INNER LINE PERMIT AND RELATED ISSUES IN MANIPUR
WHY IN NEWS
Within hours of the Manipur Assembly passing three bills at a special session in response to the violent protests demanding the implementation of the Inner Line Permit in Manipur for the past two months, violence erupted in the tribal hill district of Churachandpur yesterday evening. Four persons were killed and another eight injured in protests by Kuki and Zomi tribals regarding the passing of the bills as the Manipur police tried controlling the mob.
Already, Manipur has virtually been paralysed by an agitation seeking imposition of Inner Line Permit (ILP) for checking the influx of outsiders. The bills are expected to pave the way for ILP on the lines of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
The combined population of the indigenous people living in the hills and plains of the state is around 18-19 lakh, while the outsiders, including those from Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh, account for more than 10 lakh out of the State’s total population of 28 lakh, according to the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System.
PASSAGE OF SEPRATED BILLS
Earlier, in an ingenuous strategy to ensure at least a major portion of the demand for the introduction of the Inner Line Permit system to check influx of migrants, passed the legislative process, the Manipur government spilt the substance of the demand and spread it over three bills:
- the Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015;
- the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015;
- the Manipur Shops and Establishment (Second Amendment) Bill 2015
and passed them unanimously during a special Assembly session. The idea was, if the first and controversial bill ran into hurdles, the remaining two would not be held up with it.
All three now await the Governor’s assent.
- The popular anticipation was that the latter two bills would not face much hurdles for they are existing laws.
- But it now seems there is more to it than just the Governor’s assent. Manipur’s hill districts, in particular the southern districts, are opposing it.
A day ahead of Special Assembly session, three students organisations, All Tribal Students Union Manipur( ATSUM), Kuki Students Organisation( KSO) and All Naga Students Association Manipur( ANSAM) called a bandh in the hill districts to oppose the bills.
- The administrative mechanism evolved in Manipur by the British after they brought the kingdom under them in 1891 is almost a replication of their administrative model in their older province of Assam where they had revenue provinces administered directly by modern land revenue laws, and the non-revenue hills simply left “unadministered”.
- By the Government of India Act 1919, these hills beyond the “Inner Line” were marked off as “Backward Tracts” and left largely unadministered but under the Governor’s direct rule and not the provincial government’s.
- By the GOI Act 1935 the “Backward Tracts” were re-categorised into “Excluded Areas” and “Partially Excluded Areas”.
- The “Excluded Areas” were not given any representation in the Provincial Government, which had been given much more democratic powers by then, with the condescending explanation that these hills were still not ready for democratic governance.
- The “Partially-Excluded Areas” were however given some representations in the Provincial Government, but by nomination of the Governor and not by election.
- In Manipur, the British did not draw an “Inner Line” separating the hills from the valley, but there is a great deal of replication of the regulation’s provisions. The provincial government ruled the valley districts, but the hills were kept under the President of the Manipur State Durbar, PMSD, a British officer who played the role of the Governor in the then princely state.
- Although not identical, this was the broad pattern of governance the British took to many of their newly acquired territories.
Why hills are not happy about the three Bills?
- Part of the answer is that the migrant issue is alive mostly in the valley districts, which are open to all Indians to settle unlike the hill districts which are reserved for tribals. But there was a need to take tribals into trust before the passage.
- A lack of communication could be the other reason. Meitei agitators in four valley districts or the Nagas and Kuki-Zomi groups in the hills failed to reach out and try to understand each other on the matter.
- Manipur too, it seems speaks only the language offatwa and has lost faith in the power of dialogues to resolve issues, even the most problematic ones.
- What had become glaring in the course of the agitation is that the dominant community of the state, the Meiteis in valley, are often given to arrogantly presuming what other fraternal communities want or aspire for.
Why Valley people are discontented?
- Land tenure systemàMLR&LR Act 1960, although is applicable in the valley districts only, has nothing to do with the valley’s wishes or aspirations. It is just a modern, civic, land tenure system, incidentally introduced in the state by the Union government by an Act of the Parliament, for in 1960 Manipur was a Union Territory. It has worked well for the valley except that in its current state, it has allowed for their own land alienation, and this is what is sought to be corrected in the current amendment bill.
- Also equivalently, the hills have also never tried to understand that the valley which now more than ever needs room to be itself – the space which has been denied it for far too long. At this moment it feels besieged and pushed against the wall. The four valley districts where they live form only 10 percent of the state’s geographical area but is home to over 60 percent of the state’s population. The Meiteis are confined to the valley and by law cannot move to the hills, but the hill population are free to move to the valley.
- Not only in terms of a shrinking living space, the Meiteis also now feel they have also been unduly disadvantaged by the reservation policy. As predominantly Hindus, they are left in the general category in the reservation scheme of the government. As a reaction, there is a growing demand among a section of them to also be clubbed tribal. Many of them are also moving away from Hinduism.
- Of the three bills passed by the Assembly, the two which sought amendments to existing laws, were very valley specific, so it ought not to have been any cause for worry for the hills.
- But in the MLR&LR Act, there is a clause which says more areas of the state, still not under the law, can be brought under it, and this could have sent wrong signals.
- The tribal student organizations claim that the three bills overlap Article 371 C of the Indian Constitution and Manipur Hill People Administration Regulation Act, 1947. The main objection, according to groups leading the protest, is to an amendment bill passed called Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reform Act (7th Amendment Bill 2015).
- Our land is protected by the 6th schedule. We believe that the Manipur government has slyly introduced the Land Reforms Bill under the garb of ILP. In any case the tribals have not been supporting the ILP movement – it is primarily a Meitei demand. We feel that by introducing the land Bill the Manipur government and the Meiteis will try and grab our land. The land in tribal hill areas is governered by customary laws and is held by the Chieftan on behalf of the villagers. With this Bill the land will fall under the deputy commissioners and the Manipur government, and they will try and take our land from us.
- “Earlier the permission to buy land had to be sought from a section or subsidiary of the Cabinet, but now the entire Cabinet needs to approve land-buying by an outsider. The tribal areas – being Scheduled areas – remain protected and are not disturbed under the new amendments.” Human rights activist said.
For the first time in years, traditional rivals Nagas and Kukis have come together to agitate against the bill in the face of “a common enemy’’.
- It is also the original bill, namely the Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015, which has been protested particularly in view of the cut-off year of 1951 it seeks to define non-domiciles by.
- It sets 1951 as the base year to identify non-indigenous people, who are regarded as outsiders. “But tribal society has not kept records of settlers. Besides the first elections were held in 1971. How are we to establish who is a late settler and who is not. This is just a ploy to get rid of us and reduce our numbers”.
- Protestors say most people living in the hill areas , particularly the Kuki tribe, share ethnic bonds with neighbouring Myanmar and don’t have exact records of when they settled in these parts, and hence any cut-off is impractical.
STATE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
- The State government has said that the amendment of the MLR & LR Act is to only lengthen the process for land buying by non-Manipuri people/ non-permanent residents and that in order to buy land non-Manipuris must now submit an application to the respective deputy commissioners.
- It further said that the law will extend only to the four valley districts and not the tribal hill districts of Manipur.
The Manipur government must now initiate the process to find out what exactly are the objections of the hills to the three bills and prepare for further amendments. If it is about the Protection of Manipur People Bill 2015, which could leave many trans-border tribes alienated, then maybe this too can be made valley specific.
If it is about the clause in the MLR&LR Act, mentioned earlier, that clause too could be deleted. But if the objection is against the valley’s effort to tighten its own hold on their shrinking home grounds, then the valley is unlikely ever to agree to abandon it under the present circumstance.