The crisis in Manipur has persisted for over 75 days. With no signs of the violence simmering down, the lapses in governance are becoming more prominent by the day. People from all sections of Manipuri society have started to question if the two pillars of the Indian democratic principle, namely, the legislature and the executives, have failed in their roles to restore peace and normalcy in the state.
At this crucial juncture, the hope of every citizen of Manipur now rests in the hands of the judiciary and the media to ensure that no one is deprived of their fundamental rights and that swift justice is administered.
“The Indian legal system alone cannot usher in a full solution to the Manipur crisis; I believe 50 per cent of the solution will be brought through the court systems and 50 per cent through political measures,” said Yumnam Premananda, head of department, Department of Law, Manipur University.
Speaking to this Imphal Free Press reporter in an exclusive interview, Premananda stated that the issue in Manipur was not a legal issue alone but a multi-dimensional problem with heavy doses of political issues.
He maintained that both the central and state governments would have to analyse the history and unique features of Manipur if they were to draw out a political solution.
The unique feature of Manipur
Premananda asserted that the state of Manipur was different from the rest of the states in India and noted that Manipur was the only state in India to sign both the Instrument of Accession and the Merger Agreement in 1947 and 1949, respectively.
“Even states like Kashmir merged with the Indian Union only with the Instrument of Accession, but the annexation of Manipur into the union was done with two agreements. So, certain special features arise in the agreement,” he said.
The head of the legal department pointed out that the 1949 merger agreement was a bilateral treaty between independent India and independent Manipur, and as such, the territorial integrity of states that merged with the Indian Union through the merger agreement could not be dismantled.
“The territory of Manipur that joined India through the merger agreement was the one left behind by the British colonisers, which included both the hills and the valley; international law also prevents the breakage of territorial integrity under the principle of ‘Uti possidetis juris’,” he said.
“Uti possidetis juris” or “uti possidetis iuris” is a principle of international law that provides that newly-formed sovereign states should retain the internal borders that their preceding dependent areas had before their independence.
Manipur, before the agreement, had three stages leading up to it: One was British Manipur, the second was independent Manipur, and the third is the present Manipur under the Indian Union, he added.
As such, he stated that it would be a violation of the merger agreement of 1949 if the central government broke the territorial integrity of Manipur.
The Kukis or the Centre cannot form a new state even with the Article 3 of the Indian Constitution but if the Central government violated the merger agreement, we can take the matter to the International Court of Justice, he added.
Role of Judiciary and Judicial Activism
The law professor highlighted that there was a separation of power among the three main democratic pillars of India.
He stated that the judiciary could give directions on swift proper dissemination of the 3Rs- relief, rehabilitation and resettlement.
The Supreme Court (SC), which is the apex judicial body in India, interprets the law, upholds it and ensures swift administration of justice, he added.
He, however, stated that the Judiciary could activate a more assertive role if the legislature and executive branches of democracy are lethargic in the dispensation of their duties.
“In dire cases where the legislature and executive have failed to dispense their duties, ‘Judiciary Activism’ takes the lead to fill in the lapses in governance,” he said.
Judicial activism in India implies the authority of the Supreme Court and the high courts, but not the subordinate courts, to declare regulations unconstitutional and void if they breach or if the legislation is incompatible with one or more of the constitutional clauses.
This judicial overview has been dominant in areas of environment and climate change, human rights, women's rights, and child rights, he added.
He also noted that Article 142 of the Indian Constitution provided the Supreme Court with the unique power to do ‘complete justice’.
“Article 142 can be invoked if the people are kept deprived of the rights guaranteed under Article 32 and if the situation demands it,” he said.
[Article 142 of the Indian Constitution reads: Enforcement of decrees and orders of Supreme Court, unless as to discovery, etc.
(1) The Supreme Court, in the exercise of its jurisdiction, may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or orders so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament and, until provision in that behalf is so made, in such manner as the President may by order prescribe
(2) Subject to the provisions of any law made in this behalf by Parliament, the Supreme Court shall, as respects the whole of the territory of India, have all and every power to make any order for the purpose of securing the attendance of any person, the discovery or production of any documents, or the investigation or punishment of any contempt of itself]
He further stated that the judiciary is the last resort and that they would not remain mute spectators if the crisis continued.
Supreme Court’s recent judgment on Manipur Crisis
Premananda stated that the Supreme Court’s recent verdict during the hearing on July 10 and 11 with regard to the petition filed in connection with the Manipur crisis reflected the court’s stance on holding the government accountable for the maintenance of law and order.
“The verdict urged the government to dispense their duties properly and uphold the constitutional rights of people in Manipur and directly held them responsible for the proper maintenance of law and order,” he said.
Under the 7th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, powers are divided between the Union and state governments based on the subjects listed in the three lists: the Union List, the State List and the Concurrent List. In the various subjects listed in all three lists, maintenance of law and order is included in the state list. Out of the 12 schedules in the constitution, the 7th schedule gives the law-making power to the Indian Parliament and the state assembly.
Premananda highlighted that life, liberty, and property were destroyed in the ongoing conflict, but the responsibility to safeguard all three fell under the purview of both the state and central governments.
“The Supreme Court’s decision not to interfere in force deployment and maintenance reflects the separation of power between the democratic branches and calls upon elected representatives’ to do their duties properly,” he said.
Premananda, however, stated that utilizing the army in resolving internal matters for too long grossly violated the recommendations given in the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee Report, 2005, which suggested that deploying the army or paramilitary forces in a region for too long degraded the morale of the armed personnel and caused interferences that diverted the personnel from their primary task.
“This may be one of the reasons several people have voiced their concerns about the Assam Rifles,” he added.
He further pointed out that the Centre may have different policies for such matters in the Northeast, but he emphasised the need to review such policies as Manipur had become a highly militarized zone.
“Over one lakh personnel are present in Manipur at the moment; Mizoram and Tripura are also border states, but they do not have such a military presence in their respective states,” he said.
Premananda further stressed the need for the state government to review its security measures, as state issues are supposed to be handled by the state police.
It may be mentioned that on two separate hearings on July 10 and 11, the Supreme Court underlined that the court could not take control over the maintenance of law and order from the elected government and refused to issue specific directions to the Indian Army and paramilitary forces for providing security in certain areas and taking action against certain groups.
Possibility of Supreme Court constituted committee
The professor mentioned that the Supreme Court could also form a Supreme Court-constituted committee if they believed the reports filed by the state government were fallible and untrue.
“The Supreme Court can enact a special commission independent of any ministry to assess the ground situation in Manipur; till now they have been leaning on the government reports, but if the need arises, a commission can be enacted,” he said.
He further pointed out that people could appeal to the Supreme Court to form such a body if they are apprehensive of state government reports.
Justice Santosh Hegde Commission is an example of a committee appointed by the Supreme Court to look into a particular case; the committee differs from case to case, he added.
Separate Administration demand
“Separate administration in India is given only under the 5th and 6th schedules; separate administration in the northeast region is invoked under the 6th Schedule,” he said.
Premananda pointed out that separate administration was already administered in Manipur under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 1971 (third amendment) 2008 and the Hill Areas Committee under Article 371C.
[Article 371C, 1949 lays out special provision with respect to the state of Manipur:
(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the President may, by order made with respect to the State of Manipur, provide for the constitution and functions of a committee of the Legislative Assembly of the State consisting of members of that Assembly elected from the Hill Areas of that state, for the modifications to be made in the rules of business of the government and in the rules of procedure of the Legislative Assembly of the state and for any special responsibility of the governor in order to secure the proper functioning of such committee
(2) The Governor shall annually, or whenever so required by the President, make a report to the President regarding the administration of the Hill Areas in the State of Manipur and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of directions to the State as to the administration of the said areas Explanation In this article, the expression Hill Areas means such areas as the President may, by order, declare to be Hill Areas]
Premananda maintained that Manipur was the only state in India where such acts were administered and stated that invocation of such acts had exhorted the ‘divide and rule policy.
The demand for a separate administration is unfounded when it is already in place; rather, such acts that have widened the divide among people need to be revoked, he added.
He further mentioned that the demand for a Kuki separate administration under the 6th Schedule was invalid when the 6th Schedule was already invoked in Manipur.
Solutions and immediate measures
Premananda pointed out that the long-term solution to avoid such a crisis in Manipur in the future was to even the playing field by reviewing acts and policies invoked, especially in Manipur, and snipping away unnecessary and obsolete laws and regulations.
Measures to identify legal and illegal citizens also need to be taken swiftly, as the crisis has pointed out the possibility of a large influx of illegal immigrants into India through Manipur, he added.
He asserted the need for authorities to analyse and reflect on the political past and present of Manipur in implementing long-term future solutions.
“This is the primary role of our parliamentarians; they need to remind the centre of the unique feature of Manipur and how it became a part of the Indian Union; they must do so in the upcoming parliamentary sitting,” he said.
For immediate measures, the professor maintained that a heavy crackdown on militants was the urgent need of the hour. Strong action to seize all arms is the most vital measure to restore peace in Manipur, he added.
He further stated that peace could be restored only when an environment for peace was instilled in the state and that peace talks and peace building would be possible only when the violence stopped.