COPTAM on tribal issues, Manipur

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Newmai News Network
IMPHAL, Nov 19: Committee on Protection of Tribal Areas, Manipur (COPTAM) has dwelt on the subjects dogging with tribal people in Manipur including the the demand for Kuki State, Autonomous Hills State and Alternative Arrangement by different tribal organizations.

On Monday, COPTAM has  said tribal rights including tribal territories have by design been violated by the government of Manipur for the past more than half a decade. All Constitutional provisions for protection and administration of tribal hill areas of the state have been systematically hindered by the State Assembly and successive state governments, it alleged.

COPTAM stated that the calibrated absence of meaningful response from the state government on the issues raised by the Committee is further evidence of the state government’s bias in favor of the valley dwelling majority community to the detriment of tribal.

The Hill Area Committee (HAC), a constitutional body provided for legislative protection of tribal interests and executive supervision in tribal areas has been clipped of all its powers and functions, it added.

The Manipur(Village Authority in Hill Areas)Act 1956, the MLR & LR Act 1960, etc., which have been designed to breach the constitutional protection accorded to tribal territories, and as such consistently opposed by the tribals of Manipur, are relentlessly sought to be executed by successive governments in brazen disregard for tribal rights and concerns. The persistent opposition over the past decades, of the valley people-dominated governments of Manipur, for according protection to tribal hill areas under sixth schedule of the constitution is testament to the true intentions of the majority dominated governments of Manipur, which is to leave tribal land open to exploitation and alienation, it further added.

“In the light of the above, the COPTAM would like to state that demands for self governance over ancestral land, custom and Culture by the tribals, are political developments born out of total disillusionment with a biased and unjust state government which have not only neglected development of tribal areas but have been guilefully planning to strip tribals of all their rights.

The COPTAM has been, is and will always be extending the fullest of support to all efforts aimed at securing tribal peoples’ rights in Manipur. It is also our sincere appeal to the governments, both in the state and at the center, to immediately begin talks with tribal organisation of Manipur for an early settlement of political discord in the region at one go without any discrimination among trial. The state’s insensitivity to tribal aspirations for protection of their rights and equitable development has driven sections of tribal communities to armed insurgency. The government must learn to progress beyond cease-fires and Suspensions of Operation to sincere political deliberation and dialogue at earliest possible,” COPTAM stated.

COPTAM then spells out the reasons to oppose village authority election under the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act 1956.

One reason has been that the consent and approval of Manipur tribal chiefs was not sought when the Act was passed by the parliament in order to suit tribal traditional system of election and village administration base on their custom and culture. The chiefs are awake and aware only when the implementation of the act impinge on the traditional rights and authority of the chieftains.

Another reason is that traditionally, governance and administration under the Chieftainship/Haosa of the tribals is hereditary within their territorial jurisdictions. The chief is the head of the village authority. The members of the Village Authority are drawn from various clans in the village and they assist the chief in administration and dispensation of justice.

The conduct of election and the provision for disqualification of Village Authority members by the Government totally diminished the traditional rights and power of the Chieftains over their people and administration.

For every village having twenty or more tax-paying houses there shall be Village Authority. But elected Village Authority can be instate only in the general interest of the people or demand, if any from the people of that village as provided in the Act. But it is the Chief not the general people whose interest and demand has to be considered to institute elected Village Authority as the villagers are residing in that village under the Lordship and Land ownership of the Chief.

The conduct of Village Authority members by the government is neither the general interest nor the demand of the people of tribal villages. It is an imposition to the tribal people with the intention to degrade Chieftainship institution and to gradually intrude tribal ancestral land. Only where there is no chief, election of Village Authority can be conducted by the government if there is a demand from the people of that village, was one of the reasons that COPTAM has been opposing the village authority election under the Act.

The Act says that where there is no elected Village Authority, the members of the Village Authority of that village shall be nominated by the Chief Commissioner, is more undemocratic than the traditional consensus system of election practiced under the chieftains. Therefore, government should respect tribal traditional system of election and accept the list of Village Authority members submitted to the concern office by the respective village chiefs for the purposes of development and others, the tribal Committee said.

Where there is a chief in a village, the designation chief should be in use and where there is no chief, the designation chairman should be in use. It is vague to use chief/chairman as chief is automatically chairman of the village but chairman cannot be the chief of the village, COPTAM pointed out.

Every chief shall prevent their respective village from conducting Village Authority election and policies to intrude our ancestral land.

“State government should not try to forcibly conduct Village Authority election without the consent and demand of the village chief. In case of any objection from the village chief where election was conducted, government should cancel all the election process and accept the Village Authority members submitted by the respective chief in their letter head or plain paper with seal,”  COPTAM stated.

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