One of the conditions put forward by the United Naga Council, UNC, for resolution to the SADAR (Special Area Demarcated Autonomous Region) Hills is to arrive at a consensus on the issue amongst the concerned people. Should not the government be exploring this suggested route? Should not it for instance try having those demanding the separate district status for the SADAR Hills sub-division and those opposing the idea meet across the table and arrive at such a consensus? Since the dispute predictably is unlikely to be resolved so easily across the table between the two parties, should not it be prudent for the government to make the agenda of such a dialogue be centred around evolving an objective criterion for arriving at this rather amorphous notion of the will of the people? Perhaps, this would be about a referendum of sorts, where the domicile of the sub-division are called upon to vote on whether the SADAR Hills should be made a separate district or else remain a sub-division of the Senapati district. Why is the government delaying to facilitate such a joint meeting? Maybe it is an understandable cynicism that this would be of no point, as these offers of arriving at a people’s consensus is only another way of saying no to any compromised settlement, but at least the gesture would pass on the ball to the court of those who served it in the first place. At this moment, because of the lack of initiative from its side on this count, the government is appearing to be at fault for the continued impasse.
It is true the government has set up a district demarcation committee to study the feasibility of the various demands for new districts. As a column in the last Sunday issue of the IFP suggested, perhaps there should be plenty more districts. He had suggested 25 districts for the hill administration. This would mean 25 deputy commissioners and a reciprocal number of subordinate staff. The argument is, the area to be handled being thus greatly reduced, administration would also become proportionately easier. The only lacuna in this proposition is, ultimately primacy of any administration is people and not area, and that many of the new districts may not have enough people to administer, perhaps to the extent of the employees of the administration outnumbering the number of people to be administered. Employees of the child welfare department responsible for running the Central government’s Anganwadi programme will vouch this. In the rural areas of the hills, each Anganwadi centre which is supposed to cater to a 1000 population often ends up caring for as little as just two families which sometimes do not have any children of school going age, almost making the programme redundant. The suggestion however is something to look into. A balance must be struck between spatial spread of population distribution and its thick concentration in a small area. Both present different challenges. The more sparse and spread the population, the more uphill the task of ensuring benefits of administration reach the beneficiaries. On the other hand, even though in towns and cities the population may be much more concentrated and thereby spatially much easy to cover, logistically it also means there are more people to look after, more children to feed and educate etc thereby more material and personnel to accomplish the mission. The committee now looking into the matter will know best what criterion it would have to set for itself to come up with proposals for solutions to the problems.
As of now, although it is the most pronounced, SADAR Hills is not the only area wanting to be recognized as a separate district. The state has heard the echoes of similar demands coming from Tengnoupal sub-division in the Chandel district, Phungyar sub-division in the Ukhrul district, Khoupam sub-division in the Tamenglong district, Jiribam sub-division in the Imphal East district, and we are certain there will be more if there are any indication that creation of new districts are a possibility. This last consideration cannot be brushed aside, for what may actually happen may be the opening of the proverbial Pandora’s Box. Whatever the case may be, we hope the committee, headed by the state chief secretary, D.S. Poonia, gives weight to considerations of administrative convenience and not ethnic boundaries, imaginary or otherwise. If the state had only one category of territory, and not reserved and non-reserved ones as is the reality, matters of such divisions would have been much simpler, for then there could have been only spatial spread of population and thereby proximity of population to district headquarters could have been the prime determinant. But this is not to be for as we have written earlier, merging reserved and non-reserved territory may be administratively convenient, but in the exercise of the political right of franchise, solution defying constitutional crisis can and indeed would ultimately result.