New Delhi, May 21 (IANS) With the Manipur government forming an all-party committee to ensure central clearance of three contentious bills passed by the state assembly in August last year, four MLAs who had resigned in protest over the bills are in Delhi to voice their grievances.
“We met Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju on May 19 and Home Minister Rajnath Singh on May 21 and expressed our concerns over these three bills,” Awangbow Newmai, president of the Manipur unit of the Naga People’s Front who is accompanying the four MLAs, told IANS on Saturday.
St. Victor Nunghlung, L. Dikho, Samuel Risom and V. Alexander Pao – all from the NPF – had resigned from the state assembly on September 4 last year after it hurriedly passed the three bills on August 31 in a specially convened session.
Ostensibly to safeguard the rights of the indigenous people, the Manipur government, bowing to pressure from agitators from the state’s valley, convened a special session of the assembly on August 31 last year 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.
The very day the bills were passed, protestors, mainly comprising tribal organisations, 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 violence and resultant police action left at least nine people dead.
The nine bodies 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) 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.
Speaking to IANS here, Manipur NPF president Newmai said that the passing of the bills was against the constitutional provisions of Article 371C.
“There were procedural lapses in the HAC (Hills Areas Committee) order of 1972 and and the GSR (General Statutory Regulations) approved by then president V.V. Giri,” Newmai said.
According to the HAC Order, any bill pertaining to people of the hills of Manipur should be passed through the HAC in the state assembly.
Newmai said that the four ex-MLAs have come to Delhi after Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh convened a meeting and formed a multi-party committee to ensure that the three bills were cleared by the Centre.
NPF is not part of the committee, members of which are scheduled to reach New Delhi in a day or two.
He said that last year, under pressure from the JCILPS, the government formed a committee to frame the bills.
“The committee had representation from one community only,” Newmai said.
“From the very beginning we said that the committee was one-sided and and it would accommodate the interests of only one community.”
He said that Manipur was a small state with a large number of different communities.
“Our Constitution is one of the best in the world,” the Manipur NPF chief said.
“There are many laws in the country to protect all communities because our country is very cosmopolitan,” he said.
Stating that Saturday was the 264th day since the nine bodies of the protesters are lying in a hospital morgue, he said the Manipur government was not taking the issue seriously at all.
“We have seriously asked the honourable ministers to safeguard the interests of our people,” Newmai said.
“The Manipur government is not being run in the secretariat but on the streets,” he added.
(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)