TODAY -

Autonomy on a leash

Thangbiaklian Hangzo *



The Autonomous District Council in Manipur was instituted in 1971 as an act of the then union territory called the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 1971. Unlike other North Eastern states, the Manipur Hill Areas was not governed by the Parliament Act of Sixth Schedule meant for administration of tribal settlements in the region. Nevertheless a special parliament act under Article 371 (C) was constituted giving special permission to the President of India and the Governor in the administration of the Hill Areas.

Based on this provision President V. V. Giri in 1972 issued an order called the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972 which sanctions the institutionalization of all Hill Areas legislators into a mere committee for a ‘legislative’ oversight in the interests of the Hill Areas.

Historically, the Hill Areas was never placed under one or a single administrative unit along with the Valley Areas or the erstwhile Manipur princely state. Most treaties and agreements including Treaty of Yandaboo, 1826 and Agreement for Kabaw Valley, 1834, with respect to Manipur which was annexed British in1891, do not affect the tribesmen. The tribes were separately annexed. In his book History of the Relations of Government with the Hill tribes of the North East Frontier of Bengal Alexander Mackenzie writes, “The (whole) tribes seem to be practically independent and not have been affected at all by the Treaty of 1834” (1884: p.173)

When the Boundary Commission, 1894 demarcated Manipur-Chin State boundary which runs through the middle of their settlement, the hill tribes were neither consulted nor was their consent taken. And when Manipur Darbar was created by the British to administer Manipur through the Maharaja, but the tribal settlement areas was administered by a British political agent, and not by, or through, the Maharaja. The plausible reason for this administrative separation as written by Bimal J Dev & Dilip K. Lahiri in their works called Manipur: Culture and Politics is, “Manipuries are unfit to control the Hill Tribes.” (Mittal Publications, 1987, p.112)

Moreover when Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 and Manipur State Courts Act, 1947 was passed, the Hill Areas was regulated by the Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947 and a separate Hill Court/Bench was accorded. When the Manipur Maharajah signed the merger agreement in 1949, the tribal chiefs were not part of it and retained exclusive hold over their land whose records were originally given by the British.

As Manipur was accorded Union Territory, the Hill Areas continued to be governed by Manipur (Village Authority) Act, 1956. And the land holding of the tribal areas were community ownership through the chiefs unlike khas land and individual pattadars as was practiced in the Valley areas governed by MLR & LR Act 1960, albeit few exceptions covertly imposed.

One year before the granting of full-fledged statehood to Manipur in 1972, the Hill Areas of Manipur was administered through the Autonomous District Council (Manipur Hill Areas) Act, 1971 and the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972 constituting the Hill Areas Committee to have legislative oversight in the assembly through the provision of Article 371 C.

However, and as was stated before, the ADC in Manipur was constituted by a state legislation resulting in deficit of power, pseudo-autonomy and shortcomings in its functions unlike the Sixth Schedule provisions instituted elsewhere in the North Eastern states. And HAC is a legislative body and not an executive functionary which is often arm twisted to serve the ulterior agenda of the state cabinet often coercing their tribal cabinet counterparts with the notorious ‘carrots and sticks’.

Although the HAC was in the pattern of Tribal Areas Committee under the Sixth Schedule, the tribal settlement areas in Manipur is neither under the Fifth Schedule nor was the ADC placed under the Sixth Schedule provision of the Indian Constitution. The flaw of the existing Hill Areas administration in Manipur therefore lies in the very constitution identity of the local institution.

Acknowledging the insufficiency of the ADCs autonomy, the HAC in its meeting on March 15, 1978, under the Chairmanship of Shri S. Adani, had passed a resolution for the extension of Sixth Schedule in the Hill Areas of Manipur. This resolution was reaffirmed in 1983 and 1990 by the same committee.

In consonance with the HAC’s resolution, the Manipur Cabinet on May 13, 1991 resolved to recommend the extension of Sixth Schedule in the Hill Areas of Manipur with Shri RK Ranbir Singh as the Chairman and Chief Minister. This resolution was again reaffirmed in 1992 and 2001 under the Chief Ministership of Shri RK Dorendra Singh and Shri Radhabinod Koijam respectively. Of course, these recommendations were made with a rider clause, “with certain local adjustments and amendments.”

The Union Government, on several occasions including May 6, 2002 and April 7, 2003, sought an explanation from the Manipur Government. The latest was on May 7, 2015 where the Manipur Government was asked to “furnish details of specific areas to be included in the 6th Schedule of the Constitution and proposed local adjustments and amendments.” The state government remains incommunicado so far!

To add to this wanting autonomy, the recent turn of events with regard to the administration of Autonomous District Council (ADC) shows no sign of autonomy and continues to lose its significance under the potent claw of the state government serving the agenda of the dominant community. As Senapati, Tamenglong and Churachandpur ADC reeled under internal tussle, which are very much within the bounds of ADC rules, the state government, in an act of hegemony, constituted a Cabinet Sub-Committee to oversee the functioning of the ADCs in question curtailing its autonomy and bypassing the Hill Areas Committee and unmindful of the department, Tribal Affairs and Hills, to which the responsibility of oversight was given.

While an oversight of a Cabinet Sub-Committee may be justified in the event of extra constitutional circumstances rendering the ADC non-functional, but the recent interference of the State Government is uncalled for as the ADCs in question were administered by the governor through the concerned department within the bounds and limits of ADC Act and Rules. Anything beyond that is an infringement and insubordination of the rights of the tribal people, and it will continue to remain so unless an alternative arrangement is made to safeguard their historical, political and inherent interests.

Juxtaposing these historical facts and political realities in the administration of the Hill Areas of Manipur, one can only conclude that ignorance was exploited, rights were infringed upon and numbers were played up to systematically undermine the historical and political rights of the tribal population in Manipur. And these precedencies remain a testament to the state government’s incompetency, insincerity and negligence towards the Hill Areas and its administration which perpetually put their autonomy on a leash.

There are historical and political justice that has to be met if peaceful coexistence is to be achieved in Manipur, not simply peace but as the Palestinians would have asserted, a ‘just’ peace, with a just administrative set up.


* Thangbiaklian Hangzo wrote this article for e-pao.net
The author may be reached at: hangzo(DOT)biak(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 25, 2018.



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