The Case for Amendment of Article 371-C and the Presidential Order 1972

L B Singh *

In the article “Pressurising the State Govt on ST issue Questionable “ by Ngaranmi Shimray, published in “The Sangai Express” on 10 March 2024, commented on my article “Holistic Review of Article 371-C and the Presidential Order 1972” published in the same newspaper on 06 March 24.

The writer is of the view that my article has missed out on relevant facts as Sub-Section 2 of Section 52 of the Government of India (GoI) Union Territory Act 1963 stated, “The President may by notification determine the area which shall be regarded as the “Hill Areas” and “The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 1971 referred the above Sub-Section 2.

Article 371-C was added by the 27th Amendment Act of 1971, and the competent authority to declare “Hill Area” became the country’s highest authority, the President of India. Then, in exercise to the powers conferred by Article 371-C of the Constitution, the President issued the “Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972, and the First Schedule describes the areas of the “Hill Areas.”

Therefore, I don’t feel it necessary to mention Section 52 of the GoI Union Territory Act of 1963, as the President declared the “Hill Areas” in exercising the power conferred by Article 371-C.

The British started the separate administration for the hills, which continued even after Manipur became an independent country in 1947 with “The Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation 1947. The definitions of the “Hill Areas” in various Acts after the merger with the Union of India and Article 371-C are given below to highlight the changes, problems, and misunderstandings created by these among the various ethnic groups in Manipur:

o Section 2 (d) of the Manipur (Village Authorities in the Hill Areas) Act 1956 states, “Hill Areas means such areas in the hill tracts of the Union Territory of Manipur as the Chief Commissioner may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be Hill Areas.”

o Section 2 (j) of the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform (MLR&LR) Act, 1960 states, “Hill Areas means such areas in the hill tracts of the Union Territory of Manipur as the administrator (now the State of Manipur as the State Government) may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be Hill Areas.”

o Section 2 (h) of the Manipur Hill Areas (House Tax) Act 1966 states, “Hill Areas means such areas in the hill tracts of the Union Territory of Manipur as the Administrator may declare to be Hill Areas under the MLR&LR Act, 1960.”

o Article 371-C states that “Hill Areas” means such areas as the President may, by order, declare to be hill areas.

In the above Acts, the authority to declare “Hill Areas” was the Chief Commissioner/Administrator/State Government, and there was also scope for reviewing the areas by notification in the Official Gazette depending on the socioeconomic progress of a particular area. However, in Article 371-C, the authority to declare “Hill Areas” is the highest in the country, the President of India.

The First Schedule of the Presidential Order, 1972 describes the geographical area of the “Hill Areas.” There is no scope for reviewing the area without the consent of the President of India.

The Government of Manipur usually issued Gazette Notifications in the 1960s regarding the composition of the hill and valley revenue subdivisions based on the definition of the “Hill Areas” described in the MLR&LR Act, 1960, and there was scope for reviewing the areas of “Hill Areas.”

The STs of Manipur complied with the Manipur Hill Areas (House Tax) Act, 1966, where the “Hill Areas” were defined under the MLR&LR Act 1960. They also adhered to the special provisions regarding STs enumerated in Section 158 of the MLR&LR Act 1960. However, the STs do not accept the amended Section 1(2) of the MLR&LR Act 1960, which states that “It extends to the whole of the State of Manipur except the hill areas thereof:

Provided that the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, extend the whole or any part of any section of this Act to any of the hill areas of Manipur also as may be specified in such notification.

Article 371-C also states that the executive power of the Union shall extend to give directions to the State Government for the administration of “Hill Areas.” In other words, 90% of the State’s geographical area can still be treated like a Union Territory.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (GoI) can give directions for the administration of the “Hill Areas” as per the provisions of Article 371-C. Therefore, even if the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, gives directives for the administration of the “Hill Areas,” it is according to the provisions of Article 371-C.

The provisions of Article 371-C undermine the State Government’s authority and law-enforcing forces like the Manipur Police. As the power of the Manipur Legislative is curtained in 90% of the geographical areas of the State, Manipur has become the most difficult State to govern in India.

The provisions in Article 371-C sowed the seed for narrow ethnic politics and aggravated the division between the people in the valley and the hill. The provision of Article 371-C also generates a sense of a separate entity, and it has inadvertently become one of the numerous factors encouraging separate administrative units in some hill tribes.

In high school and college, I grew up hearing many politicians and intellectuals discussing the injustice done by the GoI and Article 371-C to the Meiteis. However, these injustices in Article 371-C are mainly due to the lack of knowledge about Manipur in the rest of the country at that time. Earlier, the politicians and intellectuals could not articulate our grievance and put up a proper case for the amendment of Article 371-C.

Therefore, the speeches of politicians and intellectuals have only generated anti-India sentiment among the Meitei youths. However, Manipur now has very high-caliber intellectuals and constitutional experts who can articulate the grievances of the Meiteis and put up a proper case for the amendment of Article 371-C and the Presidential Order of 1972.

With the development of science and technology, we have learned that Manipur is on the Himalayan Mountain Range and that Manipur is a “Hill State.” Imphal, Churachandpur, and Kangpokpi’s altitudes are 786 m, 914m, and 992m, respectively. Therefore, the wisdom of declaring “Hill Areas” in a “Hill State” needs to be reviewed by intellectuals and constitutional experts.

Though many Acts have defined “Hill Areas” after the merger with India, the President has declared Manipur’s “Hill Areas” in exercising the power conferred by Article 371-C. Therefore, Manipur’s “Hill Areas” can be reviewed by amending Article 371-C and the Presidential Order 1972.

It would be a highly challenging task for the intellectuals and constitutional experts to protect the long-term interest of all the ethnic communities in Manipur while reviewing Article 371-C and the Presidential Order 1972. All the stack holders should also be consulted before forwarding the case to the GoI.

Manipur is likely to continue as India’s most difficult State to govern, and the provisions of Article 371-C also contribute to the problem. In addition, due to the ongoing violence in Myanmar, the people of Manipur are unlikely to have a dedicated peaceful time to prepare the case even after the present crisis.

Therefore, the intellectuals, constitutional experts, and the State Government should initiate the process to holistically review Article 371-C and the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Area Committee) Order, 1972, and forward a proper case for the amendments.

* L B Singh wrote this article for
The writer is a retired Captain of the Indian Navy.
The writer can be contacted at bimollaishram(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 05 April 2024

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