In Manipur, mobile data services have been suspended for five days across the state in an urgent order passed by the state government last night after a report by the Superintendent of Police of Bishnupur district that a vehicle was set ablaze by three-four men at Phougakchao Ikhang on Saturday evening. The crime has created communal tension, the order said.
Some anti-social elements are using social media to transmit hate speeches inciting the passions of the public, the order further said.
The northeastern state has for the last few days been witnessing protests, bandhs, and an indefinite economic blockade on its highways called by All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) — the powerful tribal student body of Manipur. The student body has been demanding that the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill, 2021 be tabled in the Assembly. The bill, drafted last year, looks at giving greater autonomy to the tribal areas of the state.
The state government, however, introduced the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council 6th and 7th Amendment Bills in the state assembly on Tuesday, which the protesters claimed was not in line with their demands.
Over 30 tribal students were injured in capital Imphal on Saturday when the police stopped a protest rally. Five tribal student leaders were arrested and sent to jail for 15 days.
Demanding the release of its arrested leaders, the tribal students’ body All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) has imposed an indefinite economic blockade on highways. Some incidents of arson, including setting a vehicle ablaze, have been reported.
The tabling of the 6th and 7th Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Amendment Bills, 2022, in the state assembly by the BJP-led Manipur government’s tribal affairs and hills minister Letpao Haokip was the immediate trigger for protests as tribals, who populate the Hill areas of the state, have been demanding the tabling of another bill on the same issue which was drafted in consultation with them.
The Hill Areas Committee (HAC)-recommended draft Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) Amendment Bill, 2021 seeks greater financial and administrative autonomy in the hill region.
In August last year, the Hill Area Committee (HAC) – comprising of all the 20 tribal reserved seat MLAs of the Manipur assembly – recommended the new Autonomous District Council (ADC) Bill with the objective to ensure ‘equitable development’ in the hill districts in the same parameters as in the valley region of the state.
Tribal groups have always alleged that the existing ADC law had various deficiencies that resulted in the underdevelopment of the hill region as compared to the more developed Imphal valley over the years.
The HAC-recommended draft ADC Bill seeks to amend the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 passed by the Parliament.
The draft ADC bill aims to provide more autonomy to the HAC and six ADCs. Some of the provisions of this Bill include an increase in the number of the ADC constituencies, the creation of the Hill Areas Secretariat for managing and coordinating the working of all the ADCs, the setting up of the ADC’s Executive Committee, more effective involvement of the HAC in development and economic planning, including budget allocations, for the entire hill areas.
Since Manipur’s politics often revolves around the hill-valley divide (hills dominated by tribal groups, valley by the biggest community – the Meitei, who are not tribals), there was resistance against the HAC-recommended ADC Bill from sections of valley-based political leaders and social groups since there have been long-standing allegations of influence of underground armed groups over the hill area politics in the state.
Citing some legal issues, the N Biren Singh-led Manipur government earlier did not introduce this Bill and has now tabled two new Bills in the House.
In his 2nd term, during the ongoing assembly session, the Biren Singh government tabled two new Bills – 6th and 7th Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Amendment Bills, 2022, on Tuesday. The Bills were initially not part of the agenda of the House.
Tribal groups allege that in the new amendments, while the 6th ADC Amendment Bill has a financial aspect, the 7th Amendment Bill does not have it.
Tribal groups are questioning how can a Bill on the same subject be drafted differently.
They also alleged that the HAC has been bypassed in drafting the 2 new Amendment Bills.
Manipur’s tribal area autonomy is enshrined in the Constitution. Article 371 C of the Constitution of India provides for a separate scheme for the administration of the hill areas of Manipur through the HAC and District Councils, which for the autonomous hill districts are vested with legislative powers on specified subjects and are allotted certain sources of taxation.
They have also been given the power to manage their resources, public health, sanitation services and primary education, and undertake administrative and welfare services including development and economic planning.