By Elf Hmar
(January 20, 2011)
As we intend to expose the purpose for creation of Sinlung Hills Autonomous District Council (SHADC) in northern Mizoram, it is pertinent for the government of Mizoram to know beforehand the background and other policy matters linking with the subject. To begin with, the imminent lifting of Inner Line/Protected Area Permit in Mizoram forms the gamut of the discussion. The British-Indian government before independence first introduced the Inner Line regulations. After independence, during the Nehru regime, the Inner Line policy was expanded in the form of Protected/Restricted Areas to restrict entry of foreigners into what was thought to be sensitive areas, especially the eastern states of India.
The Inner Line regulations restrict an individual from the plain to own a land or immovable property in the hilly areas of the Northeastern region of India. Since the 1990s, the government of India gradually lifted the regulations from the states of West Bengal (Darjeeling hills), Sikkim, Meghalaya, Assam (with the exception of few areas) and Tripura, perhaps, with the intention to expose seven-sister states to mainland India and the world, having linkage with the Look East Policy and India’s remarkable economic reforms both launched in 1991. Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram are the remaining northeastern states where Restricted/Protected Area regulations are imposed. The government of India has become impatient with the four northeast states for delaying acceptance of lifting Inner Line regime from their states. Removal of Inner Line/Protected Area enforcement in the four states will certainly ease movement of peoples from the plain areas. It is presumed that lifting of these regulations will foster and accelerate national integration, enhance business opportunities and procurement of immovable properties with proper title for the peoples hailing from the plain areas. That is how the Look East Policy is going to work perfectly! Doubt persists whether the government of India will permit foreign investors to operate freely, mingle up with locals on business ventures even after the lifting of both Inner Line and Protected/Restricted Area regulations.
With the introduction of economic reforms in 1991, the government of India has stopped funding non-productive sectors. In other words, the government of India does not construct roads unless it foresees source of revenues in that area. People need to open up and exert their energy to receive wealth. That is the simple secret of development. Mizoram cannot close its door forever for fear of mainland Indians, if it expects development and progress. Open up, reap the profits, and find other ways to protect yourself.
Based on the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC), in the years to come, there is a great chance of Imphal airport in Manipur becoming international airport linking commercial and capital cities of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Korea, possibly including Hong Kong and Taipei. Once Imphal airport is declared as international airport for clearing dutiable items such as diamonds, gold and other high-value commercial light commodities, Imphal is going to thrive as international business hub. Guwahati could become a secondary international airport in the northeastern region. The only hurdles to realization of this dream are turmoil in Manipur and Nagaland. To bear in mind, Manipur and Nagaland will have to be taken out from the list of states under the regime of Inner Line/Protected/Restricted Areas.
Good luck can be enticed by accepting opportunity. Manipur, though seeing the opportunity, could not entice good luck. Mizoram, though seeing the opportunity, is afraid of receiving the good luck. Mizoram should propose formation of SHADC in the State under the provision of the Sixth Schedule laid down in the Constitution; thereafter push the Central government to make amendments accordingly. The Sixth Schedule provisions may safeguard major interest of the indigenous hill tribes living in the northern part of Mizoram where SHADC is proposed. Inner Line/Protected Area regulations may be lifted from the state, peoples from the plain may enter but with imposed constitutional restrictions, Look East Policy may materialize where opportunity can be grabbed. While Manipur cannot entice good luck, Mizoram can be bold enough to accept good luck by taking advantage of opportunity.
The 1991 reforms are lessons from the ‘East Asian Miracles’ – success stories of Japan, South Korea, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan. The economic reforms mainly focus on cutting government expenses thereby reducing deficits, tax reforms, privatization, liberalization of FDI, export-oriented policy and globally-connected strategies. The same reform policies are applied to all the states in India. State such as Mizoram, who had been surviving with direct financial donation from the Central government during MNF insurgency, could no longer manage its affairs after Central government expenses and subsidies are diminished from the 1990s. Let the government of India lift Protected Area regulations from Mizoram and allow the creation of SHADC for safeguarding the entire northern part of Mizoram state. Let there be surface transport route connecting mainland India passing through Mizoram reaching as far as Thailand and Vietnam. Mizoram may not have the facility to create an international airport with huge business hub in and around the airport, but it has the capacity to hand out space for roadways and railway lines constructed side by side. Let foreign direct investments come at the doorsteps of our people in Mizoram. Good luck waits to come to that man who accepts opportunity.
Mizoram is most hilly amongst the hilly areas. This means that chance of survival is bleak. It has no resource to depend with. It cannot apply labour-intensive nor land-intensive projects. The area is in transit economy zone. It needs virtual imports and virtual exports to survive, develop and be stable. Recent studies on progress made by Southeast Asian countries indicated that China will overtake Japan economy by 2010. Today, China’s foreign exchange reserves is over US$ 2800 billion against Japan’s foreign exchange reserves of about US$ 1070 billion. Taiwan, a small country, has average reserves of US$ 350 billion since the past two decades. Singapore has foreign exchange reserves of US$ 260 billion, South Korea US$ 290 billion and India about US$ 300 billion. These huge foreign reserves, with the exertion of more energy into it, will increase hundredfold in the near future and a part of it will trickle down somewhere energy for desire of wealth is exerted. Mizoram can be a part of it if they are bold enough to open up and find some other way to protect their properties and rights.
Recent news item, on peace talks between the Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic) – HPC(D) and the government of Mizoram, has quoted as saying that a person hailing from outside Mizoram cannot be accepted as member of delegates from the HPC(D) side to have peace talks with government of Mizoram, for the proposed creation of SHADC. Whereas the initial Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) reached between the two parties already extended the liberty of the HPC(D) to nominate any respectable persons to assist them in their dialogue with the government, the government of Mizoram has unilaterally taken a new decision that it will not accept a person hailing from outside Mizoram thereby violating its own commitment to pursue negotiations for peaceful settlement to the Hmar issue in Mizoram. The government of Mizoram should act like a mature State and go by what it has signed and committed to if it wants to build mutual confidence, trust and goodwill. By all means, the HPC(D) has the rights to choose whoever it deems fit to be its delegates for talks with the government of Mizoram that has no rights to choose and demand who the delegates of the HPC(D) should be. The proposed talks on the basis of MoU structure should initiate without any attempt of procrastination by the government of Mizoram. Delay will only lead to further mistrust between the Hmars in Mizoram and the government of Mizoram. Procrastination brings decay.