The Land of the Least Being Governed

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By Professor Gangmumei Kamei
National Fellow, IIAS, Shimla

Plurality and diversity are the unique feature of the state and society of Manipur. Pluralism is reflected in the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. The state is divided into two regions: The upland and the lowland. The lowland is occupied by the dominant Meiteis and the upland is inhabited by the tribes, the Nagas and the Kuki Chins. The greatest function of a state is the governance of the people and the protection of the lives and properties of the citizens. Governance is a part of the political process. Governance aims at the consolidation of the organs of the state and provision of welfare to the citizens. We have to acknowledge the extreme difficulty of governing a state as diverse as Manipur.

Structure of Governance: Past and Present
The hill areas or the upland Manipur are the least governed part of the state. During the pre-colonial period the kingdom of Manipur did not directly administer the hill people, the monarch exerted political control. The villages on the trade routes were administered by imposing nominal tributes. The hill villages were left to themselves making them self governed. In the colonial times, the British exercised indirect rule over the tribal villages, making them pay a hill house tax. The British entrusted the Chiefs and Khullakpas to administer their own village with their traditions and customs. At the level of the native state, there was one President of the Manipur State Darbar (PMSD) administered the hill tribes. The PMSD acted outside the jurisdiction of the Manipur State Darbur. Four sub-divisional officers and the Lambus under Seven Lamsubedar administered the hills. The function of the colonial government was to collect taxes, keep law and order and adjudicate the disputes among the people. The utilitarian considerations which were a part of the policy of colonial India provided some welfare activities: minimum bridle path communication, primary education, give medical facilities and provide lower level staff like teachers, peons, lambus, road muhorrir, police and chowkidars.
With the departure of the British in 1947, the Maharaja of Manipur proclaimed the Manipur State Constitution Act, in the drafting of which the representatives from both the valley and the hills were involved. The Government of Manipur also promulgated the Manipur Hill People’s Regulation, 1947. It was the law for the governance of the hill people. This Regulation used the terms the hill tribes, hill people and hill village and avoided using the term tribal people or tribal area. The Constitution created the post of the hill minister in the Manipur State Council to look after the hill affairs. The Regulation created the Hill Bench which administered justice for the hill tribes. It created the village authority for every hill village consisting of twenty households and above which is the core of the administrative system of the hill areas even now. The village is a court of justice and not an administrative unit.

After merger with the Dominion of India the Part “C” State of Manipur was administered by the Government of India through the Chief Commissioner, Chief Secretary, a Deputy Commissioner, one Superintendent of Police and the sub divisional officers, some in the hill area like Tamenglong, Mao-Maram, Ukhrul, Churachandpur and Sadar sub division. This bureaucracy represented the Government of India. They tried to penetrate into the hill areas. The Chief Commissioner was to protect the interest of the people of the hill areas. There were the Advisory Council, Electoral College, Union Territorial Council and Territorial Assembly in which the tribal representatives were elected. The Government of India introduced in 1950 the categorization of the Scheduled Tribes into Any Naga, Any Kuki and Any Lushai. This was modified by the President’s Order of 1956 recognizing 29 Scheduled Tribes, now increased to 33 in 2003.

The Parliament of India passed two important laws, namely the Manipur Hill Areas Village Authorities Act 1956, and the Manipur Land Revenue and the Land Reforms Act 1960. The first legislation provided the legal frame for the administration of hill villages under the Village Authority. It was an extension of the Hill People’s Regulation of 1947 relating to administration of the villages. The term, Village Authority was accepted, but the hill minister and hill bench were abolished. The second law dealing with land reforms and land revenue does not extent to hill areas. The intention of the law makers was perhaps the prevention of the exploitation of the tribal lands by the non tribal rich people of the plains. The Territorial Assembly of Manipur also passed the Abolition of Chiefs Rights Act, 1967. This could not be implemented due to the opposition from the tribal population.

During this period, two important posts were created. One was the Hill Commissioner to deal with tribal affairs. It was an imitation of the colonial President of the Manipur State Darbar (PMSD) and the Hill Minister of the constitutional monarchy. The Hill Commissioner was a quasi-judicial officer dealing the succession to Chiefship based on customary laws and administration of the Village Authority Act. Another one was the Security Commissioner which dealt with the insurgency of the Nagas and Kukis.

When the statehood was granted to Manipur, two institutions were provided by the Government of India to protect the interest of the hill people. The Hill Area Committee (HAC) was established by a Presidential order in the Manipur legislative Assembly vide Art. 371(C) of the Indian Constitution. The HAC was constituted of 20 MLAs from the hill areas to monitor the legislation in respect of hill area. They are to look after the 13 scheduled subjects. And the Governor of Manipur was given a special responsibility to look after the Hill Area. The important function of the Governor is to submit the annual report on hill administration to the Government of India.

While the Hill Area Committee is an important and innovative legal institution to help the Government of Manipur and protect the tribal interests, the Manipur Hill Areas District Council of 1971 which was to establish the district councils in hill areas of Manipur was a neglected cousin of the much discussed VI Schedule autonomous district council introduced in Tribal Areas of Assam. These two institutions aroused a lot of enthusiasm among the tribal people. But they were diluted by the government of Manipur.

For the governance of the hill areas, the Government of Manipur has the following constitutional provisions and laws.

In the legislative affairs, as mentioned above, the Hill Area Committee of the Manipur Legislative Assembly functions with a Chairman and vice Chairman to deal with 13 subjects. The Hill Area Committee had successfully prevented the arbitrary introduction of the MLR&LR Act to the hill areas of Manipur. The HAC once tried to introduce the Manipur Hill Areas Autonomous District Council Act 2000, but it was revoked in 2006. The Assembly passed the Third Amendment of the Manipur hill district council Act (2008). The election to the district council was held in 2010.

The District Councils functioned between 1973-89. It was suspended for nearly two decades. Meanwhile, HAC demanded for the adoption of the VI Schedule autonomous district councils. They passed a resolution on a catchy slogan: “No VI Schedule, No Election”.

The VI Schedule has been projected by the law makers of the Constituent Assembly as a basic constitutional document to protect, preserve and promote tribal interest in the tribal areas of undivided Assam. It was welcome by everybody. However, it was rejected by A.Z. Phizo President of the Naga National Council. Many years later, Lal Denga rejected it for Mizoram at the time of Mizo Accord. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, unilaterally introduced the district councils for the Lakhers and Chakmas. Tripura also introduced the ADC for tribal areas of the state.
The other legal instruments which operate in Manipur hills are the Village Authority Act, of 1956, Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Manipur Forest Rules of 1971. The Village Authority Act provided for a Village Authority to be presided over by the traditional village functionary, either the Khullakpa or the hereditary Chief as the ex-officio chairman. It is essential to remove the anachronistic feudal elements from the chairmanship of the Village Authority there are other important laws like Indian Penal Code, Cr.P.C., the Evidence Act, Indian Succession Act, etc over and above the draconian laws named Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) these are mostly concerned with the keeping of the security forces.

Under the Forest Rules, the forests in Manipur are classified into three: (I) The Reserved Forests (II) The Protected Forests and (III) The Unclassified Forests. The classification has taken away the forests from the tribes. The Unclassified Forests and the Protected Forests are actually the community and clan owned forest lands of the hill village. There should be a provision created under the Forests Rules to give ownership and possessory land rights to the village community and clans.

The office of the Deputy Commissioner is the most important functionary of the district administration. He has become a patriarch of the district. He is the magistrate who keeps law and order, and administers justice. He is the head of the development administration: head of the district rural development, an officer who supervises the working of the district councils. He represents both the central and state governments. He is the kingpin of administration in the district.

A Deputy Commissioner in Manipur hills suffers from certain disabilities. In the name of democracy, the legislators and the leaders of the political parties intervened in the implementation of development programmes resulting in a high level of politicization which is difficult to be avoided. There is also interference from the insurgents in form of demands for quota in appointment, contract supply works and large amount of contribution or taxes. The Deputy Commissioner is the authority to keep the writ of the government in his district.
The State Performs all Functions

We have to acknowledge the reality of political agitation and insurgency both in the uplands and lowlands. The state has suffered due to frequent agitations, mostly bandhs, strikes and blockades. The economic blockades on the two national highways No.39 and No.53, now being protected by the central paramilitary forces, caused immense suffering to the people. Inter-state trade and movement of goods and services have suffered greatly.

Insurgents of various hues and ideology take shelter and refuge in the hills. Their presence invites the counter-insurgency operations under the unpopular AFSPA. The ongoing suspension of operation agreement between the Kuki insurgents and the Indian army is most welcome. The informal ceasefire between the Naga insurgents and the government, which is vehemently denied by the state government does not usher in a peaceful situation as it creates a tense social situation and provokes agitations. However, these agitations are non violent and more or less peaceful. There were excesses also. The recent agitations against the holding of elections to the district councils in the hills is a case in point.

The government of India responded positively to assist the state government. The army firmly stands behind Manipur government. The state government stands for the integrity of the state, but they are shy of a negotiated political settlement. The national media, both electronic and print are generally sympathetic to Manipur. But the national opinion does not appreciate the long and continuous blockades as the instruments of protest; they feel that the government’s stand is too legalistic and rigid. They plead for a humanitarian approach and political settlement. The press in Manipur and the neighbouring Nagaland take highly partisan stands. A reconciliation amongst the concerned groups is necessary. It calls for a political statesmanship for all concerned. No problem can defy solutions. Time is a great healer. It will have surely an appropriate solution.

Amidst the political and social tensions, the state of Manipur still operates and carries on the administration. The three organs of the state: legislature, judiciary and executive function. The state conducts the regular elections, the assembly legislates and passes the annual budgets. The bureaucracy runs the whole show. The judiciary is engaged in a judicial administration (courts for the hill districts operate from the capital). The economy functions, the education system also exists. The sports and culture continue to bring laurels to the state. The writers and scholars continue to produce volume of literature. The press is free and courageous, despite pressure and constraint from the police and insurgents. The army, the paramilitary and police (particularly the commandos) continue to defend the state, provide security to the officials and they fight against the insurgents and extremists. The state performs all the functions which are required of it.

The parallel government of the insurgents also exists, they impose taxes, collect contribution, administer quick justice, influence the electoral process, issue directives to the people and the officials. They are really the challenge to the state. So far the insurgency both in the lowlands and uplands has been managed by the political leadership, bureaucracy and the security forces. How long will they be tolerated by a government established by law?

Good Governance is the Need of the Hour
It is believed that good governance is the panacea to the social and economic ills of a country. The political leadership and the bureaucracy are to be responsive to the people’s aspirations. We require a mature political leadership in this critical situation.

It should be a declared policy of the state to preserve and protect the ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity of the different groups of the state. We welcome the state government’s policy of recognizing many tribal languages as the modern Indian languages by the Board of Secondary Education and University of Manipur. The Department of Art and Culture and the Directorate of Tribal Development are following positive policy for the promotion of culture of the tribes and other majority populations. We should respect every identity and follow Amartya Sen’s theory of multiple identities which harmonizes the identities of the citizens and communities. There should be no imposition of language by the government or any other linguistic groups.

The hill people are a self governing people with their autonomous institutions. By tradition, they have mastered the art of not being governed by the nation state of India. They are in the transitional process of integrating with nation building process of the Indian state. The people desire to participate in the development process at the district and village level. Structures should be created to fulfill their aspirations. The hill areas are justified to have district autonomy in their polity, preferably, the VI Schedule autonomy, or any reasonably autonomous district council.

The question of land is the most important and complex problem of governance in the hill areas. The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform Act, 1960 and the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Manipur Forest Rules, 1971 have created alienation between the hill people and the state government. There should be no landless farmers in the hill areas. At the same time, we require a land law for the hills. It is proposed that the government may consider the appointment of an expert committee preferably headed by a High Court Chief justice or a High Court judge to examine the tribal land tenure system and recommend an appropriate land law for the tribal people of the hill areas of Manipur.

The Manipur Hill Areas Village Authorities Act, 1956 has become redundant. It provides a court of justice presided over by the traditional Khullakpa or feudal Chief. This anachronistic Act should be amended to make more democratic. The chairman should be elected from amongst the people of the village without affecting the land ownership of the Chief or the Khullakpa.

State should provide the facility for the inflow of the institutional finance in the hill areas, as being implemented with success in the districts of Senapati and Churachandpur.

The administration of the district, sub-division and village should be more transparent. And the RTI has provided the mechanism for such a transparency.

The rural development programme consisting of many schemes introduced by the central government is welcome by the people. The governance of this programme is a key to the national programme of uplifting the poor from poverty. The state government which implements the scheme should see that the benefits reach the poor people in the villages.

Every Act of governance should be carried out to win the hearts and minds of the hill men to whose welfare and bright future, the nation state including Manipur is committed.

In conclusion, I quote a British philosopher, T.H. Green who said, “Will and not the force is the basis of the state”. The Will meaning the support and loyalty of the people is to be secured by the rule of law in the country. The rule of law shall bind the government and the people, the governor and the governed. A committed political leadership in a democracy, a clean and efficient bureaucracy, a state apparatus equipped to insure the security of the citizens and the support from the people are the basic conditions of good governance. We have to create such a situation for the governance in the hill areas of Manipur.

(This article was read at the Seminar on Manipur- The Way Forward organized by the Department of Administrative Reforms Government of Manipur on 15th September, 2010 at Imphal.)

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