Soubam Nongpoknganba Meitei
The ongoing Economic Blockade has crossed one month but till date there is no sign of ebbing. The turn of events unfolded before all of us leading to the present mess is shockingly terrifying and if allowed to go out of hand, may spiral into one of the bloodiest ethnic wars in the country. But the bigger question is; why it is here and not going away.
To start with; an economic blockade is an effort to cut off economic related items and essential commodities of life like foods cloths, supplies, medicine and communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. The history of blockade dates back to the beginning of the first millennium and basically found in the military dictionary and it has been considered as one of the measures of economic warfare. In effectively enforcing a land blockade, one of the most important factors is “suitable terrain” and the ongoing economic blockade has been more or less successful because of the terrain through which the National Highways of Manipur pass through.
Quite unfortunately, economic blockade which is more military in nature has been imposed on civilians by the UNC to the people of Manipur rather more frequently to the exasperation of all who are adversely affected by it. And this has been used as a recognisable means of assertive, re-assertive and reactive issues of present day politics. And Manipur being a hilly land locked state, the use of economic blockade has been quite handy for those who are demographically controlling the two highways in asserting their political demands.
A general look to the present economic blockade in the state gives sight to two facets; one – the reasons for resorting to this tactic and the other being the suffering caused to the blockaded people. A dissection of the causes of the economic blockade in the state will more than clearly indicate that rightly or wrongly, apart from the immediate causes which switch the CSOs to call the blockade, there is a deep rooted rift between the Meiteis and tribal and in recent years this rift particularly between Meitei and Naga has become more profound with the demand for Nagalim becoming more vociferous. Nagalim basically is a land issue. Nagalim according to Naga is the land of only and only the Nagas, which they inherit from their ancestors where no other community has a right to settle and this part of Nagalim which has come to Manipur by a “historical accident” should in fact be conjointed with Nagaland to make the Nagalim complete and according to the Meitei, these land in the state of Manipur should remain with Manipur. And in fact the land beyond the present boundary of Manipur which includes the present day Nagaland was too part of Manipur at one point of time in history. Though both the Nagas and Meiteis have their own argument based on historical and social facts or non-facts, the final fact is, the rift is deeply entrenched and so long this rift is jointed properly, even the most miniscule provocation or purported provocation will make the Nagas to resort to this weapon of economic blockade, for they believe that it is the only weapon to make the Government listen and in any case demographically they are at this vantage point. Therefore any act, real or perceived which goes against their philosophy of Nagalim is purportedly a sufficient provocation to deploy the weapon of economic blockade.
The other facet of economic blockade is the ordeal suffered by the people blockaded, the depth of which, in the case of the present ongoing blockade needs no further discussion.
As the history goes, in 1972, The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 was passed by the Parliament for the creation of Six Autonomous District Councils, viz., Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong, Ukhrul, Chandel and SADAR Hills, with the intention that all of them will ultimately become full-fledged districts and as intended all the five except SADAR Hills have been elevated to full fledged revenue districts while SADAR Hills District still remains as, it was at the time of its creation and as a part of Senapati district. Though, Rishang Keishing’s Congress government in 1982, RK Ranbir Singh’s United Front Ministry in 1990-91 and again Congress Ministry of RK Dorendro Singh and thereafter again the Manipur State Congress Party government in December 1997 led by W Nipamacha Singh tried to declare the SADAR Hills a full fledged revenue district but each time the government failed due the opposition from the Nagas. However in 2011, the SADAR Hill District Demand Committee which was renamed as Sadar Hill Districthood Demand Committee placed an ultimatum to the state government to declare SADAR Hills as a full-fledged district before July 31, 2011, failing which seven days economic blockade on the two national highways, NH-2 and NH-37 (formerly known as NH-39 and 53 respectively) was to be called and an indefinite economic blockade thereafter, if there was no response from the government. However government did not respond nor try to talk with the Committee and accordingly the Committee impose the blockade on the two lifelines of Manipur with effect from 1st August’ 2011 and from September 07, 2011, it was converted to economic blockade and on November 01, 2011, the Government of Manipur signed agreement with SHDDC for the grant of a separate SADAR Hill District, thereby calling off the 91-day blockade.
In the face of such intensified agitation by SHDDC, the United Naga Council (UNC) threatened the state government of Manipur with serious consequences if the SADAR Hills district was created without consulting the Nagas and on August 21, 2011 the UNC imposed an economic blockade on all national highways in Manipur, to stall the state government’s alleged attempt to bifurcate the Naga-dominated areas to create new district. However, after leaders of the UNC met the Union Home Minister on November 22, 2011, and in response to the call given by the Home Minister to call off the blockade, the same was lifted on November 29, 2011 after 120 long days.
This time too, the ongoing the economic blockade is imposed by the UNC on the basis of a perceived threat against elevation of the SADAR Hills as a full fledged revenue district. In the evening of October 30, 2016, the SADAR Hills authorities were reportedly instructed by the office of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi to erect the inauguration plaque for a formal function to declare SADAR Hills into a full-fledged district the next day, i.e. October 31. But the program was cancelled due to alleged threat of resignation by legislative members belonging to the Naga community. And Okram Ibobi reportedly said, the issue of SADAR Hills district would be tabled for discussion by the state cabinet. This however is on the face of the pronouncement of the State Cabinet on 5th August’ 2011 saying that the demand for districthood of SADAR Hills is a genuine demand, though the cabinet, further decided that an in-depth deliberation and wide ranging consultation is essential before granting the demand.
Legally saying, the Kerala High Court as early as July 1997 has held Bandhs (economic blockade included) as illegal and unconstitutional and this ruling has been upheld by the Supreme Court and now various High Courts including the Gauhati High Court has held bandh as illegal and unconstitutional. In fact, our own High Court has vide an interim order passed in a Public Interest Litigation case has directed the government to neutralise the present economic blockade. However no respite has been brought by such judicial pronouncement to the blockaded people, though it cannot be denied that after such direction by the Manipur High Court is taking up some action to bring back the goods laden vehicles stranded at Mao Gate for so long. Quite unfortunately the Highway Administration, it seems is not in place in Manipur despite the fact that such an authority has been provided by the Control of National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act, 2003 which has received the assent of the President as early as 14th January’ 2003 and accordingly all the Project Directors of National Highway Authority of India has been designated as such authority. This authority which is to be established for every state or union territory has the power to remove any “illegal or unauthorised occupation” of the Highway and may even control the “access to Highway” through notification and if the same is not complied, may by force remove such person(s) with the help of state police. However in case of use of force by such authority, that force should emanate from state police and from no other source. (To be contd)
Soubam Nongpoknganba Meitei is an Advocate.
Source: The Sangai Express