SoO pact : Understanding the ground rules

Salam Rupachandra Singh *

Manipur is in turmoil. It has various issues with regard to Forest land, plantation of poppy, National Registration of Citizenship, demand for Kuki homeland, bandhs/ blockades on the National Highways and the Meiteis/Meeteis demand to be included in the Scheduled Tribe list under the Indian Constitution. The High Court of Manipur passed an order on 27/03/2023 directing the State Government to recommend for considering inclusion of the Meiteis/ Meeteis as sought by the Central authority.

‘War on drugs’ is one of the Government’s actions and as such destruction of poppy plants on the hills has been initiated. Another act to evict encroachment in Reserved Forest areas was also carried out. There have been issues on Thangjing hills, Koubru hills which are associated with Meitei/Meetei cult and history. The National Highways which feed the land ever remain targets for bandhs/blockades to get a demand fulfilled or to demonstrate a denial in an act. No one can deny it.

The land is concerned about the influx of outsiders of which one is from Myanmar and there is a growing call for implementation of NRC. The last but not the least issue is inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in the list of Scheduled Tribes under Indian Constitution.

The Meiteis/Meeteis are not communal as painted to be and a religious site/structure in Churachandpur vandalized on 29th April, 2023 by miscreants was not reacted violently by the Meiteis except condemning the same. It is generally said that Tribal people are simple and honest, likewise Meeteis are also too considerate and noble.

It is a fact that an open Gym was to be inaugurated on 28/04/2023 at Churachandpur. The same was ransacked by some localities of Churachandpur on 27/04/2023. The prohibitory order was clamped by the Government until further orders on 29/04/2023 apprehending disturbance of peace and public tranquility in the area. However, All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) organized a Solidarity March on 03/05/2023 as mark of protest against the issue of Meetei demanding Scheduled Tribe Status.

Rule of law prescribes that if any order is passed by a Court, if aggrieved, it is to approach the higher Court and there is no room for criticizing the same nor to make violence as outcome of it. The Solidarity March in Churachandpur District turned violent and it became the sole reason to lead to the present situation. Had the Government authority well guarded the March, the present situation might not have happened.

It is bad to have killed innocent people, to raze the houses of both the communities and render them homeless, compelled them to flee and find shelter in relief camps. For how long ?

The Suspension of Operations (SoO) pact was formally signed tripartitely among Kuki National Organisation (KNO) comprising of as many as eleven Groups, Government of India and Manipur Government on 22/08/2008 and similarly with United Peoples Front (UPF) comprising of five Kuki Armed Groups.

The agreed Ground Rules consists of Seven heads namely
1. Preamble,
2. Joint Monitoring Group
3. Camps
4. Weapons
5. Conduct of Cadres during the course of suspension of Operations arrangements,
6. Duration of SoO Arrangements and
7. Enforcement of Suspension of Operations Arrangements.

Initially the term of Suspension of Operations arrangements was for a period of one year. However, as per extension clause, the same has been extended from time to time and it is still operational. In the preamble of the Agreed ground rules, it is specified that KNO/UPF will abide by the Constitution of India, the laws of the land and the territorial integrity of Manipur.

As a second point under this head, the KNO/UPF is to completely abjure the path of violence and will not engage in violent or unlawful activities like killing, injuries, kidnapping, ambush, extortions, intimidations, carrying of arms in public and imposing of tax or fines.

On the other hand, the security forces (the Army, Para Military Force and State Police) will not launch operations against the group as long as they abide by this agreement.

From the preamble of the Ground' Rules, it is crystal clear that so long the party abides by above cited conditions, no action can be taken up against KNO/UPF but if they violate the condition(s), there is ample of power for the Security Forces i.e., Army, Para Military Forces and State Police to launch operations against KNO/UPF cadres.

Under the head ‘camps’, it is stipulated that the cadres of the groups will stay in designated camps and the routine administration of the camp will be in the hand of the group. It is further specified that the designated camps will not be located close to populated areas and National Highways. These camps will be located at reasonable distance from the International border as well as inter-State boundaries.

Further, the cadres will protect their own camps. The environmental security of the camps will be provided by the security forces. Movement of cadres from one designated camp to another will be for mutually agreed purposes and with prior approval of nominated Security Forces/ State Police. Leaders/Cadres from the group requiring to move frequently will be given different photo identity cards by IGP (Intelligence), Manipur.

Under the head, ‘weap-ons’-All: the weapons will be held within the Camp’s Central Authority in a double locking system, with one key being with the group and other with the concerned security Force. Records of the same will be made available to the police and maintained at the Armoury.

Under the head “conduct of cadres during the course of suspension of Operations Arrangements” as many as nine points including not to acquire additional arms, ammunition, military equipment, not to carry out fresh recruitment of cadres or raise additional military/ civil outfits/ front organisations or try to run its our sovereign Government, not to indulge in blockade of road and surface communication in General and undertake an activity which would disturb the functioning of local and State Government and economic or development activities as well as essential services are there.

Finally, the State Government has been given responsibility to enforce the agreed ground rules with the help and assistance of CPOs, Assam Rifles and Army signifying that without any order or direction from any authority, but with Joint Monitoring Group headed by Principal Secretary/ Secretary (Home) Government of Manipur including the Inspector General of Police (Intelligence) Manipur and representatives of Ministry of Home Affairs, CPOs and Army and the UG Groups.

There may be slight changes of the terms and conditions at the annual extensions of the terms of SoO. The State Government can take up any action against those who are violating the provision of Constitution of India and the laws of the land.

A big question is why the miscreants or militants or terrorists who torch houses or fire at public will be spared by the State Government and why the CPOs, Assam Rifles and Army will not help and assist to the State Government which is very much inbuilt in the agreed ground rules?

* Salam Rupachandra Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 09 June 2023.

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