Binding the wound : The district row

146

Thangbiaklian Hangzo

The Chief Minister N Biren Singh in an alleged effort to bridge the gap between the Hill and Valley areas of Manipur initiated a landmark Cabinet Meeting in Churachandpur town. This is a welcome gesture and a positive step towards narrowing the chasm that existed owing to years of communally fuelled, administratively incompetent and blatantly partial governance by successive governments in Manipur. The widening divide between the Hills and the Valley areas manifests itself with the coerced introduction of the three controversial bills amidst opposition on August 31, 2015 touted as an attempt to protect the indigenous peoples of Manipur.

While all settlers of Manipur claimed to be indigenous, the Hill and Valley people could not look at the controversy from a similar vantage point. There are still people who claimed the constitutionality of the bills and saw protective mechanisms in the stillborn bills, there are others who perceived it as a threat to their very own existence.

Enough was said and done in this regard, but if a government is genuinely keen on binding the already wounded Manipur, there are certain precedences that one has to be aware of in matters of governing and administering Manipur. Violation of existing constitutional provisions, ordinances and written rules will always question the intent and objectives of such acts in the already volatile Manipur. If the Manipur government, previous or existing one, really cared about the welfare of Manipur and are genuinely interested in harmony and peaceful co-existence of its myriad communities, it has to be extra cautious in adhering to its own operating laws and ordinances.

The callous attitude and carelessness of the Manipur government yet again manifest in the arbitrary decision to create seven (7) new districts in December 2016. While this was lauded by some, others loathe the very same and are prepared to oppose, come what may. While others felt favoured, some felt violated and ignored. Or is this the whole intention in the guise of an “administrative convenience?” And it is crucial, therefore, to examine whether the Manipur government or its council of ministers competent to create new districts in the Hill Areas of Manipur.

The Manipur (Hill Areas District Council) Act, 1971 was enacted in Manipur during its Union Territory days. And the provision clearly states in Section 2 (f) that “Hill Areas” means the Hill Areas determined by the President by any notification issued under Sub-Section (2) of section 52 of the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 (20 of 1963) and in force immediately before the commencement of this Act.

This classification of Manipur into Hill or Valley areas was the prerogative of the President of India, and not that of the Manipur government or its council of ministers.
This provision was further strengthened by Article 371 (C) which explains that “Hill Areas means such areas as the President may, by order, declare to be Hill Areas.”
In Section 3, Sub-Section (1) that as soon as may be after the commencement of this Act, the Administrator shall cause all the Hill Areas to be divided into not more than six autonomous districts.

This administrator so mentioned here was the administrator of the Union territory of Manipur appointed under Article 239 who is referred to as the governor of the Union Territory under Article 239 (a), or the governor of the state under Article 239 (b) of the Constitution of India who shall exercise his functions as such administrator independently of his Council of Ministers.

The autonomous districts, powerless as it may seem, proved the cessation of the erstwhile revenue districts and its regulations, limiting the power of the Manipur government or its council of ministers, in the Hill Areas, in matters of creation and alteration of districts in the autonomous Hill Areas. And this responsibility was fully bequeathed to the governor of Manipur and its elected ADC members of each council (s) as per the provisions of the Manipur (Hill Areas District Council) Act, 1971. In Section 3 Sub Section ( 2) (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) & (f) that the Administrator may, by order notified in the Official Gazette –
a) Declare that any area in any autonomous district which is, or is intended to be, included within the limits of any municipality, cantonment or town committee shall cease to be a part of such autonomous district; b) Increase the area of any autonomous district; c) Diminish the area of any autonomous district; d) Unite two or more autonomous districts or parts thereof so as to form one autonomous district; e) Define the boundaries of any autonomous district; f) Alter the name of any autonomous district.

In exercise of the power vested by the Manipur (Hill Areas District Council) Act, 1971, the then Governor of Manipur, vide Notification dated February 14, 1972 constituted 6 (six) Autonomous District for the purpose of constitution of Autonomous District Councils (ADC):
1. Manipur North ADC now Senapati ADC; 2. Sadar Hills ADC; 3. Manipur East ADC now Ukhrul ADC; 4. Tengnoupal ADC now Chandel ADC; 5. Manipur South ADC now Churachandpur ADC and 6. Manipur West ADC now Tamenglong ADC
In order to further empower the Hill Areas and its representatives, the Manipur (Hill Areas District Council) Act, 1971 Section 3, Sub Section (3) states that “no order under Sub-Section (2) mentioned above (creation and alteration of autonomous districts in the hill areas) shall be made by the Administrator except after consultation with the Hill Areas Committee.”

As the Manipur (Hill Areas District Council) Act, 1971, empowered the governor as the de facto authority of the Hill Areas in matters of creation, alteration and naming of autonomous districts, it further colludes with Article 371 (C) in empowering the Union Government to have executive power to the giving of directions to the State as to the administration of the said [Hill] areas. And in partial alignment to these provisions, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act.

So far as the existing provision goes, there is not a shred of provision where the government of Manipur or its council of Ministers are empowered to demarcate and alter the district boundaries of the Hill areas where separate laws are enshrined in the Constitution of India.
The only excuse with which the state government of Manipur may create and demarcate districts in the Hill Areas was Section 3, Sub Section (1) of the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 which states “the State Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, divide the territories to which this Act extends into one or more districts, and may similarly divide any district into sub-divisions and tehsils, and may alter the limits of, or abolish any district sub-division or tehsil.”

However, the same provision in Section 2 states that the MLR & LR Act, 1960, “it extends to the whole of the State of Manipur except the hill areas thereof : Provided that the State Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, extend the whole or any part of any section of this Act to any of the hill areas of Manipur also as may be specified in such notification.”

This act clearly delineates the demarcation of Manipur into Hill Areas where there are districts with “autonomy” exists and Valley Areas where there are revenue districts.
The power to divide areas of Manipur into districts for revenue purpose is found only in “territories to which this Act extends” as per Section 3, Sub Section (1) of the MLR & LR Act. And the Hill Areas where the 7 new controversial districts were created are clearly the off limit areas of the provision of this Act according to Section 2.

The later part of Section 2 which states that “the State Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, extend the whole or any part of any section of this Act to any of the hill areas of Manipur also as may be specified in such notification” may be construed as an excuse for the creation of new districts and alteration of existing districts in the Hill Areas, the provision of Section 3, Sub Section (1) calls for a prior order of extension of whole or part of the Act in the Hill Areas.

The presupposition of Section 3, Sub Section (1) was that there was an area where this act [already] extends. And division of territories can be done only in such areas. The implementation of Section 3, Sub Section (1) for division of territories requires a prior extension as per Section 2 of the Act as these two were separate sections which cannot be clubbed into one, nor qualify for simultaneous application in a single order.

Even if the argument above on the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 may be disregarded, there still exist equally powerful provisions of the law in the form of Manipur (Hill Areas District Council) Act, 197, Article 371 (C) and the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972 which was annulled. And there are no mechanisms to decide which one of these parallel laws may precede when conflicting and overlapping of provisions occur. It appears that people at the helm of powers arbitrarily decide without going into the technical details. Or act in partial preference of one community over the other in an act of hegemony to curtail the rights of other communities and polarise the already fragmented communities; which is the worst form of oppression imaginable in the free world.
It is, therefore, pertinent that such act of arbitrary decisions should be immediately done away with by the new government. As was allegedly stated by the Chief Minister, that government acts in continuum, the present government have to take the responsibility to correct the blunder of the previous government. Rollback of the seven (7) new districts and initiation of a lawful process of creating autonomous districts in the Hill Areas consulting necessary stakeholders, considering the full spectrum of all applicable laws and following the right procedures will be a good start.

Source: The Sangai Express

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