Centre finally intervenes in Manipur bills’ row (Re-issuing to all needing)

New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) Eight months after violence engulfed Manipur that left nine people dead, the Centre has finally intervened in the controversy arising out of three bills passed by the state assembly ostensibly to safeguard the rights of the state’s indigenous people following a months-long agitation by the Meiteis of Imphal valley.

The bills were resented by the hill people of Manipur, who maintain these infringed upon their land ownership rights. The protests by the hill people triggered large scale violence, leading to police action. Nine youths from the hills were killed in the violence.

Now the central government has sought an answer from the state with regard to action taken by it following the violence.

Though the bills are lying with the union home ministry, it is the tribal welfare ministry that has written to Manipur’s social welfare department seeking information and action taken in the aftermath of the passage of the bills.

The union tribal welfare ministry sent its letter on March 17, following which the state’s social welfare department asked the home department on April 4 for information “since the action is related to your department”.

IANS has access to the official letter.

On August 31 last year, the Manipur government, bowing to pressure from agitators from the state’s valley, convened a special session of the assembly and passed three controversial bills — the Protection of Manipur People Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill (Seventh Amendment) and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill – ostensibly to safeguard the rights of the indigenous people.

The very day the bills were passed, protestors, mainly comprising tribal organisations from the hills, torched five houses belonging to Congress legislators. Among them were the dwellings of Health and Family Welfare Minister Phungzathang Tonsing and Lok Sabha member from Outer Manipur Thangso Baite in Churachandpur district.

The bodies of the nine youths killed in the violence are still lying in a Churachandpur hospital mortuary with the families refusing to bury them till the hill peoples’ demands are met.

The state government had passed the bills after a three-month-long agitation spearheaded by the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) of the Meiteis demanding the enforcement of an inner line permit system similar to those in force in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland to check the influx of non-Manipuris into the state.

The JCILPS says that according to the 2011 census, Manipur’s population is 2.7 million. Of this, only 1.7 million are indigenous people while the rest are people who have their roots outside the state.

However, according to the tribes inhabiting the hills of Manipur, the three bills would directly undermine the existing safeguards for the tribal hill areas regarding land ownership and population influx, as the primary threat for the tribal people came not from outside the state but from the Meitei people of the valley itself.

Given that the hills of Manipur are inhabited by Nagas and Kukis among other tribes, Nagaland’s lone MP Neiphio Rio in December pointed out in the Lok Sabha the anomaly in passing the bills saying these were passed without proper consultations with tribal leaders and elected members of the autonomous district council according to norms.

Rio sought the intervention of the central government in this context.

Rajya Sabha member Tarun Vijay also took up the issue in parliament stating that the agitating tribal people were the children of India.

The union tribal welfare ministry’s letter was dispatched to the Manipur government following the interventions of these two MPs as the social welfare department’s letter to the home department showed.

On the 227th day of an ongoing protest by the Manipur Tribals Forum Delhi (MTFD) in New Delhi on Thursday, April 14, its convenor Romeo Hmar expressed disappointment at what he called the Centre’s reluctance to act.

“The tribal people of Manipur fail to understand the reluctance of the central government in upholding Article 371C of the Constitution,” Hmar told IANS.

“The tribal people of Manipur are the only tribal people in the northeast who are not protected under the Sixth Schedule,” he added.

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at aroonim.b@ians.in)

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