Holistic Review of Article 371 C and the Presidential Order 1972

L B Singh *

The article “Facts about Article 371 - C, attempts to tinker with could trigger bigger ramifications” by Ngaranmi Shimray, published in “The Sangai Express” in four parts on 22, 23, 24, and 28 February 2024, comments on my article “Article 371 C aggravates ethnic divide and stalls the progress of Manipur” published in the same newspaper on 12 February 2024. My article recommended holistically reviewing Article 371 C and the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Area Committee) Order, 1972, and forwarding a proper case for the amendment.

The comment by Mr Shimray brings out some positive and noteworthy ideas, like the Panchayats Extension to Schedule Areas (PESA), establishing Special Economic Zones in the hill districts, decentralization to decongest Imphal valley, and setting up infrastructure and institutions in the district headquarters and entrusting the Hill Area Committee (HAC) with the task of bringing peace between the Meiteis and the Kukis in the present crisis. However, there are some differences of view; only a few are highlighted in this article.

Article 371 C and the Presidential Order 1972

Mr Shimray started his article with a sweeping statement that my assertions are factually wrong and explains that the provisions of Section 52 of the Government of India (GoI) Union Territories Act 1963 were extracted and suitably incorporated under three documents viz, Article 371 C, the Presidential Order 1972, and the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 1971. The writer is of the view that the provisions of safeguards were merely extended without any substantial modifications.

However, drastic changes were introduced by Article 371 C and the Presidential Order 1972. Section 52 of the GoI Union Territories Act 1963 does not give the geographical areas of the “Hill Areas.” The Parliament enacted the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform (MLR&LR) Act 1960 in the Eleventh Year of the Republic of India. As per para 2 (j) of the Act, “Hill Areas means such areas in the hill tracts of the State of Manipur as the State Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, declare to be Hill Areas.” The Government of Manipur usually issued Gazette Notifications in the 60s regarding the composition of the hill and the valley revenue subdivisions.

However, as per Article 371 C, the expression “Hill Areas” means such areas as the President may, by order, declare to be hill areas. Therefore, the definition of “Hill Areas” has completely changed, creating utter confusion among the various ethnic groups in Manipur. The first Schedule of “The Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee Order 1972,” issued by the President of India in the exercise of the power conferred by Article 371 C, places 90% of the geographical area of Manipur under the “Hill Area.” It has curtained the power of the State Assembly in 90% of the State’s area for the first time.

Manipur got Statehood after a prolonged struggle on 21 January 1972. However, Article 371 C 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 as Union Territory. Is there any other States in India with such provisions? This provision sowed the seed for narrow ethnic politics, aggravated the division between the people in the valley and the hill, and adversely affected the people’s ability to think about the development and resources of the State as a whole.

Further, Manipur is a “Hill State” on the Himalayan Mountain Ranges, and the altitudes of the central valley Imphal, Churachandpur, and Kangpokpi are 786 m, 914m, and 992m, respectively. The “Hill Areas” described in the First Schedule of the Presidential Order 1972 in a “Hill State” need to be reviewed by the intellectuals and constitutional experts.

Article 371 A and Article 371 G of the Indian Constitution keep specific provisions beyond the purview of the Indian Parliament in Nagaland and Mizoram, respectively. The above Articles provided constitutional safeguards to preserve religious or social practices, customary law, procedure, culture, ownership, land transfer, etc.

On the other hand, Article 371 C limited the power of the State Assembly to 90% of the geographical area, and no constitutional safeguards have been provided to preserve the religious or social practices, culture, etc., of all the indigenous people of Manipur.

In 1951, the Christian population in Manipur was only 12%, and most tribals and an estimated 48000 Meiteis followed the indigenous religion. All the Meitei Hindus also followed their ancestor’s (indigenous) religion, Sanamahi. In 2011, the composition of Hindus, Christians, and Muslims in Manipur was 41.39 %, 41.29%, and 8.4%, respectively.

Land Commission for Resolving Complex Land Problems.

Mr Shimray viewed my article as an attempt to suggest policy changes for grabbing lands of the tribes in the hill areas. The land reforms, distribution, and updating of land records as per the Northeastern Vision 2020, the New Land Use Policy (NLUP) Manipur 2014, etc., are all stalled due to the allegation of attempts by the Meitei to grab tribal land.

The demand by the Meiteis for inclusion in the ST list is also viewed as an attempt to grab tribal land. Fear psychosis has been created among the tribes by some leaders, chiefs, and intellectuals with vested interests; fear psychosis of tribal land alienation is also one of the root causes of the present crisis in Manipur.

He also stated that no tribe worth its name will allow their lands to be usurped through subterfuge, force, and devious methods. They would lay down their lives to protect it. I agree with his statement and want to add that the same is true in the case of Meitei and Kuki. However, all three ethnic groups have different ideas about their land.

Naga considers most hill districts as their traditional areas except Churachandpur and Pherzawl. Meanwhile, Kukis consider the areas they claim to be their ancestor’s land. It is perilous, and Manipur may not experience durable peace even after the present crisis without resolving the land issue.

It is, therefore, critically essential to resolve the land issue peacefully among the ethnic groups. The GoI should institute an independent “Land Commission” headed by a retired Supreme Court judge with experts in various fields such as tribal land rights, various cultivation methods, environment and forest, planning, selected members from all ethnic communities of Manipur, etc.

The Land Commission should scientifically determine 100% of the land requirements of the STs, including land for future infrastructure. The “Land Commission” should also determine land available for establishing Special Economic Zones, various institutes for health, education, cooperative farming, etc., for all the indigenous people of Manipur in the hill districts, without affecting the long-term interest of the STs.

Demand by the Meitei for inclusion in the ST List.

I agree with Mr Shimray that Meiteis must blame themselves for the exclusion from ST List as no tribes in Manipur objected to including Meiteis in the 50s. Former Chief Minister Rishang Keishing recommended Meiteis for inclusion on the ST list in the 80s. However, Meitei MLAs took little interest then.

However, I can’t entirely agree with his statement that now the hill tribes do not support the demand for the inclusion of Meitei in the ST list as there is no response from the Meiteis for the extension of Six Schedule to the Hill Areas and the step-motherly treatment towards the tribes in all spheres of life.

Step-motherly treatment of the tribes by the majority Meiteis is propaganda by the people who want to divide the hill and valley. The MLAs from the hill are mainly responsible for the lack of development of the hill districts. Except for a few, the MLAs from the hill don’t make sufficient effort to develop their constituency and concentrate on enriching their wealth by investing crores of rupees in the valley.

The State cabinet recommended inclusion in the Six Schedule to the Central Government in 1991, 1992, and 2001. The GoI notified the State Government to furnish details of “local adjustment” and “amendments” required for inclusion in the Six Schedule.

In most tribal villages in the hill districts, the villages are not allowed to sell land to the other tribes. Therefore, the tribal villages can’t be expected to sell their land to Meiteis even if they become ST. It may not be correct to assume that the Meitei could grab tribal land if they became ST. Further, adopting an arrangement like Nagaland may protect the ST quota for Naga and Kukis in Government jobs.

The total population of Meiteis, Nagas, and Kukis in India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar is roughly 1.8 million, 2.3 million, and 3 million, respectively. Manipur is the only state where Meiteis are in the majority. However, the composition of the Meitei population (excluding Meitei Pangal (Muslim) in Manipur decreased from 58.9% in 1951 to 44.9% in the 2011 census. Meiteis is the smallest community among the three ethnic groups, and its population growth rate is decreasing.

The demand for inclusion in the ST list by the Meiteis is to provide constitutional safeguards to save the Meiteis and their cultural identity from extinction. The Nagas and the Old Kukis should be magnanimous and endeavor to save the cultural identity of Meiteis by supporting the demand for inclusion in the ST list, as some of them were converted from Meitei or vice versa.

The Extent of the Kingdom.

The article states that the extent of the suzerainty of the Kingdom is assumed from the fact that none of the tribes of 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.

I don’t see any logic for the assumption, as the king did not even impose Hinduism on the Kabui Naga villages in the valley. All the tribal villages in Manipur came under the Meitei King during the reign of Garibniwaza Maharaja (1709 – 1748 AD). Loiyamba Shilyen prescribed the tributes to be rendered by the respective tribes, mainly in the form of forest and agricultural products.

The Lallup service was imposed on the hill tribes. During the Burma (Myanmar) invasion in 1723 AD, many hill tribes joined the Meitei forces under the Meitei King. In peacetime, the hill tribes dug up many moats in the valley in the service of the Meitei King. However, the Maharaja allowed the tribal chiefs to administer their villages according to their customs and traditions with minimum interference.

Meitei Settlement in the Hill Areas Before the Merger.

The article stated that the tribal chiefs sometimes allowed Meiteis to collect firewood from the adjoining hills and stay as tenants on tax payments. Meiteis settled in the Kwatha Meitei Village, in the hill district, before the merger with the Union of India. Individual Meitei or families migrated to the hill and converted to Kabui, Tangkhul, and other unspecified tribes (Ch Manihar Singh, p12).

Heiren Khunjan, a tribe in the Southwest of Manipur, was absorbed into the Ningthouja clan and assigned a surname, Heirang Khongjam (Gangmumei, p23). A section of the Kha-Ngamba clan, Meitei, migrated to the Northeastern hills of Manipur and converted to Tangkhul.

The boundary of Manipur was demarcated in the name of the Kingdom, and the ancestors of Meiteis sacrificed their lives and played a crucial role in protecting the Kingdom with the support of Nagas and Kukis. Declaring 90% of the State’s geographical area as a “Hill Area,” allotting it to 41% of the population in a “Hill State,” and restricting 53% of the population to 10% of the area is inhumane and requires review and reconsideration. It was mainly due to the lack of knowledge about Manipur in the rest of the country.

Burmese Rule, British Protectorate, and Princely State of British Raj.

In the article, Mr Shimray stated that 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 the British Raj, in 1891. The writer insinuated that the tribal chiefs were not the vassals of the Meitei King during the above period.

The Burmese governors could not rule as the valley was deserted, and there was famine. The Burmese made Huidrom Labol Singh a ruler of Manipur in 1819. Jumjaotaba and Hirachandra returned from Cachar, and in the absence of Burmese forces, Jumjaotaba became the king in 1820. Gambir Singh returned from Cachar and became the king in 1821. However, Gambir Singh abandoned the throne due to extreme famine.

The Burmese then nominated various princes of Manipur to rule the Kingdom from 1822 to 1825 (Gangmumei 2015 -p339 to 341). The Meitei kings from 1820 to 1825 might not have been influential, but they ruled the Kingdom.

The Meitei Kings from 1826 to 1891 were powerful enough to send military assistance to the British in Kohima and during the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. During the above period, the Meitei kings enjoyed the support of the vassal tribal chiefs, and rebellious tribes like Chassad Kukis were punished.

In 1916, the Maharaja ceased to be the President of the Manipur State Durbar (PMSD), and he was given the revisionary powers of the Durbar proceedings. A British ICS officer became the PMSD and administered the hill areas in the name of Maharaja. He was to consult the Maharaja in all important matters concerning the hill. Therefore, the hill administration was not under the Maharaja of Manipur during the period, only for twenty-five years, from 1891 to 1915.

Present Crisis.

In the article, Mr Shimray expressed grave concern about the deteriorating law and order situation in the valley but did not mention the situation in the Kuki-dominated areas. Everyone in Manipur is severely affected by the present crisis. The State and Central Government should uphold the rule of law with integrity and balance.

It's essential that we address the concerns of all communities impartially, particularly when it comes to managing challenges posed by militants from different ethnic communities. Ensuring justice and fairness in such matters will pave the way for lasting peace and understanding among all groups. The GoI should immediately initiate decisive measures to end the crisis and restore peace and normalcy in Manipur.

* 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 March 10 2024 and edited on March 13 for total years.

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