Tuesday, 29 November, 2022
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Manipur student outfits threaten to intensify agitation over bills ‘undermining hill council’

Student groups had demanded tabling of draft Autonomous District Councils Amendment Bill, 2021, in assembly. Instead, state govt introduced 2 different bills, causing outcry.

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Guwahati: Manipur’s hill districts came to a standstill Thursday in the wake of a 24-hour shutdown called by the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) after their demand was not met for the draft Autonomous District Councils (ADC) Amendment Bill 2021 to be tabled in the ongoing session of the state’s legislative assembly.

The ADC Bill was recommended by the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) — which is empowered to monitor administration and legislation for the hill region. The proposed law seeks greater financial and administrative autonomy in the hill areas and to ensure that they are able to develop on a par with the Imphal Valley region of the state.

However, instead of tabling this Bill, the BJP government in the state introduced two others — the Manipur (hill areas) district councils 6th and 7th amendment bills — leading to the call for a shutdown.

“It is our humble appeal that the Manipur (hill areas) district councils 6th & 7th amendment bills, 2022, be rejected on the floor of the assembly because [they do not] follow the due process and undermine the power and function of the HAC,” ATSUM, the All Naga Students’ Association Manipur (ANSAM), and the Kuki Students’ Organisation (KSO) said in a letter to the HAC Thursday.

They added that the agitation would be intensified unless the demands are fulfilled.

On Tuesday, the police in Manipur arrested five executive members of the ATSUM following the announcement of the 24-hour shutdown. On Thursday, protests broke out across several parts of the state, including the Churachandpur and Senapati districts, over the issue.

ThePrint reached state Tribal Affairs Minister Letpao Haokip for a comment via calls and text. The report will be updated if a response is received.

Awangbow Newmai, a cabinet minister and Naga People’s Front MLA, told ThePrint, “We are trying to sort out the differences with the agitating party. We are trying to come to an understanding with the demands and whatever can be discussed.”

Also read: Manipur has a ‘hill of poppies’ problem. But CM’s war on drugs must tackle land issues first

What is the ADC (Amendment) Bill 2021?

Enacted in 1971, the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act consisted of provisions for the creation of autonomous district councils in the tribal-populated hill districts of the state.

However, residents of Manipur’s hill areas, which are largely inhabited by tribal groups like the Nagas and Kukis, have alleged for decades that their development is neglected, especially compared to the predominantly Meitei-populated Imphal Valley. This has been blamed on various shortfalls of the Act, leading to it being subjected to several amendments.

In August last year, the HAC, a body comprising 18 legislators from the tribal hill districts, proposed the ADC Amendment Bill 2021. The HAC proposed various changes to the law so that the body could have more autonomy in managing the budget, planning, and administration of the hill areas.

Chief Minister N. Biren Singh had, however, questioned whether the bill was constitutional and whether the state had the authority to pass such legislation.

What is the alternative?

Manipur Tribal Affairs Minister Letpao Haokip introduced the Manipur (hill areas) district councils 6th and 7th amendment bills in the assembly Tuesday, despite these not being on the agenda.

The bills seem to diverge from some of the proposals of the ADC Amendment Bill.

For instance, the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (6th Amendment) Bill says that the government of Manipur may, “by notification in the Official Gazette… determine the number of members in each district council from time to time”.

The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (7th Amendment) Bill further proposes that a delimitation commission will be constituted every 10 years “to determine the number and boundaries of constituencies for the district council so that the population of all constituencies is more or less equal”.

The commission will include a chairman (a retired high court judge) appointed by the governor “in consultation with the state government and hill areas committee”.

According to the 2021 bill, however, such a commission should be set up “as and when a need arises” and the state government would not be involved in its appointment.

Additionally, the 7th amendment bill also states that the HAC will prepare “a consolidated estimate of the income and expenditure for all the district councils for the next financial year and shall submit the same to the state government, for further submission to the governor as per procedure as may be prescribed by the state government in this regard”.

A.C. Thotso, general secretary of ANSAM, alleged: “They (the state government) have to monitor the power and the functioning of the Autonomous District Council — it is the hegemony that has been asserted and extended to the hill areas. They are trying to undermine the Hill Area Committee and then they frame the bills according to the whims and desires of the dominant community.”

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also read: ‘No public consultation’, razed forests: Manipur landslide raises questions on rail project


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