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2014 for Manipur: Time for the mountains but not for the MLR and LR Act
By Amar Yumnam
The second year of the current millennium was the International Year of the Mountains, but for Manipur it had passed off without any awareness and specific focus. This year marks the completion of a dozen numbers of years since then. This year is going to be very significant globally with the digital technology becoming much more coalesced with the private life as well as the social events everywhere. This would have loads of implications for social movements and revolutions anywhere. The country too would undergo a large transformation in political characteristics. There are already signs of it with Modi engaging a large number of highly qualified personnel in his team of advisors, and Arvind Kejriwal emerging as the head of people of Delhi. For Manipur as well the political and economic implications are huge. As an instance, there is now a salient new found realisation here of the importance of parliamentary elections. Whether this immediately converts into electoral outcomes or not, there are inimitable signs of changes in political characteristics. Further, the atmosphere for a thaw in the long-built-up tensions between the valley and the mountains of Manipur is now prevalent. Since the valley happens to be the centre of both political and economic decision-making, the onus lies on it to initiate the gestures and the interventions for adding strength to the evolving thaw in the intra-regional relationships of Manipur.
While pushing for the imperatives, the valley needs to avoid pressing for the extension of the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act to the mountains of Manipur. There is the usual apprehension of the mountain population that the extension would lead to the usurping of land by the non-mountain dwellers through various means of land alienation. While this seems to me to be easily addressable, there are larger worries that can endanger the social fabric and cause absolute chaos among the mountains of Manipur consequent upon the extension of the Act; these fears are more real than imagined. We need to be alive to the impact of the MLR and LR Act in the valley before we ever think of extending to the mountains. True, the private property rights regime has been firmly established in the valley thanks to the application of this act. Further, the financial system of the country has been connected with the land ownership system thanks again to this act. But beyond these there have been many unwarranted and negative effects of this act. The revenue officers perform semi-judicial functions under this act. In other words, these officers perform certain functions for which they are not accountable and can only be challenged in the higher and higher levels. This lack of accountability has given ample opportunity to these officers to abuse, misuse and what not of their powers, and they have not let it go unexploited for personal (definitely not social) gains. This abuse has had two damaging effects. First, their continual abuse of power has stunted the emergence of a culture of rule of law in the valley, and has only displayed the path of corruption as a viable route for personal progression. Everybody knows, they are getting enriched personally through their abuse of power, but since they perform these functions as semi-judicial officers the people are helpless. Besides, since there is also the willing partner in the game in the form of conciliatory law enforcing force, the nonsense can carry one year after year – a la sustainable corruption model. In fact, it has been so up to now. This governance character has definitely played a role in the strong emergence of a trend of mob-delivery of justice in the valley. A state exists to protect property and life, but under the MLR and LR Act, property can be easily for anyone depending on the purchase of the whims of the officers under the act disguised as acting under the rule of law while definitely not according to the rule of law. Challenging this feature of corruption and corruptibility under the act is a very difficult task for a common man, and particularly so if the person happens to lack in education and networks. Given the prevailing social, political, educational and economic circumstances of the mountains, it would be wise not to press for the extension of the Act to these areas. If it is done at all and the valley experiences are repeated in the mountains, it would be absolutely chaotic. It would lead to violence, disconnect the governance increasingly from the population and lay the sure foundation for more revolutions. The revolutions which emerge now would be very different in both nature and impact than the ones encountered so far because of the deepening and spreading digital impact. This would happen irrespective of whether they are successful or failures. Further the conventional methods of state for countering these would be irrelevant and counterproductive in the changed circumstances. These being so, unless the scope for corruption and corruptibility and absence of accountability under the act are addressed, the MLR and LR Act should by no means be extended to the mountains of Manipur.
These however do not mean that the development needs of the mountains cannot be addressed. These should necessarily be addressed. In order to avoid the policy-induced cheatings like the one on demography as has been evident from decennial census experiences, there is now the fundamentality for evolving contextual yardsticks for delivery of development opportunities and interventions at the door steps in the mountain areas of Manipur. Social infrastructure in the mountains should be made functional at any cost in order to convey the seriousness of the governance in its message of development for the mountains. Further the disconnect between the financial system and the mountain population should be corrected sooner than later. This disconnect has been a major factor for the non-emergence and non-success of entrepreneurs in the mountain areas. On the other hand, in a very unlikely situation, there are now emerging large socio-economic inequalities here.
All these demand the evolution of policies for development in the mountain areas of Manipur. While doing so, the governance should not be looking at it from the perspective of the valley but should be doing so from the angle of the mountains themselves. This would be the only route for an inclusive and shared development, and the people need it.