Chief Minister N Biren Singh terming the HAC recommended ADC Bill, 2021 as 'Disintegrating Manipur' has been strongly condemned by the All Tribal Students' Union, Manipur (ATSUM), alleging the statement as an attempt to politicise and criminalise the tribal movement and further deprive the tribal people of constitutional rights.
Strongly reacting to the Chief Minister's charge on HAC recommended ADC Bill 2021, ATSUM said it is unfortunate to learn the head of the state interpreting the existing legislative procedure into his convenient terms.
It reiterated that as empowered by Article 371C, read with the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) orders 1972, the HAC had recommended a landmark ADC Bill, 2021, which is permissible under the law to strengthen the ADC and ensure equitable development in the state of Manipur while adding that the HAC have done their constitutional duty as specified under paragraph 4 (3) and paragraph 7 of the presidential orders 1972.
Therefore, rather than derailing the genuine constitutional demand of the tribal populace, the chief minister should facilitate the flow of the legislative procedures in the Manipur Legislative Assembly by introducing the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils Bill 2021 which was recommended by the HAC, it added.
Alleging that the remark of the CM is a ploy to mislead the people of the state and foster further misunderstanding between the hill tribes and the valley community, the ATSUM stated that there is nothing as such in the contents of the bill that aims to disintegrate the state but autonomy and equitable development for the hill areas as envisaged in the Article 371 C of the Constitution of India.
It continued that the ADC Bill 2021 provided for a Hill Secretariat to oversee the administration of the ADCs headed by an officer, not below the rank of chief secretary but it does not mean that there shall be a "separate state secretariat" for the hill areas to be headed by a chief secretary.
It also clarified that 'Two secretariats’ or ‘two chief secretaries', as alleged by the CM, is just a figment of his imagination.
In connection with the two proposed Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Sixth Amendment) Bill, 2022, and Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2022, ATSUM stated that the two Bills are just eyewash to thwart the movement for the demand of HAC recommended ADC Bill 2021.
ATSUM also regretted the inimical stance of the State Government on the constitutional concept of tribal autonomy and the two proposed Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Sixth Amendment) Bill, 2022 and Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2022 as nothing but another dangerous political bait to countermand the HAC recommended the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill, 2021.
ATSUM also rejected the two proposed Bills stating that it is a dissolution rather than devolution, disempowering rather than empowering, inter alia, first, by omitting the operative term "Autonomous" in particular, the State Government attempts to reduce the existing autonomous district councils into mere small-town district corporations.
Second, Section 29 (xxvii) of the proposed Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2022 proposed a dangerous land use policy in a blatant attempt to dilute the existing tribal land rights. Apart from the erstwhile requirement of being a Scheduled Tribe, the new land use policy attempts to introduce other "domiciliary" criteria as an alternative qualifying status for the purpose of acquiring land in the Hill Areas. Meaning, any person including a non-tribal can now acquire tribal lands if he is a domicile within a given hill district, it added.
It also stated that the proposed Bills also attempt to exempt the State Government from the existing bar as the State Government may now freely acquire lands in the Hill Areas if it is for public utility purposes.
Third, the proposed omission of the subject "public health and sanitation" and Section 29(2) of the principal Act, i.e., the competency of the District Council to recommend in the matters of (a) appointment or succession of Chiefs; (b) inheritance of property; (c) marriage and divorce; and (d) social customs;
Fourth, the attempt to rob in the Indian Forest Act, 1927;
Fifth, taking away of "protected forest" from the existing power of the autonomous district councils to manage any forest as proposed under Section 29(xiv).
Sixth, the proposed Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Sixth Amendment) Act, 2022 which provides each district council to consist of a maximum of 24 elected members and a minimum of 3 elected members makes a mockery of the Autonomous District Councils.
Moreover, by conferring equal voting rights and privileges to the nominated members and by giving the state government the power to determine the number of Members in each District Council, the Bill attempts to further strangulate the existing autonomous district councils, it added.
Rather than suppressing the democratic aspirations of the hill tribes through threat and intimidation, ATSUM urged the State Government to promptly address the issue in the interest of peaceful mutual co-existence.