Facts about Article 371-C : Attempts to tinker with it could trigger bigger ramifications
- Part 1 -

Ngaranmi Shimray *

An article was published in The Sangai Express titled “Article 371-C aggravates ethnic divide and stalls progress of Manipur” by Captain (Rtd) LB Singh of Indian Navy on 12th February 2024. He has blamed the provision of Article 371-C of the Constitution of India and the Presidential Order dated 20th June 1972 for many problems faced by Manipur. This is to point out that the facts on which Captain Singh has based his assertions are factually wrong.

Manipur was an independent kingdom and was earlier known as “Kangleipak” prior to the advent of Shantidas Gosai who converted the Maharaj into Hinduism and also influenced him to change the name of the independent country to “Manipur”. This was in the early 1700s when forcible conversion of the subjects were made by the King. The extent of the suzerainty of the kingdom is assumed from the fact that none of the tribes in Manipur were converted to Hinduism. This may be on account of the fact that the writ of the King did not extend to the tribes living in the hill areas of Manipur.

From 1819 to 1825 Manipur was under the rule of Burma. Manipur then became a protectorate of the British East India Company from 1825 and a princely State of British Raj in 1891. On 14th August 1947 Manipur became briefly "independent" till the implementation of the Merger Agreement with the Union of India which took effect on 15th October 1949 and it became a Part C State of Indian Union. Manipur was dependent on foreign power after 1819 till it became briefly independent from 14th August 1947 to 15th October 1949. It was only during the reign of British India that rudimentary form of governance was extended to the Hill Areas of Manipur and not during the days of Kangleipak.

The Manipur State Constitution Act 1947, which was implemented during the brief two year period of independence, was abolished when Manipur became part of the Indian Union. However, as a Part C State, Manipur was given a local self-Government under the Territorial Councils Act of 1956, then a legislative body and Council of Ministers in 1963 under the Government of India Union Territories Act, 1963 and full Statehood in 1972.

The contention made by Captain Singh that in the past there was no restriction for the Meiteis to settle in the Hill Areas was because lands in the hills belong to the tribes and it was only informal transactions that the tribal chiefs sometimes allowed usage of forests for extraction of firewood in the hills adjoining the Imphal valley and in that case people were allowed to stay as tenants on payment of tax. The Captain’s lament that there is restriction on tribal lands in the hill areas now is on account of the fact that the Constitution of India came into force in 1950 and it provided that lands of the tribes across the country, not only tribes of Manipur, are protected from land alienation.

Article 371-C was incorporated in the Constitution in 1972 as a policy of the Central Government to secure continuation of the spirit of the “Special provision for Hill Areas of Manipur” provided under section 52 of the Government of India Union Territories Act, 1963. This provision was made to safeguard the Hill Areas and the tribes living there to ensure they continue to have same protection after Manipur is conferred the status of a full fledged State.

The genesis of Article 371-C comes from the legacy of section 52 of “The Government of India Union Territories Act, 1963”. It was not designed de novo in 1972 when the Constitutional amendment took place but the spirit of section 52 of the Government of India Union Territories Act, 1963 and its various provisions were extracted and suitably incorporated, almost verbatim in some cases, under three different documents viz. Article 371-C, the Presidential Order dated 20th June 1972 and the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971.

The Government of India Union Territories Act, 1963 was in force before Manipur, a Part C State, became a full fledged State on 21st January 1972. This Act had a special provision for Hill Areas of Manipur under Section 52 which is reproduced below for understanding how the spirit of the said Act was incorporated in Article 371-C, Presidential Orders dated 20th June 1972 and the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 1971:-

“52. Special Provision for Hill Areas of Manipur:

(1) There shall be a Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly, of the Union Territory of Manipur consisting of all the members of the Legislative Assembly who for the time being represent the Constituencies situated in the Hill Areas of that territory:
Provided that the Chief Minister and the Speaker shall not be members of the Standing Committee.

(2) The President may by notification determine the area which shall be regarded as the Hill Areas of Manipur and specify the Constituencies situated in the Hill Areas.

(3) Every Minister shall have the right to speak in, and other­wise take part in the proceedings of, the Standing Committee, but shall not, by virtue of such right, be entitled to vote at any meeting of the Committee if he is not a member thereof.

(4) The following matters in so far as they relate to the Hill Areas of Manipur shall be within the purview of the Standing Committee to the extent and in the manner provided by this section, namely:—
(a) the allotment, occupation, or use, or the setting apart of land (other than any land which is a Reserved Forest) for the purposes of agriculture or grazing or for residential or other non-agricultural purposes or for any other purpose likely to promote the interests of the inhabitants of any village or town situated within the Hill Areas:
Provided that nothing in this clause shall be deemed to require the reference to the Standing Committee of any proposal for compulsory acquisition of any land for a public purpose;

(b) the management of any forest not being a Reserved Forest;
(c) the use of any canal or water course for purposes of agriculture;
(d) the regulation of the practice of jhum or other forms of shifting cultivation;
(e) the establishment of village or town committees or councils and their powers; and any other matter relating to village or town administration, including village or town police and public health and sanitation;
(f) the appointment or succession of chiefs or headmen;
(g) the inheritance of property;
(h) marriage; and
(i) social customs.

(5) Every Bill which is not a financial Bill and contains mainly provisions dealing with matters specified in sub-section (4) shall, upon introduction in the Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of Manipur, be referred to the Standing Committee for consideration and report to the Legislative Assembly.

(6) If any question arises whether a Bill attracts the provisions of sub-section (5) or not, the question shall be referred to the Administrator and his decision thereon shall be final.

(7) Any Bill referred to the Standing Committee under sub-section (5) may, if so recommended by the Standing Committee, be passed by the Legislative Assembly with such variations as may be necessary in its application to areas other than the Hill Areas.

(8) When a Bill as reported by the Standing Committee is not passed by the Legislative Assembly in the form in which it has been reported but is passed in a form which, in the opinion of the Speaker, is substantially different from that as reported by the Standing Committee, or is rejected by the Legislative Assembly, the Speaker shall submit to the Administrator.

(9) The Administrator shall, as soon as possible after the sub­mission to him of the Bill, return the Bill to the Legislative Assembly with a message recommending either that the Bill be withdrawn or that it be passed in the form in which it has been reported by the Standing Committee or in the form in which it has been passed by the Legislative Assembly and the message received from the Administrator shall be reported by the Speaker to the Assembly and accordingly, the Bill shall be deemed to have been withdrawn, or as the case may be, be deemed to have been passed by the Assembly in the form recommended by the Administrator.

(10) The Standing Committee shall have power to consider and pass resolutions recommending to the Administrator any legislative or executive action with respect to matters specified in sub-section (4), so however that the executive action relates to general questions of policy and the legislative or executive action does not involve any financial commitments other than expenditure of a routine and incidental character.

(11) The Council of Ministers shall normally give, effect to the recommendations of the Standing Committee under sub-section (10) but if the Council is of the opinion that it would not be expedient to do so or that the Standing Committee was not competent to make any such recommendations, the matter shall be referred to the Administrator whose decision thereon shall be final and binding on the Council and action shall be taken accordingly.

(12) The Administrator shall have special responsibility for securing the proper functioning of the Standing Committee in accordance with this section.”

To be continued...

* Ngaranmi Shimray wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a social activist and political thinker/analyst based in New Delhi.
Advocate for clean politics and passionate about tribal rights,
he can be reached at Shimray2011(AT)gmail(DOT)com ; @AranShimray on X
This article was webcasted on February 28 2024.

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