At last the three interrelated Bills, meant to check influx of migrants into Manipur will be discussed and their passage sought in the Manipur Legislative Assembly today. In all likelihood, they will get past the Assembly, but that hardly is the end of their journey to becoming Acts, for they will have to also have the assent of the Governor to become law. It must be said it is one of those rare strokes of genius that the Bill was split into three, so that even if the most disputed of them dealing with the controversial cut off year for identification of non-domiciles and their deportation, (incidentally the only new Bill among the three), is delayed, the other two, which are amendments of existing laws, are not bogged down along with it. It is our opinion that if these two amendments, which will effectively prohibit land ownership transfers to non-domiciles in the valley districts are assured, the major part of the problem at hand would have been resolved. In the hill districts, these two would be redundant for the original laws being amended are applicable only to the valley districts only. There have been some apprehensions expressed that the new provision in the amended MLR&LR Act by which the government can bring any strip of land in the state within the purview of the law would result in these strips of lands becoming valley land. This defies logic. Suppose Tamenglong town decides to have the Act to make land have bankable value, how would that make Tamenglong part of the valley?
The first of the three Bills which seeks to bring in a permit system for migrants is the one which would cover all the districts in the state, but as we are now witnessing, this is being objected to by some civil organisations in the hills. This being the case, it would perhaps be a good idea to introduce a clause in the Bill that if the hill population do in earnest dislike the proposed permit system, the law would be open to further amendments to make it applicable only in the valley districts. Or it could be the other way round. The Bill could exclude the hills from its purview from the very onset today, but with the provision that if the hills do come to a consensus on the matter, the law could be amended in the future to include the hill districts as well. As it is, the hill districts are already protected, therefore in effect it is only the valley districts which may actually need it, as for instance when the state`™s rail connection in anticipation of the `Act East Policy` becomes operational, and with it the feared influx of migrants.
In the maddening cacophony of posturing and sloganeering in various statements made by different sections of the state`™s civil society, there is also a distinct voice which seems to think the doors of the valley districts, which together form only 10 percent of the state`™s total area, should be left open for anybody to walk in and out at pleasure, while the doors of the hill districts should not only remain tightly shut to the valley dwellers, in particular the Meiteis and Meitei Pangals, but bolted still tighter by newer special arrangements. It is astonishing that anybody can see this as a durable formula for peace. Asymmetric empowerment structures are necessary to level out playing fields, but cannot by any stretch of imagination be limitless, and as we have witnessed in these troubled weeks, the explosion of sentiments in the valley is in a way a statement that this limit has been crossed. The valley too now is demanding protection, with legitimacy in our opinion.
A brief look at the history behind the different administrative models for the hills and the valley here should be interesting. The administrative mechanism evolved in Manipur by the British after they brought the kingdom under them in 1891 is almost a replication of their administrative model in their older province of Assam where they had revenue provinces administered directly by modern land revenue laws, and the non-revenue hills simply left `unadministered`. By the Government of India Act 1919, these hills beyond its `Inner Line` were marked off as `Backward Tracts` and left largely unadministered but under the Governor`™s direct rule and not the provincial government`™s. We also know that by the GOI Act 1935 the `Backward Tracts` were re-categorised into `Excluded Areas` and `Partially Excluded Areas`. The `Excluded Areas` were not given any representation in the Provincial Government, which had been given much more democratic powers by then, with the condescending explanation that these hills were still not ready for democratic governance. The `Partially-Excluded Areas` were however given some representations in the Provincial Government, but by nomination of the Governor and not by election. In Manipur, the British did not draw an `Inner Line` separating the hills from the valley, but there is a great deal of replication of the provisions, as we can see. The provincial government ruled the valley districts, but the hills were kept under the President of the Manipur State Durbar, PMSD, who played the role of the Governor in a British province. Although not identical, this was the broad pattern of governance the British took to every one of their newly acquired territories.
What about the hill valley relationship before the British? This can be the theme of another editorial, but it definitely would be wrong to imagine it would have resembled the modern state which administers its borders as intensely, or even more intensely, than its core.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam