The Imphal valley has opposed the recently introduced Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bil, 2021 (ADC). Their opposition follows their similar objections to the announcement for delimitation exercise in 2020, the valley of Manipur expressed similar opposition against the recently introduced Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill, 2021 (ADC). Civil societies representing the valley of Manipur submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister of Manipur on August 22, 2021, rejecting the ADC bill 2021 on grounds that the separate administration will lead to “bifurcation of the state”. They also cautioned that the major stakeholders of the state must not be kept in abeyance. The opposition echoes the sentiment that the territorial integrity of Manipur should not be compromised. But the ADC is in place in Manipur since it gained statehood in 1972, wherein the hills come under different administrations from the valley of Manipur. This separate administration is in place since the time of the British conquest of Manipur in 1891.

In essence and intent, the proposed ADC Bill 2021 aims to expand what the existing ADC has failed to achieve so far since its inception. The existing ADC is framed under Article 371C. In ADC, the hills gained trust to carry out their way of life while anchored under the Manipur state. However, the past six decades of experience of hill people in terms of their relationship with the state and valley people informs that they are at a disadvantageous position socially, politically, culturally, and economically. The recently released book by Raile Rocky Ziipao entitled “Infrastructure of Injustice: State and Politics in Manipur and Northeast India” presents the huge infrastructure disparity between the hills and valley as an injustice of infrastructure through empirical data.

The current ADC Bill 2021 proposes a possibility for securing interests, aspirations, and rights of the hill peoples to a greater extent by expanding the scope of ADC. On this note, it is imperative to mention that the Sixth Schedule, which was notified to be implemented in the hills of Manipur, is yet to see its day.

Article 371C of the Constitution of India empowers the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) and District councils for self-administration in the hills of Manipur. In the just introduced, the ADC Bill, 2021, the HAC of the Manipur Legislative Assembly intends to bring development to the hills. They formulated the Bill on August 16. The Bill is set to ‘repeal and replace’ the existing Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971. In response to the failure of the government in tabling the Bill in the ongoing Monsoon session of the state assembly, the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) called for a bandh on 23 August. The bandh has united both the Nagas and the Kukis in the hills and received support across the hill districts of Manipur. The bandh demanded the State Government table the ADC Bill 2021 and ensure its passage and implementation. The bandh witnessed total closure of offices, shops and other commercial establishments.

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According to the HAC, the Bill under Article 371 (C) of the Indian Constitution of 1972 asserts that the Hill Area Committee can recommend any legislation or executive action concerning the scheduled matters. It is in this line that the HAC introduced the Bill to the assembly. As per the copy of the Bill, HAC and the Autonomous District Councils would gain more autonomy concerning the administration and management of the hills. The Bill also pertains to include provisions like increased constituencies of the Autonomous District Council to 31. The establishment of the Hill Areas Secretariat to manage and coordinate the functioning of the Autonomous councils is also listed. This extends into reviewing and monitoring projects and programmes under the councils and coordinating and managing the budgetary allocation across departments or areas for the Hill Areas of Manipur. It also touches upon a provision for ‘delimitation of constituencies.’ One significant mention in the Bill is the ‘Hill House Tax’ which is under the ambit of the Autonomous District Councils.

The contestation and opposition from the valley instil a distraction to assess and examine the content of the ADC Bill 2021. With outright opposition to the Bill by the valley people, it appears to convey that the Bill is absolutely in the best interest of the hills. This confrontation prevents the scope for deliberation, discussion, and debate on the contents of the Bill. For instance, Section 29 (3) of the Bill empowers the Autonomous District Councils to allot within the hills respective to each council for Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the name of development. The lack of the mention of consultation with the village head/chief/chairman or villagers signals that it needs a scope to keep a check on SEZ, which may be detrimental to the interests of people, land and ecosystem. In this light, though the ADC Bill offers a path towards bridging inequality and introducing development, its scope must not be confined only to the hill-valley contestation.

Considering all these varied provisions, the ADC 2021, in its move to incorporate the concerns and interests of hills and bridge the existing gap between the hills and valley, must invite comments from scholars and activists of the hills. With that, it can deliberate on the pros and cons of each provision in the Bill. This is also to ensure that commodifying land and resources at the cost of tribal communities of the hills do not become a reality.

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