The thaw of the deadlock over the proposed upgrade of the SADAR Hills subdivision of Senapati district into a full-fledged district at this moment seems unlikely with those demanding it as well as those opposing it remaining stubbornly fixed in their respective confrontational stances. While the difference is understandable though not desirable, probably under normal circumstance everybody would have given the two parties all the time and space they need to settle their differences. However, what is also a fact is that the circumstance is far from normal, for either of the two parties has imposed a blockade of the state’s lifelines as a way of announcing the seriousness of their intents. So, even as this standoff is happening, essential commodities in the state are not only sky rocketing but beginning to disappear from the markets. Quite predictably, if this continues for much longer, this state which has just recovered from another prolonged blockade just last year may lose its sanity, and in the worst case scenario, even street rioting may be the result. The government therefore cannot afford to treat the matter lightly or without a sense of urgency.
It does however seem the government is inclined to consider creating the SADAR Hills district, and so also some others. The chief minister, Okram Ibobi, has announced on the floor of the Assembly that a committee headed by the chief secretary D.S. Poonia has been set up to study possible demarcations of the districts to see the feasibility of the proposed districts, but also added the sole criterion in this onerous project would be administrative convenience. Presuming the SADAR Hills district comes to be created after making the necessary boundary demarcations and adjustments, as well as seeking the demanded consensus of the people, we can foresee some hiccups still. Today the tussle seems to be between two hill communities, the Nagas and Kukis, but the district can also throw up potential frictions between its proponents and farmers in the valley districts, for SADAR Hills touches valley area as well. Ordinarily this would not have been a problem, for there is nothing that says a farmer or for that matter any citizen cannot have landed properties in more than one district but as we had earlier pointed out, there is an extraordinary dimension to land issues in Manipur. This is because the state has revenue districts, which are the valley districts, and the non-revenue districts, which are by and large the hill districts. Under this dispensation, non tribals cannot own land in the non-revenue districts. So if in the demarcation of the SADAR Hills district, land owned by Meitei farmers becomes incorporated, the dispossessed farmers will definitely not agree. Imagine if Langol hills, parts of Lamphel, Andro village foothills, Nongmaijing hill etc, are suddenly made non-revenue area, there would be sparks flying everywhere again. Moreover, as we had argued before in these columns, serious constitutional crisis can result in the future in matters of citizens losing their franchise rights. To take the Moreh example again, supposing tomorrow a Meitei or for that matter a Tamil domicile holding Indian passport decides to file nomination for the Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency, we can imagine what uproar this would result in. Constitutionally however, we cannot think how this hypothetical candidature could be dismissed. But if administrative convenience is the key consideration, it would make no sense for Langol Hills or Lamphel or the Nongmaijing Hills to be administered from the SADAR Hills headquarters at Kangpokpi. Perhaps the commission working on the demarcation of district boundaries would be seeking to address such problems as well, and if so the possible bad scenario we sketched above would be redundant.
There is another way out. If at all SADAR Hills district becomes a reality, the government must consider the possibility of making it a revenue district, or some similar arrangement so that nobody ends up dispossessed. Imphal becoming split into Imphal East and West had no problem, because nobody ended up dispossessed even if some farmers ended up with their paddy fields split between the two districts. Ideally, the creation of any new district or the splitting of existing ones into more parts should have been as was the case of Imphal becoming two revenue districts. Although it may still not be time for equal land laws for the hills and valley, the problem the state is faced with now should serve as an indicator some sort of parity is long overdue.