Communal mistrust in Manipur vis-à-vis the ADC Bill, 2021
Manipur students staging protest. File photo

Shri Paolienlal Haokip, MLA, Saikot (ST) Assembly Constituency, in the recently concluded Second Session of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, raised a question of communal mistrust in Manipur. In response, Chief Minister of Manipur Shri N. Biren Singh denied any communal mistrust but stated that the government is working well with all people of the state for peace and development. However, when one looks at the entire socio-political scenario in Manipur, it is unmistakable that there is a communal mistrust that may erupt at any time if just and timely action is not taken.

The ADC Bill, 2021

The Hill Area Committee (HAC) recommended Autonomous District Council (ADC) Bill, 2021 was to be tabled at the monsoon session of the assembly for greater financial and administrative autonomy of the hill regions to ensure development that can be at par with the valley areas of the state. The Bill seeks to make amends for the growing disparity between the Hills and the Valley, especially in terms of budget allocation that appears to be highly disproportionate and therefore also discriminatory. 

For instance, in the fiscal year 2020-2021, the total budget allocation for Manipur was Rs 7,000 crore, out of which Rs 6,959 crore was sanctioned for the valley and just Rs 41 crore for the Hills (as presented by Shri Alfred K Arthur, ex-MLA, Ukhrul). Moreover, from the fiscal year 2017-2021, out of the total budget allocation of Rs 21,900 crore for Manipur, only Rs 419 crore was allocated for the Hills while a staggering Rs 21,481 crore was used in the valley. This is grossly unjustified considering that the valley only covers 10 per cent while the Hills cover 90 per cent of the total geographical area of Manipur. The ADC Bill, 2021, in a compendium is to straighten these injustices.

Question of Communal Mistrust in Manipur

Manipur has an indelible history of communal contentions and contestations primarily between the three major communities, namely Meeiteis, Nagas and Kukis. The present contention, however, is more significant as the Nagas and Kukis stand together as tribals and the Meeteis are the other. It essentially evolved as a repercussion of the recommendation of the ADC Bill, 2021 for tabling in the Manipur Assembly. Since the recommendation, various valley-based civil society organisations denounce the Bill stating that it is against the integrity of Manipur. Following it, hate speeches and abuse on communal lines have become increasingly common and unpreventable, some even amounting to a threat to life and personal liberty. 

The communal mistrust is also evident from the recent outcomes of the total shutdown called by the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) and its federate bodies and the subsequent call for an Economic Blockade as a protest against the non-release of the arrested tribal leaders. Following it, Meetei Leepun, a valley-based organisation, locked the Head Office of ATSUM and stated in a video release that the blockade is viewed as a threat and challenge to the Meeitei Community. However, one can note that for the ATSUM and its federate bodies, it is an exercise of their right to protest. Subsequent contention involved the burning of vehicles and heightened tension that eventually compelled the government to impose a 5-day internet bandh. However, the same was called off after two days.

Is the ADC Bill controversial?

First of all, the bill was developed by legal and constitutional experts in line with the Constitutional provision of article 371 (C) of the Constitution of India and other relevant provisions. The Bill seeks to provide financial and administrative autonomy to the Hill Areas as envisaged in the constitution. It is meant to address the various developmental lacunae persisting in the Hill areas and the many challenges that the Hill tribes are facing. Taking that into account, the ADC Bill, 2021, is a constitutionally validated bill.

Moreover, although the valley-based organisations denounce the Bill, they lack a concrete rationale and a legal and constitutional base for the same. It seems to the tribals that the valley’s antagonism against the Bill is simply their tactless proclivity to dominate the tribals and their unjustified thirst to deprive the Hill of developmental facilities. Most recently, even the Chief Minister of Manipur Shri N Biren Singh had injudiciously stated on the Bill that it can potentially divide Manipur, seemingly blinded by the Constitutional provisions by his valley-centrism.

Way forward

With regard to the non-tabling of the ADC Bill, 2021, ex-MLA Shri Alfred K. Arthur had stated the problem of the critical subversion of the RULE OF LAW. Correspondingly, the constitutional laws and provisions are often largely negated by the majoritarian valley government that seems naturally opposed to the tribals. To that matter, it is ultimate that the Hill people, as envisaged in Article 371 (C) of the Constitution of India, have more financial and administrative autonomy. On the other hand, the eventual rise in socio-political consciousness of the Hill people and their subsequent realisation of the injustices that are constantly meted out to them is something both the valley people and the government should come to grips with. 

Nevertheless, be it the valley or the Hills or the government or the people, it is utmost that the RULE OF LAW takes its due place in all spheres of administration and governance. As is stated that “nobody is above the law,” the majority and people in positions and responsibilities should stop meddling with the Constitution and therefore also the rights and privileges of other citizens unless otherwise, they desire to wilfully destroy the sanctity of the Constitution and the existence and integrity of India as a nation. Because the denial of rights and the subversion of the dignity and integrity of people will most certainly infect the whole country.

Janghaolun Haokip is a social activist. Views are personal

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