It is an accepted premise in theory and practice that `Local Self-Governing Institutions`™ play an important role in effectively running a village or a residential locality. These institutions can be either traditional or modern rational based formal and informal institutions. In addition to the institutions of Panchayati and Municipal Council of local self-government, for Northeast India, the vision document North Eastern Region Vision 2020, acknowledges the presence of a strong tradition of local self-governing institutions in the region through `Traditional Institutions (TI)`™. It is through these institutions that people participate in the democratic governance of their own life by actively engaging in the decision making processes of making choices and implementation of those decisions. In this regard, here is an attempt to review how traditional institutions in Manipur are recognised vis-Ã -vis the state position in the recently enacted `The Manipur Municipality Community Participation Act, 2010`.
The North Eastern Region Vision 2020 document, consequently, expresses the desirability and the necessity to ensure a harmonious relationship between the constitutional institutions of local governance and the `Traditional Institutions (TI)`™ for better governance of the people and for the region at large. The document also mentioned that `a top-down development planning strategy has not involved people in designing and implementing the strategy and, not surprisingly, the relationship between public spending and service delivery outcomes has been tenuous. The various public investment projects in the region have not yielded commensurate benefits. Lack of people`™s involvement has robbed the system of a sense of belonging and led to inefficient and wasteful resource allocation on the one hand and a lack of social accountability on the other.` That is to say decentralized governance with active participation of the people is an end in itself as it reaffirms the universal value that all men are equal and the right to decide his/her own future lies within the individual self.
Leikai and Leikai club
In the valley areas of Manipur, TIs include various clubs, associations and peoples`™ organizations. Ubiquitous among them is the Leikai Club, the prominence is reflected in the document also when it said that `while designing local planning approaches, care must be taken to harmonise the functions and rights `¦. the Clubs of the Manipur valley`¦. with institutional mechanisms designed for modern development and service delivery.` There are as many clubs as many Leikai (a helmet/locality/Mohallah) in Manipur.
In fact the idea of community is embedded and built in a space of `Leikai`™ with regard to the Meitei community of the Imphal valley. The space of a Leikai is an imagined space. It has a structural and behavioural value which can be understood through its system of kinship, pseudo-kinship, social norms and rituals. This can be seen as a kind of self that is being embedded into a bigger collective. People are bound by social obligation in terms of behaviour obligation and etiquette. A lot of activities right from the rituals of birth to death or any local festival are done with support from the community members. So, it is mandatory to invite or inform the member of the community for every event, that`™s the reason the society, has tradition of `leikai varton chatpa`™.
Further, the interrelationship and cooperation between one another is manifested in the form of many existing traditional institutions of Singllup or the informal micro-credit Marup institution. They play a dominant role in the collective imagination and existence as a Leikai. Though, it appears that present day solidarity has shifted from the core belief of collective existence to a material base or a more individualised economic base solidarity. `Capital as solidarity`™ for the want of a better expression. The foundation of solidarity in Manipur society is the sharing and understanding built through the above collectives. This is the reason why people impose an obligation on the self to go and share the pain and joy of others. A Classic example is the tradition of asi-hangba chatpa. For this people did not need a formal invite or the capital do not determine the sharing of the others world. It is through such sharing that a common world is established that is recognisable to each other.
At the same time, it is also an undeniable reality of our time that the forces of capital and material has started determining our ways of life and renders the society and people to a commodity of the `modern`™ world. Yet, the present day `club`™ since early 1940s`™ has been an evolutionary form of a Leikai collective mechanism to participate in activities of collective goods or to face any crisis collectively in the space of a Leikai. As any organisation has its own history of good, excellent and bad times, Clubs are no stranger to this universal phenomenon. But, they in one way or the other contributes to sports, education, crisis management, local developments etc. in the Leikai. The recognition of their activities has also been registered in State/National administrative reports since Independence.
Manipur Municipality Community Participation Act, 2010
The opportunity of recognising and institutionalising these roles of Leikai Club or any other equally important TIs could have taken place in this recently enacted `Manipur Municipality Community Participation Act, 2010`. But sadly, the enactment of such an Act astonished everyone. This Act has come through `Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM)`™, to achieve the United Nation Millennium development Goals (UNMDG) by 2015. In fact, every programme and mission under UNMDG emphasised to achieve the community participation. JNNURM is a programme for the development of urban infrastructure which is funded by the World Bank which demands the enactment and modification of Municipalities Act institutionally and structurally. One of the objectives of the scheme is to assist the select Urban Local Bodies to institutionalize key urban reforms. As a safeguard mechanism one of the proposed stakeholders indentified is the ward development committee to strengthen local governance.
This ward development committee under the `Community Participation Law`™ (CPL) is to be passed within 6 months of the signing of the Memorandum of Association under the Mission and submitting a copy to the Ministry of Urban Development. The states must also abide by and implement some conditionalities including privatization of water and sanitation services, repeal of the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCRA) and implementation of public-private partnerships (PPP).
Manipur is also not immune to this development and `Manipur Municipality Community Participation Act, 2010` was enacted by the Manipur Legislative Assembly. Under the influence of global capital and neo-liberal ideas `“ promotion of particular type of civil society and less role of state and privatization of delivery of services is sought to be promoted. As a party to it Government of Manipur, in the Act, defines Civil Society as
any non-government organization or association or persons, established, constituted, or registered under any law for the time being in force and working for social welfare, and includes any community based organization, professional institution and civic, health educational, social or cultural body or any trade or industrial organization and such other association or body as the state may decide
By defining through an act, Kakchingtabam Naresh in `Democracy and Civil Society: Absence of the sovereign in Northeast` observed that the government has used civil society as an instrumental tool for the production of labour in its relationship between the government and the individuals for the production of a new set of socio-economic relationships. Further, the act disregards the importance of the democratic role that is being played by traditional Institutions in the development and sustenance of a locality or residential area in the Manipuri society. Thus the act doesn`™t include any of the traditional institutions or address the issue of gender inclusiveness. That is to say, the Act is no different from any other government bureaucratic organisation as it mentions the composition of the ward development committee as
a) The Councillor of the ward, who shall be the Chairperson of the Ward Development Committee,
b) Two persons to be elected from the ward,
c) Two persons representing the civil society from the ward, nominated by the state Government.
This has raised basic questions on the democratic character of the committee since it is not mentioned how far is this act of nomination of two persons by the state going to be democratic so do the constitution of ward finance committee and ward information and statistical committee through nomination by the state. Instead of democratization, what the act actually does is bureaucratization by opening a widow for vested interest to operate. It needs to be emphasised again that the very purpose of 73 rd and 74thAmendment is neither administrative decentralisation nor mere devolution but to establish an `institution of self Government` in rural and urban areas. This is even in total inconsistency with the real objectives of achieving community participation of MDGs. Along with this it is a complete unawareness on the proposed recommendations of the vision document North Eastern Region Vision 2020.
In addition, by fixing the responsibility of addressing the grievances of the people on the chairperson, who is a part of the same structure, the act does not address or failed to take into account the mechanisms of accountability by the people in a democratic way. This also raises questions of how the idea of community and participation is conceptualised by the policy maker of the state. Where do the local community stand in the allocation of resources in democratic planning? Are the local community organisations given due space in such exercise of allocation of resources.
Surprisingly, the information of the Manipur Assembly passing the Act came in July last year through a local newspaper. But, in complete disregard to all democratic norms, the government of the day did not consider it worthy to publish in the media to receive people`™s comments and suggestions before passing such an important Act. In contrast, the neighbouring states of Nagaland and Meghalaya, the Act were put in the public domain inviting suggestions and comments. It`™s no wonder that the enactment of the Act was preceded by the suspension of democratically elected or constituted constitutionally mandated public body the Imphal Municipality Council (IMC) that was made redundant by the successive governments of Manipur by not decentralising its constitutionally mandated functions. For example 19 such municipal functions in City Development Plan, such as water supply, urban amenities are not performed by the IMC but by other State departments such as Department of Town Planning, Department of Public Health and Engineering, Department of Fire, Planning and development Authority, etc.
In the state of Meghalaya, though their State Community Participation Act is still being challenged and questioned by the Traditional institution leaders, their ward development committee includes the representatives of Durbar/Council/traditional. Along with this, 3 (three) women either from Seng Kynthei/women organization/ individuals who are the eligible voters of the concerned Ward are also to be nominated by the Government in the Ward Committee. Such is the sensitivity of the state unlike our state Manipur which has active women collectives like Meira Peibies.
Therefore before the state start implementing this ward development committee, every concerned citizen/Local Club executive must think and debate over such behaviour of the state planning and policy making process. The state`™s policy and Act must not be at the cost of our own people and its aspiration. It should be sensitive enough to consider its social and cultural complexities. It is not just the lack of governance but the very act of planning and institutionalising the structural mechanism that is not democratic in nature which will impede translate effective and accountable governance. It is the need of the hour to question the understanding of the political elites of Manipur towards their own citizens while framing such important Acts of the state.