Editorial – A House for Elders

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The Assembly resolution to have an Upper House, or Legislative Council, as a compliment to the Legislative Assembly is welcome. This is especially so considering the elevated place elders occupy in the traditional societies of the state. With the advent of nuclear family and quantum shifts in professions and lifestyles, this institution has eroded considerably. Instead of elders, the more heard word today is Naharol, which literally means youth, but figuratively refers to armed insurgents. Still, there can be no denying elders still occupy a very important place in our society. This is why an Upper House as proposed is timely and appropriate. If the second chamber of the Assembly becomes a reality and if it is implemented in its letter and spirit, the House of Elders should be just the kind of mechanism needed to check and balance the ways of the Lower House, of which the state has seen the best and more often the worst.
However, what is rather disturbing is, of the many opinions expressed in the House, there were ones which said the second chamber is necessary so as to accommodate more MLAs and thereby be able to give better representation to the different districts and communities of the state, many  of whom feels left out from the corridors of power. While this is a legitimate concern, the danger is, the spirit of the Upper House, which is of providing a saner voice enlightened by experiences in the arts and the sciences of life, would become diluted. This has happened to many other important institutions earlier, so while the concern for a wider representation is undoubtedly legitimate, so is the concern that this would degrade the institution. Take for instance what has happened to so many of the most important autonomous institutions of democracy in the state. The Manipur Human Rights Commission, MHRC, for instance today has been reduced to a mere shadow, perhaps doomed never to come to its full vitality again. The commission, like so many others had been used as an outpost of the government that be, often planting in them members not by their credentials in the conduct of law and adjudication, but their proximity to power brokers. Even if a little of this were to be overlooked, the trouble did not end there. Everything possible was done to ensure that the commission did not get too big for its boots and began thinking in terms of autonomous functioning. Salary strings were always tightly held by the government, office infrastructure was never adequate, in fact sometimes even humiliating, rulings of the commissions were dodged to the extent possible and the list of tactics to rein in the institution can be endless.
Like the MHRC, so many other such institutions have suffered similar or at best, slightly better fates. The Manipur Information Commission for instance is very much alive and kicking but only just. It is a commission not only understaffed, but also under strength. Its office is located in a non-descript corner of the state civil secretariat, and the aura does not at all convey a sense of autonomy, much less independence. It looks like just another wing of the state bureaucracy. The Manipur Police Commission, another mandatory body by a Supreme Court ruling was once heard of briefly, with a motley crowd of retired government servants supposedly roped in as members. Today, it has simply been allowed to go out of public consciousness, much less allowed to function even nominally.
All these are very discouraging. These institutions which were once envisioned to provide the much needed check and balance to the government, are today either in total ruins or else have been so thoroughly domesticated by the powers that be. This is why we express our worries and raise the need for caution in setting up an Upper House of the Assembly. It would be shameful if this ambitious project were also to be reduced to another appendage of the government. It would be equally shameful if there were to be a scramble outside the ministerial offices to bargain for favours to be made members of the House. But, these are worries only. If properly addressed and precautions taken to prevent these tragic eventualities, the proposal for a second chamber of the Assembly must rank as the best news the state has heard in decades.

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