Recent acts of the Manipur chief minister in trying to enforce Rule of Law are welcome. But uniform application in all sectors is needed. As an example, government accommodations have either been sub-let or encroached upon by employees and non-employees. In the past also, effort was made to identify the encroachers but nothing came out of it as those sub-letting or encroaching have powerful connections. Rule 15A of the CCC (Conduct) Rules, 1960 as applicable in the state of Manipur clearly provides that sub-letting of or overstaying in government accommodation is not permitted; and they can be penalised under the CCS (CCA) Rules, 1964. Quite a number of employees have been placed under suspension either for sub-letting or for unauthorised occupation of government accommodation. This is not the end and Departmental action must be taken in a time-bound manner and penalty imposed.
The case of the tribal government accommodation at New Checkon in Imphal is rather unique. Some part of the campus has been allotted to some individuals in the seventies and the same had changed hands many a times. Further, the inmates have constructed places of worship, which are yet to be demolished despite the direction of the Supreme Court that all religious structures constructed in public places must be demolished. Further, many inmates who have retired long back still continue to occupy the government accommodation there.
The reported direction of the Manipur High Court not to disturb them till alternative accommodation is provided needs to be appealed against. The reason is that under the rules, once a person retires he should vacate the quarters within a specified period and government accommodation cannot be demanded as a matter of right. It is justified to give reasonable time to enable them to vacate but casting the responsibility to the government to provide alternative accommodation is considered unjustified. Those eligible inmates may be given accommodation on priority when any vacancy arises or in the proposed multi-storey accommodations at the site.
The frustration of the chief minister is understood; but the matter has to be fought legally as the court has given a decision.
The reported issue of notice to 10 villages located within the Tairenpokpi-Tamenglong Forest Reserve to prove their bonafide is also a welcome step.
Despite claims that proper notice under the relevant law was perhaps not given at the time of reservation, etc as none of the villagers in various reserve forests are aware especially in respect Dampi Reserved Forest, the concerned department have come with a clarification which was contested. However, if anyone is not satisfied with any act of the government, they can always approach the law court and the public spat have little relevancy.
In this column on May 15, it was mentioned that the power to grant village recognition was vested with the Hill Department till it was later withdrawn; was found incorrect as subsequent enquiries indicated that this power was solely vested to the Revenue Department as per the Business of the Government of Manipur (Allocation) Rules, 1972 and subsequent amendments as district, sub-division, circle and village boundary is within the domain of Revenue Department. When the Hill Department came into existence, the election of village authorities was transferred from Revenue Department, which was then handling the matter.
Investigations into the recognition of Hill villages indicate that Hill Department without any legal authority started giving recognition since the early 2000s. And as proper enquiry was hardly conducted, serious malpractices were committed so much so that a village was recognised within the Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary, which was sold to the Assam Rifles; and even now the matter is in limbo with the Assam Rifles still unable to get the necessary documents for land ownership.
In the past, Deputy Commissioner had also issued recognition of new villages. There was even a case where the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest in 2011 had issued a certificate to the effect that a particular village located within Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary is a recognised village. Further this PCCF had issued an order referring to an order of SDO, Saikul earmarking 20 sq miles of land within the Nongmaiching Forest Reserve for a particular village which after an RTI application and resulting enquiry found to be not a proper order as neither the relevant file was available in the office nor the order of SDO, Saikul quoted was found genuine; and the said order of the PCCF was cancelled. However, it was learnt that the government had paid compensation for acquiring a piece of land within the said area before the cancellation of the order.
Recognition of villages continued unabated by the Hills Department despite an OM issued by the Revenue Department in 2008 clarifying that this power vest with the Revenue Department as per the Business Allocation Rules. The funniest part of the orders issued by the Hill Department is the exercise of the power under Section 3(2) of the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956 which does not deal with recognition of villages at all but rather the establishment of village authorities. The purpose of village recognition is to assess the Hill House Tax payable under the Manipur Hill Areas (House Tax) Act, 1966 and recognition of hill villages is done under the sovereign power of the State Government and not under any law. In view of the above, the state government should review all such arbitrary recognition orders issued by the Hill Department till date and make necessary fresh verification and issue orders as deemed fit.
Many villages which were recognised within reserved forest and wildlife sanctuary after the declaration will automatically get cancelled. Those involved must be penalised under the appropriate Rules and those retired must be named and shamed. Forest officials who recommended recognition of villages within reserve forests and wildlife sanctuaries must also be treated as such. It is laudable that two employees, one serving and one retired of Revenue Department, were arrested for fudging records to grant settlement to individuals.
However, the recent transfer of some part of Pherzawl district to Churachandpur, mainly Thanlon portion shows political machinations rather than a rationale decision. With this transfer, Pherzawl becomes the smallest district in terms of population. The inter-district boundary was to be settled through a Districts Boundary Commission as per the order creating additional new districts in 2016. The decision that if 75 per cent of the population of the concerned villages agrees to such transfer, such transfer can be ordered is outright malafide as certain vested interest groups force people to support their desire. With this as a precedent, will the government allow villages to change districts if 75 per cent of the population of the villages desires?
District boundaries should be based on convenience of administration - Thanlon is about 50 km from Pherzawl while it is about 150 km from Churachandpur and thus convenience of administration weighs in favour to remain within Pherzawl. Since the state cabinet had taken such a decision and order issued, as a corollary, the role of the Commission has become irrelevant and redundant and the state cabinet ought to settle the boundaries of the districts; not an easy task for it.
The MAHUD minister, while cleaning the drains at Singjamei, appealed to the public not to dump waste on drains or to leave building materials on the side of the roads, saying drains are not dustbins. Even though very true, appeal hardly gets the desired results and those involved must be penalised under IPC 268 and 269 for causing public nuisance. Law are there to ensure compliance and non application of laws will only encourage people to violate and the government must ensure that it is serious about controlling such nuisance and penalise those who indulge in such activities.
It is hoped that the recent transfer policy is implemented in real earnest. However, the relaxation clause is considered arbitrary as any transfer with the approval of the chief minister is permitted. Rather, the relaxation clause should be that if the policy causes any hardship to any individual, the matter shall be considered with full facts and if necessary, relax the conditions. In fact, the joke is MCS has two full forms - Manipur Central Service and Manipur Ching Service; those posted only in Imphal and those always posted in the hills. Such discrimination causes heartburn and conflict between the cadre officers; not a healthy system.
The tendency to make surprise announcement tends to show the arbitrary nature in decision making. It would be proper that every matter are scrutinised indepth from all angles before the decision is announced rather than announcing a decision and scrambling to implement even to the extent of violating the rules with the officers acquiescing meekly without even pointing out the conflict with the extant rules and regulations.
Rules must make way for government policy and thus need amendments from time to time. But, rules must not be violated at will as it points to breakdown in governance.
(The views expressed are personal)