services in Manipur are in dismal condition: large scale private water supply, inadequate electricity, poor public health facilities, no public transport, scarcity and inflated prices of essential goods etc. On other hand rich and powerful groups consisting of politicians, bureaucrats, contractors, ethnic politicians and traditional elites have emerged in Manipur. The armed groups operate in various ways. Poverty, unemployment and deprivation of common people have not changed much despite 'development'. There are issues and strong perceptions of mis-governance, corruption and failure to enforce rule of law. In such a scenario any political issue and protests have 'support' resulting to frequent bandhs and disturbance.

Strategy and Ways Ahead

Protection of the rights and interests of the indigenous ethnic groups in Manipur are also challenges of India's democratic and federal system. The political leadership in the state has to show that they have conviction and sincerity by action otherwise situation will be complicated. Data/document on the migrant population and illegal foreigners in Manipur by the government is required and how they have affected the indigenous ethnic groups economically, socially and culturally. Such data can provide reasonable grounds and justification for the new suitable laws.

New law can be passed by state legislature under entry No. 18 : Land- rights in or over land; transfer and alienation of agricultural land, colonization; in the State List of Seventh Schedule of the Constitution for the protection of land rights of the indigenous ethnic groups in Manipur. Sale/transfer of land from indigenous people to non-domiciled can be allowed by the Deputy Commissioners only after the consent from the local bodies with penalty for erring officials/persons etc. Existing MLR Act also can be amended suitably. Under Entry 24: Welfare of Labor- Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule, the state legislature can make laws about the laborers in Manipur for their protection from exploitation. It will help in detecting illegal foreigners and unauthorized internal migrant labour into Manipur.

The state government should take up immediate effective measures for the strict enforcement of Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 passed by the Parliament under Entry 81 of Union List. Under this Act only the registered firms with licenses can hire migrant workers from other states of India and laborers should have documents like Passbooks. State government should collect data and maintain records of the internal migrants/workers under this Act all over the state. Some actions are required to indentify unauthorized internal migrants and illegal foreigners living or working in Manipur by adopting a base/cutoff year. It can be worked out from the voter lists and census data of various years from 1951.

There should be social awareness and development of new occupation/skills by proving training by the government, private bodies and civil society groups. The production system and export should be increased for employment opportunities and to reduce the dependency on the migrant and foreign laborers. The above laws and methods are necessity as railways in Manipur will be a reality around 2017 and possibility of transnational Asian Highways passing through Manipur in near future.

Amend the Constitution and Existing Laws

Only the Parliament has the power to amend the provisions of the Constitution including the reasonable restriction to free movement and reside and settle in any territory of India under Article 19. The state legislature has no power to initiate or amend the Constitution. Under Article 368 at least half of the state legislatures need ratification after passing by Parliament on about seven matters. Recognition of minority is based only on language or religion under Article 29 and 30 for protection of languages, script and culture and to establish educational institutions. There is no mention or recognition of indigenous people, ethnic group or ethnic minority under the Constitution of India. Hence an amendment in the Constitution of India should be considered under Article 371 C or Article in 19 to empower the state legislature of Manipur to enact laws to protect the rights and interests of the ingenious ethnic groups in Manipur. Protection under Article 19 and in the form of Inner Line Regulations, 1873 in the Schedule/Tribe areas like Mizoram, Nagaland etc. already exist. Why not protection for the whole of Manipur due to the reasons stated above?

Centre should delegate powers to the state governments in North East including Manipur to check, regulate and deport the foreigners who have easy illegal entry and out from the region. The past experience has shown failure by the centre and caused tensions and even violence in the region due to illegal foreigners in the region. This can be done by amending the Acts relating to the citizenship and foreigners by the Parliament. It is an urgent necessity for the future generation in the state and region. On this issue and constitutional amendment as discussed above, the political parties in Manipur can mobilize and convince their leadership at the regional and national levels.

The influx of unauthorized internal migrants and illegal foreigners into Manipur are reality with strong sentiments by the people. This issue needs to be recognized and addressed by the political leadership in the state as well as state and central governments. Sooner the better as the students are deprived of education for about one month and frequent protests, general strike and possible violence.

New Politics and Government Response

Now time has come for the civil society, polity and government in Manipur to recognize the importance of the education and evolve a consensus to exempt educational activities in any protest/demand or general strike as in the case of medical, water supply and religious activities. Driving out more students of Manipur to outside for studies need to be reduced. There is need to create new designated protesting spaces/places in Imphal, district headquarters and other places to hear the grievances/voices of the groups by media, people and government. This is because demands/protests are essential part of democratic life and a fundamental right.

Blocking the roads, closing the educational institutions and depriving earning opportunities for the common people for indefinite time and halting everything require rethinking by all. In this regard the government leadership should come forward and play a proactive role by addressing the grievances and fulfill the wishes and interests of the people quickly. The practice of government waiting protests, general strikes and violence, then act has to be given up stable order and progress.


* Dr. N. Somorendro Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be reached at somons(aT)yahoo(dot)com
This article was posted on August 17, 2015.


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