Article 371 C Aggravates Ethnic Divide and Stalls the Progress of Manipur

L B Singh *

Manipur may be the only place in the world where one dynasty (Ningthouja Dynasty) ruled for nearly 2000 years, and India highlighted this fact during the G-20 Summit. After the defeat in the Anglo-Manipur War in 1891, Manipur became a Princely State of British India. When the British left India in August 1947, Manipur became an independent country with a written constitution and an elected government. The constitutional monarch ruled the valley and the hill before the merger with the Union of India in October 1949.

Unlike the other states, Manipur is now finding it increasingly more challenging to progress due to the mistakes in Article 371 C and the critical composition of STs (40.88%). Some of the mistakes in Article 371 C are highlighted in this article, and the experts and the intellectuals may find many more.

Article 371 C states, among others:

o The President may, by order, provide for the constitution and functions of a committee of the State’s Legislative Assembly consisting of members elected from the Hill Areas of the State.

o The executive power of the Union shall extend to giving directions to the State Government as to the administration of the Hill Areas.

o The expression “Hill Areas” means such areas as the President may, by order, declare to be hill areas.

President VV Giri issued “The Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee” order 1972, in exercise of the power conferred by Article 371 C, and it curtained the power of the State Assembly in the “Hill Areas.” Further, the executive power of the Union shall extend to give directions to the State Government for the administration of “Hill Areas,” which is 90% of the geographical area of the State.

It undermines the State’s authority, and the hill tribes feel like they are separate entities. Is there any other state in the country with such a provision? Article 371 C sowed the seed for narrow ethnic politics, aggravated the division between the people in the valley and the hill, and finally stalled the progress of the State. The article failed to promote harmony among the various ethnic communities, and it has adversely affected the people’s ability to think about the development and resources of the State as a whole.

Before the merger with India, there were no restrictions for the Meitei to settle on the hill, though very few settled there. The 1873 book “Statistical Account of the native state of Manipur and the hill territory under its rule” by Dr R Brown gives the areas ruled by the Maharaja of Manipur. In 1905, Political agent J Shakespeare issued boundary papers for the villages in the hill districts in the name of Maharaja of Manipur.

However, allotment of land for various purposes (other than reserved forest) in the “Hill Areas” became a scheduled matter of the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) as per the Presidential Order 1972. The HAC did not consider that the new Meitei settlement in the “Hill Areas” would promote the interest of any village or town’s inhabitants. In order words, Article 371 C took away the right of the Meiteis to settle in the “Hill Areas.”

The Special Provisions in Article 371 C practically acted as a barrier between the Scheduled Tribes (Naga and Kuki) and the Meiteis by incorrectly assuming them to be equivalent to the general category of people of the country. However, Meiteis, Nagas, and Kukis are all Mongoloid and speak Tibeto-Barman languages and have organic relations.

In 1950, Meiteis in Imphal were relatively more advanced than the Nagas and the Kukis. However, the conditions of the Meiteis in the rural areas were like those of the hill tribes. Mountain ranges surrounded the erstwhile kingdom, and most Meiteis had not seen a train. They were far behind the standard of the general category people in the other parts of the country.

The Meithei (Meetei/Meitei) was classified as a “Hill Tribe” in three consecutive censuses conducted by the British from 1891 to 1931. However, the Meiteis were excluded from the list of STs promulgated on 20 September 1951, but the Nagas and the Kukis were included. The Nagas and the Kukis knew, or the Church leaders guided them about the various benefits of including in the list of STs.

Meiteis were exceptionally proud of their ancient civilization and written history from 33 AD. However, they were ignorant about the modern world outside the kingdom and the benefits of inclusion in the list of Scheduled Tribes. Therefore, they didn’t object to the exclusion from the STs list then.

Meitei realized much later the importance of inclusion in the list for the constitutional protection of religious or social practices, customary law, culture, and special facilities like higher studies assistance, land rights protection, etc.

It would be against natural justice to deny the competent authority’s consideration of the demand to include Meitei in the STs list. In any case, the Meiteis can’t become ST if they don’t fulfill all the criteria. Therefore, it is incorrect for any tribal organization to obstruct forwarding the demand for consideration to the competent authority by intimidation and other violent means.

The STs have enjoyed special provisions of the article for a considerable time. Now, they want all the land and resources in 90% of the State’s geographical area permanently, and they want to term it as “Tribal Areas.” This desire of the STs has paralyzed the development of the State, and two such cases have been highlighted below as examples:

o New Land Use Policy (NLUP) Manipur 2014.

Jhum cultivation (slash and burn shifting) is no longer widespread among the Nagas and is gradually converting to Wet Rice Cultivation (WRC) or terrace farming. The Nagas are well known for their environmentally friendly behavior of cutting only tree branches for firewood from the forest and avoiding cutting trees. They take excellent care and pride in the intricate traditional irrigation system for terrace farming. However, the Kukis have the habit of migrating in search of fertile virgin soil for Jhum cultivation. In Manipur, soil erosion mainly due to shifting cultivation caused an estimated soil loss of 50 lakh cubic meters per annum.

The New Land Use Policy (NLUP) was conceived by Mizoram in 1984 to check the destruction of dense forests, environmental degradation, and soil erosion and to alleviate poverty and hardship faced by the people engaged in Jhum cultivation. The work on the ground started on a small scale in 1985-92, and the policy was implemented in 2011.

The Government of Manipur promulgated NLUP 2014 with similar objectives. However, it was opposed by Kukis, stating that “Article 371 C gives special provision in respect of Hill Areas to the State of Manipur for protection of the people and their way of life. It is in total contradiction to the traditional land use system, which takes into account the ecological and the environmental aspects.”

The Nagas, despite their environmentally friendly behavior, also vehemently opposed it. The United Naga Council (UNC) was more forthright and stated, “In Manipur, tribal constitute 41% of the population but own 90% of the land. Hence, the policy will dilute their land rights. The tribal population in Mizoram is 100%, and so the legal implications of the policy are universal.”

o Land Reforms, Distribution, and Updating Land Records.

The Northeastern Region Vision 2020 highlighted the need for land reforms, distribution, updating land records, and computerization. However, in Manipur, the STs have opposed land surveying, land reforms, and distribution. They are apprehensive that the State Government may take away the surplus land after the survey. Further, some Nagas and Kukis are influenced by the proponents of “Nagalin” and “Zalengam or Zogam,” respectively, and want to keep the land intact for their dreamlands. Therefore, the progress of the State in this regard is almost nil.

In the early 70s, many local politicians boldly spoke about the partiality of the Union Government against the Meiteis, and some of them won the election. Their speech only generated anti-India sentiments.

However, they have never taken up a proper case for the amendment of Article 371 C. The mistakes in Article 371 C in treating the indigenous people, Meiteis, like the general category people in the other states, were purely due to the lack of knowledge of our countrymen about Manipur or it was influenced by the people who wanted to divide the hill and the valley in the State.

Manipur has adequate land to provide 100% of the land requirement of the STs if the influx of illegal immigrants is checked. Special economic zones can be established for all the indigenous people, including Meitei, in the hill districts without affecting the tribal villages, their way of life, and long-term livelihood. However, the development process of the State has been paralyzed as the STs want all the land and resources in 90% of the geographical area,

Article 371 C is a temporary and transitional provision like Article 370. However, all-out efforts are being made by certain ethnic groups to make a permanent separate administrative unit or Territorial Council based on the temporary and transitional provisions. They apparently want a separate administrative unit before the competent authority considers the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST list.

Everyone in the State is severely affected by the unprecedented, prolonged crisis, which has claimed more than 200 lives and displaced thousands of people. The priority in the people’s minds is to bring peace and normalcy; therefore, demands from the people are mainly related to the present crisis. However, the case for the review and amendment of Article 371 C is essential to protect Manipur’s long-term interests.

The constitutional experts and the intellectuals should assist the State Government in preparing a proper case to review and amend Article 371 C, protecting the interest of all ethnic communities in the State.

It is a highly sensitive and challenging task as there is mistrust among the various ethnic communities. However, it is confident that the intellectuals would carefully consider the interests of all the ethnic groups and prepare a proper case for the review and the amendment of Article 371 C.

* L B Singh wrote this article for
The writer is a retired Captain of the Indian Navy
and can be contacted at bimollaishram(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on February 15 2024.

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