Manipur bills: Tribals intensify protest as confrontation looms ahead

Imphal, Dec 31 (IANS) As the fate of the three controversial bills passed by the Manipur assembly continues to hang in balance, the tribal population has intensified its agitation demanding an unconditional withdrawal of the bills that have been sent to the president for his assent.

This is likely to lead to a confrontation with the non-tribal Meitei groups who want the bills to be implemented as soon as possible.

The tribals have said that the three bills were against their interests, though officials have denied this.

Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh had earlier said there were no clauses in the bills which were anti-tribal or “will victimise them once these become Acts”.

The bills, to which the protestors have taken objection, are Protection of Manipur Peoples Bill, 2015; Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill, 2015; and Manipur Shops and Establishments Bill, 2015.

Deputy CM Gaikhangam Gangmei had said that people were “skim-reading the bills and misleading the public” and added that no tribal organisation had pointed out the specific clauses which were being described as anti-tribal.

H Mangchinkhup, chief convenor of the Joint Action Committee (JAC), said: “We cannot accept the assurance of the Manipur government that the bills would not hurt tribal interests. Such an assurance should come from the Indian government representative.”

The JAC was formed to spearhead the movement against what they called were anti-tribal Bills.

The bills have divided the tribals and the Meitei population in the state. The Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), a group demanding the enforcement of the three bills, had earlier set December 15 as the deadline for the Manipur government to implement the bills.

Ratan Khomdram of the JCILPS said a memorandum had been submitted to the chief minister setting January 3, 2016, as the new deadline. “After that, we shall go ahead (with our plan) in consultation with the people,”

The agitation on Tuesday took an ugly turn in the Churachandpur district of the state after thousands of tribal women came out on the streets to block vehicular movement, preventing the chief minister and other cabinet ministers from attending the inauguration of two power stations. The move was dubbed by the tribals as an effort to appease the tribal population.

“It appears that as a ploy, the government suddenly remembered it had power houses ready to be commissioned — something which had not been done in the last four years,” Mangchinkhup said

The agitation, during which all the roads to Churachandpur were blocked, resulted in the chief minister having to use a helicopter to reach the location. However, the crowd did not show much enthusiasm for the inauguration.

On returning to Imphal, the CM held a meeting with the 16-member team of the JAC. But the parties could not reach any conclusion.

The JAC had submitted a three-point charter of demands to the government demanding a special session of the assembly to withdraw the bills.

The hilly parts of the state have been simmering with violence since August 30 when the bills were passed by the state assembly. Nine tribal people have died in the violence in Churachandpur district since then.

In addition to the three bills, the problem in Manipur has continued for over six months, and it initially started as a protest against the Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill, 2015. The bill was later withdrawn follwing the death of a ninth-standard student during a protest.

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