On December 19, a resolution on the Inner Line Permit was passed by the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly
On December 19, a resolution on the Inner Line Permit was passed by the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly|File image
DOCUMENTARY

Inner Line Permit regime in Northeast India: Boon or bane?

Clamour for ILP, aimed at ‘protecting’ indigenous communities, is growing like never before in Northeast. However, there are some apprehensions among the people

Guwahati: Following protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 across the northeast, Manipur became the fourth state in the region along with Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh to come under the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime. Meanwhile, expeditious measures are being taken to implement ILP in Meghalaya. Come February 15, anyone visiting Dimapur, will have to have ILP to enter the commercial hub of Nagaland.

Will Meghalaya's tourism business take a hit?

Known for its scenic beauty and lustrous landscape, Meghalaya attracts a large number of tourists every year. This was also mentioned by NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant who mentioned that Meghalaya needs to tap the tourism sector to boost the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the state.

However, with the state adopting the resolution of implementing ILP, which will impose restrictions on the entry of ‘outsiders’ into the hill state, there are apprehensions that tourism might take a hit and the cost will have to be borne by those in the rural areas.

According to Allan West Kharkongor, a local entrepreneur who ventured into tourism business in 2014, the state government should consult stakeholders in framing rules and see to it that the rules are more flexible.

Speaking with EastMojo, Kharkongor said, "On an average there is an occupancy rate of 75% each year. 30% of this are people coming from Assam. So if ILP is implemented in Meghalaya, the state has to take this 30% into consideration. This is for the fact that people coming from Assam keep coming back every week. So if there is a system which is not too convenient to them, we may lose these clients coming from Assam. So out of 75%, we are left with only 45%, which can be difficult for us to survive."

He explained that it will affect the common people like boatmen of Dawki, the homestay owners of Mawlynnong and the guest houses in Sohra. "They might have taken loans. They might have spent their savings. So if 30% is being cut. It will affect the operations. So, if ILP is implemented in Meghalaya, the state government should consult stakeholders in framing rules that are more flexible, that are more friendly to people coming from outside."

"I think specially people in the rural areas ILP will be a problem for them because they need volume. When I talk about volume, I mean mass tourism, it can a good number of clients. So, I am apprehensive of the idea of ILP that [might] affect the inflow of new tourists to rural areas," added Kharkongor.

However, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma is hoping that technology will come to his aide. His government is planning to introduce online application system that will ensure security of the people while keeping things easy for the tourists.

Sangma said, "If ILP is implemented in Meghalaya, we want to ensure that there is an online application system. We want to ensure that there is a high-end technology that is available that will minimise human intervention, that will minimise inconveniences to the tourists. So, with these kind of technologies, I think it is a very secure and high-tech system which we propose to do and I think it will be in the benefits not just for the state and the people but also to tourists because it will allow the government to ensure that everybody is safe."

Meghalaya is also home to a huge non-tribal population. Along with security, the proposal of implementing ILP has also led to a fear psychosis among the non-tribals that their interests will be overlooked. However, Confederation of Meghalaya Social Organisation, a conglomeration of various pressure groups of the state is of the opinion that the idea of ILP is not built on communal perspective and but to protect the indigenous people of the state.

Robertjune Kharjahrin, chairman, Confederation of Meghalaya Social Organisation said, "If you examine properly, the ILP movement in Meghalaya is not built on communal perspective. The very basis of demanding ILP is that we will be able to protect ourselves. It is not a racist movement. We do not demand ILP because we hate others. We demand ILP to protect ourselves."

He said that there is a misunderstanding among the non-indigenous people of Meghalaya, that if ILP is implemented they will be chased away which needs to be cleared.

Identity of indigenous Manipuris under threat?

In Manipur, ILP was brought into effect from January 1 and the state received around 3,000 applications in the first 14 days. With the state being added in the ILP regime it got exempted from CAA. While the demand for implementation of ILP has been an agenda of majority of the Meitei community, the definition of indigenous person of the state remains unclear to many. The All Naga Student Association Manipur (ANSAM) is of the opinion that the definition of who is a migrant and who is not is not reflected in the ILP guidelines.

AC Thotso, General Secretary, ANSAM said, "If we talk about indigenous it has to be historically defined in the state, Manipur is the composite phenomena and a mixture of distinct people with different history, so that is one which is very vague and very confusing. There should be a measure to define who is a migrant and who is not, but it is not reflected in the guidelines and there is no monitoring of exit mechanism which is required. But how do we monitor the exit mechanism that is the question. When did they really go after the period of their permission?"

However, government representatives mentioned that the concern is more about the labour force which comes from outside the state and a different pass system has been implemented to address the issue.

J Suresh Babu, Chief Secretary, Manipur said, "There are people coming from outside. Majority come to the valley for work purpose. The economic activity which is related to businessmen coming or investors coming is not much visible in the hills. So those people are not much worried. Wherever there is a worry, there is an enactment that ILP has been brought in. Major concern is for the people living the valley. As per as the labour force is concerned, which is brought in by contractors, we have a different pass system. It is the responsibility of the contractor who brings the labour force into the state. He is accountable for the numbers and take the ILP pass for them and he is also accountable for the labours to go back after the work is over. So the people in the valley are enthusiastic about the outcome of the ILP system."

The chief secretary also hinted towards implementation of the NRC, that will decide the cut-off year and decide whether one is a Manipuri resident or not.

The chief secretary added that the opposition is raising the issue regarding the definition of indigenous, what is the definition of permanent resident. He said, "The government has already made it very clear as and when the NRC mechanism is taken up, that will decide the cut-off year to be called whether one is a Manipuri resident or a non-Manipuri resident. As we implement the ILP system we may realise more practical difficulties, many issues will also come up and they will be addressed in due course of time. And government is ready to make changes according to practical difficulties that we face."

While many fear that the implementation of ILP will have adverse effects on the economy, civil societies however, share a different opinion.

Kh Athouba, secretary general, United Committee, Manipur, said, that the introduction of a small regulation like ILP under the state government will give a sense of security to the people as well as to those who are coming in to Manipur.

Athouba said, "Considering the economic perspective, I think there is no restriction at all. The only restriction is that they cannot possess land. But they can come in, they can go out but they have to register themselves and it has to be on record of the government of Manipur. I think that is the only issue. Nobody is restricting anyone to come to Manipur and do business if it is legal and I don’t think it will have any negative impact on economy."

Saving the Naga economy

Unlike Manipur, Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland keeps buzzing with activities throughout the day. The district gets numerous businessmen of all segments who travel to the city on a regular basis. It was until December 9 last year that Dimapur was the only district of Nagaland that was not under the ILP regime. However, the state Cabinet had approved February 15 for extension of ILP to the commercial district. This has given rise to speculations that it may affect the economy of the state and the poorer section will be at the receiving end.

Manoj Jaiswal, businessman, Dimapur, said, "We heard that since December ILP has been implemented. Yes, it should be implemented but it will have adverse effect on business. We have airport, railway station here and a lot of people from outside come here. The place does not have any production of its own and everything is imported from other states for example vegetables and raw material come from Assam. So the common man like the vendors who bring vegetables from outside and sell over here, they will face the adverse effect and even there will be price hike in the economy of Nagaland. For them instead of applying for ILP and then doing business here they will prefer to do business in Assam which in turn will give revenue to the Assam government and it affect the business of Nagaland. According to me ILP should be implemented but the age long residents should be given some special amendment."

Another businessman from Dimapur, Subhadeep Choudhary said, "According to me, all the businessmen in Dimapur have the support of a local, which generally remains undisclosed. Now everyone coming from the plains will need someone’s support. The vendors who come from outside to sell vegetables what will happen to them? We can get someone’s support and survive that way, what will they do? Daily wage labourers such as rickshaw pullers, vendors, etc. This will only affect the poorer people. The richer people will continue to survive like the usual. The middle and lower class people will be mainly affected."

Goods in Nagaland are brought through four routes - Dimapur, Mokukchung, Mon district and Wakha district. Yet, Dimapur is the junction for 80% of goods transferred to the rest of the state. However, representatives of the Nagaland Chamber of Commerce and Industry believe that this can open avenues to replicate models practiced in other countries.

Dr Khekugha Murru, Chairman, Confederation of Nagaland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, "I think without proper guidelines and regulations; it should not hamper in any business conception or business activities in Dimapur. Because in the case of European countries, you have lesser population but it’s a popular holiday destination. So, people normally cross over to the borders in the morning without pass and then devote the whole day and then go back to their respective country in the evening. So from those, we can learn those kinds of models from various parts of the country and then implicate it in Nagaland the context of the Dimapur and in the context of our existing situations. I don’t see any problem in implementation of ILP in Nagaland hampering business activities in Nagaland."

"Nagaland is still under populated. So we talk about outsiders taking advantage of our labour market. But the fact is we don’t have labourers. For instance, a contractor wants hundreds of labourers continuously working for several projects, we cannot think of putting that many Naga labourers for a stretch of two months. So here the issue is, locals taking over the labour market still have miles to go. Because we are under populated and the level of expansion of infrastructure demands huge labour force which we cannot get," added Dr Murru.

The Kohima Chamber of Commerce & Industry looks at this as an opportunity for entrepreneurs from Nagaland and rather than being dependent on others believes in taking matters in their own hands.

Kekhrienuo Meyase, General Secretary, Kohima Chamber of Commerce & Industry said, "I feel it is high time that we come to the realisation that our economy depends on us. We cannot complain nor we can blame the non-locals and overrunning the local business because at the end of the day, we find that we are the only ones patronising them. So we have to come to the realisation that we have to do it ourselves and not depend on anyone else... Usually when we take up business, when certain things come up and then we are not able to tackle it, we just leave it halfway and then we lose the spirit to continue. So, I think, if we persevere and if we set our mind and focus on our goals that we are going to stand on this. I think we will be able to do it because we are more hard working, if at all, we are willing. So I think it's time that our people also realise that we should taking things into our own hand and stop depending on others and be a little determined."

ILP in Assam?

Amid the ongoing debates over the implementation of ILP in Meghalaya, Manipur and Dimapur, Assam rights group Assam Public Works (APW) batted for one ILP in Northeast. He also met Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma in December last year and requested him to raise the issue with the Centre.

He also met Biplab Kumar Sharma, Chairman, Clause 6(A) committee on December 18 last year and requested him to add two lines in his report that will mention that in order to safeguard the interests of the northeastern states ILP should be introduced in Assam with immediate effect.

Aabhijeet Sharma, APW chairman said, "We can see that Jihadis and terrorism have also made their way here. So in that part, we think that this is the best way to save the northeastern states including Assam. So we think this is the first benefit we’ll get by blocking the illegal immigrants entering Assam and northeast."

"So, we are saying that the ILP should be implemented in the chicken-neck of Assam – Bengal border. So anyone who wants to enter Assam and northeast just by dropping their identification they can enter the region. It will hardly take one to two hours and they can enter after that. So we don’t think that tourism will be affected for this. We have other examples such as Arunachal Pradesh, Bhutan who are doing good business in tourism. So we think that Assam will also do good in tourism," added Sharma.

"From our side we waiting for the committee to submit the report and within 15 days we’ll move to the Supreme Court and bring an order of one ILP for the northeastern region. We have full hope on the committee headed by Biplab Kumar Sharma and secondly we’ll approach the Supreme Court after 15 days," said the APW chairman.

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