The N. Biren Singh led BJP Government in Manipur seems to have finally found the breakthrough to the controversial issue of Inner Line Permit (ILP) implementation in Manipur. The State Assembly recently passed the Manipur Peoples Act 2018 in its monsoon session, thereby setting the stage for implementing ILP system in the state.
When similar bills were passed in 2014 by the previous government under the leadership of CM Okram Ibobi Singh, it ended in great tragedy and was met with strong opposition from the people in the Hill areas alleging the bills of being ‘anti-tribal’ in its constitution. The tribal people alleged that the bill was a sinister ploy to infringe upon the land rights and territorial identity of the tribal people. In fact, it was passed without any consultation with the Hills Areas Committee (HAC), the apex body for tribal affairs in the state. The widespread agitation in (year) witnessed the death of 8 protestors in Churachandpur District leading to a political stalemate for almost a year, with the tribals refusing to bury the bodies of the dead and calling for administrative separation from Manipur. Eventually, this issue clubbed with the political fallout between the Hills and Valley population brought down the Congress-led Government of O. Ibobi Singh, making way for the first even BJP-led Government in Manipur.
The government had learnt its lesson and has been more careful this time. Internet services were suspended to curb rumours flying, toned down media coverage, and most importantly, made sure that the tribal population and HAC are taken into confidence before the bill was passed. This wise move by the government made sure that there were virtually no violent protests from any tribal groups, barring a few objections to certain clauses of the bill.
Manipur Peoples Act, 2018 – A Brief Introduction
This bill is designed with the sole purpose of implementing the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system to restrict the flow of visitors and illegal migrants into the state of Manipur. The ILP is an official travel document issued by the State Government that allows travel of an Indian citizen into the protected area for a limited period. It is obligatory for all other non-Manipur Indian citizens to obtain such a permit when visiting the state.
The ILP system was first introduced by the British under the Bengal Frontier Provision Act, 1873 to protect the tribal cultures of the North East region. At present, the ILP is implemented in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland (barring Dimapur).
Under the ILP system, a travel certificate will be issued to outsiders for travel in the areas covered by ILP. Non-residents are restricted from buying property or land in these areas. Even other Indian communities like Bihari, Nepali/Gorkha, Bengali, and Marwaris who have been living and working in the state for several generations are required to apply for permission to stay and conduct their business in the state. (Is it true? Cite the reference)
The Definition of Manipur People
The major difference in the definition of ‘Manipur people’ in comparison to the Bill passed in 2015 is the mention of ‘Scheduled Tribes’, thereby giving special interest/status to the tribal population of the state. The main bone of contention with the bills passed earlier was that ‘ILP is a ploy to ride on the privileges and rights of the Scheduled Tribes in the pretext of protecting their interests, while the real intent is to serve the communal interest of dominant Meitei/Meetei community.’ In the 2018 bill, careful insertion and protection of ST interests have eliminated the fears of the Hills tribals.
‘Manipur People means all the native people of Manipur who are citizens of India and includes communities like Meitei/Meetei, Meitei Pangal, Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes listed in the Constitution of India.’
However, for any other communities who don’t fall under the above definition, including Gorkhas/Nepali, Bihari, Bengali, Marwari, Punjabis, Tamils, and other community, the cut-off date for qualifying as ‘Manipur People’ is 1951.
‘any person/persons who are citizens of India and have been permanently residing and settled in the state before 1951, and their descendants who are living in Manipur as on the date of commencement of this Act.’
The selection of 1951 as the cut-off date is interesting. As per the arguments of JACILP, the parent body spearheading the movement cites the National Register of Citizens (NRC) as the reference point for one to qualify as a Manipur citizen. However, an RTI response in 2016 revealed that the Manipur government and directorate of census operations do not have records of the National Register of Citizens, 1951 (Ref: The Telegraph: Saturday, October 17, 2015)
Even if, any records of NRC were documented in 1951, one still wonders if such directory can be all-inclusive, given the difficulty in travelling to the remotest parts of the state, and the low level of literacy and awareness about the need to register oneself.
The Idea of ‘Inclusiveness’
The present government of Manipur has been lauded by all sections of the society for ushering a new era of inclusiveness and good governance with various flagship programmes such as ‘Go to Hills’ / ‘ Go to Village’ where the entire Cabinet travel to far-flung areas of the state to meet and interact with people, or the ‘CM Hakselgi Tengbang’ empowering the socially weak sections of the society. The fact that the number of Bandhs and strikes has dramatically gone down during the Biren Singh government is a testimony of the improving relations among all communities and ethnic groups in the state.
Even before the introduction of the ‘Manipur People’ bill in the state assembly, the government invited ‘all stakeholders’ for a discussion. However ironic it may sound, not even a single member or representative of the so-called ‘non-Manipur’ communities were invited to the discussion. According to a Business Standard report, of about 2.7 million people in Manipur, about 700,000 are of non-Manipur origin. It is quite surprising that section of society who will be most affected by the bill was simply not included in the discussion of the bill.
Why is the 2018 Bill not ‘Anti-Tribal’
When the previous government passed a similar act in 2015, it was labelled as an ‘anti-tribal’ bill by people living in the Hill Areas. It was alleged that “ILP agitation is a Meitei ploy to gain the Scheduled Tribe status is making rounds in the region. The move by the Meitei is being seen as an attempt to grab the land of the tribals and deprecate them further.”
In the 2018 Bill, the preamble itself included the ST communities in its definition of Manipur People. Another important addition to the bill is that the ‘Nobody can acquire any interest, right or title in land within the territory of Manipur without the consent of the District Councils in the Hill Areas’ which protects the interest of tribal rights over their land and territory.
Who Will Enforce ILP?
While the Bill has the provisions for appointing a Chief Registration Authority to ‘ensure that District Registration Authorities are discharging their duties for regulation of non-Manipur people.’ However, for the bill to become a law is a bureaucratic process and will happen in due course of time after all the issues have been ironed out.
However, it is not surprising to read in the newspaper about different CSOs, students’ body, and village authorities conducting checks to identify non-Manipur people, issuing identity cards for non-locals and even deciding what actions to be taken against violations.
In the absence of an enforcement authority, the ILP implementation is a free-for-all initiative and can be misused by anyone, right from a money-making scheme to issuing directives against the non-locals on the slightest pretext.
This article is created by Forum for Understanding Gorkha History in North-East India for general discussion. While the forums understand the urgency of curbing illegal migration to the region which has already reached dangerous levels, we believe that the other minorities must be made to feel secure and protected in the state. The paper is just one step towards a positive discussion.