The recent decision of the Manipur Cabinet for establishment of a Manipur State Population Commission (MSPC) is a welcome step in the right direction. This has been demanded by various organisations and individuals in the belief that the Commission will be able to analyse the demographic profile of the state and suggest measures to maintain a balance. This will not be for or against any community but for the sustainable growth of population in the state. There is, however, a fear that the Commission will be packed with political leaders and officials, who will not be able to devote time nor have the requisite skill to analyse the data generated and suggest measures.
Hence, the government may consider appointing the members of the Commission from those who are well versed in demographic studies. Or else it will become literally non functional and a white elephant. Besides, there is an urgent need to develop a Manipur State Population Policy so that the Commission can be given a proper mandate, or else it may work either in cross purposes or may not be clear about the activities it is to undertake, creating confusion and misunderstanding.
At the Centre, there is both the National Population Commission (NPC) and the National Population Policy (NPP).
The mandate of the NPC constituted in 2020 are - to review and give direction for implementation of the National Population Policy with the view to achieve the goals set in the Population Policy; promote synergy between health, educational, environmental and developmental programmes so as to hasten population stabilisation; promote inter-sectoral coordination in planning and implementation of the programmes through different sectors and agencies in centre and states; and develop a vigorous peoples programme to support the national effort.
Manipur as yet does not have a state Population Policy and therefore needs to develop a policy on its population.
The National Population Policy, 2020 (NPP) is a 44-page document and taking a leaf from it, Manipur needs to prepare a population policy tailoring it to meet the requirement of the state. Or else the MSPC may not have a proper mandate to strive to achieve.
It will be in the fitness of things that experts from different fields are roped in to develop a state population policy suitable to the state’s need and the Commission mandated to provide the lead in achieving the goals set in the policy.
It should be a proper policy with necessary details including the way forward on the goals set therein, not like the Draft Manipur Liquor Policy which seems to have been drafted hurriedly without understanding the complexity of the issues involved.
Rather than trying to draft in-house, experts from outside the government may also be roped in so that a balanced policy is developed.
The recent decision of not allowing those having four children and more from availing government jobs and benefits leading to a controversy is because there is no policy. The decision cannot be applied retrospectively in that those already having four children or more, when the notification is issued cannot be denied the benefits which they are presently enjoying and they can challenge it before the court.
There have been claims in the past and even now also that immigrants find Manipur a safe haven and settle in Manipur, even including marrying a local girl from any community. The tendency of admitting the offspring or even the spouse to the yumnak (surname) of the mother or spouse which has been the norm in the past must be revisited and discontinued henceforth.
It is, therefore, the responsibility of the yumnak elders to ensure that no others who are not from the yumnak are admitted to the yumnak. With associations formed for the yumnaks it should not be a difficult proposition; and only the issue of males of the yumnak may be admitted.
If a lady marries an immigrant, the issue must carry the yumnak of the father and not try to join the society as offspring of their mother’s yumnak. If such a measure is taken, it will be easier to determine the number of immigrants and their issues.
The ladies must also before marriage must invariably find out the antecedents of the to-be husband before stepping towards marriage or else they may be the second wife of the person as he may already have a wife and kids in his native place. The person may after some time leave Manipur leaving the local wife and issues high and dry, if the situation warrants.
The recent crackdown on illegal immigrants and those without valid ILP is most welcome, but it should not be a knee jerk reaction but rather a systematic continuing affair.
It was thought that ILP may be able to safeguard the local population. But it is otherwise without proper implementation. In fact one friend from Nagaland hinted then when the demand for ILP was very strong; that Nagaland is an ST state and ILP regime exist except for Dimapur but large number of immigrants from Bangladesh have settled everywhere and it is now almost impossible to push them out as the number is large and humanitarian issues arise.
In Nagaland a new community even emerged; Sumia, whose father is an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh, while the mother is a Sema. Thus, it can be inferred that despite a legal framework being available to protect the indigenes, if the laws are not enforced properly there will be no protection and immigrants will merrily continue to settle in the state.
With the Bangladeshi, it is much easier to identify them due to racial and facial difference, but those from Myanmar, whose cognate tribes also settle within Manipur across the border, it will be next to impossible to identify the immigrants. In this regard, the members of the cognate tribes must join hands with the government so that these immigrants are identified and pushed back or at the least government benefits are not availed.
It needs to be remembered that one day they will demand their rights if the immigrants and their issues settle in Manipur and become Manipuri and this will lead to sharing the small slice of resource, facilities and rights available. The issue should not be about any community but about the indigenes of Manipur as a whole.
When the coup in Myanmar happened, there was a strong cry to support the refugees which came across to Manipur through a proper system of entry and keep them in camps as was done earlier. This was carried out in Mizoram and now the government knows how many have arrived in Mizoram from Myanmar; the figure is above 30,000. They disregarded the advisory of the Union Government and thus have the data of the refugees, but in Manipur, which followed the advisory, no record was maintained and no one knows the number with no data. A figure of 4,000 is bandied about in informal discussion with the UN Refugee Commission but those who are in the know say that the number is much more, touching around 10,000.
Whether, it is 4,000 or 10,000 if a proper system was put in place they would have continued to reside as refugees in specified locations, and once the situation in Myanmar normalises they can politely be requested to return to their native place. But currently the situation is such that nobody knows where they are as they have intermingled with the local population having spread all across the state, with some even alleging that quite a few reside in the Imphal area. This may or may not be true but the chances are very high.
The state government, meanwhile, must continue to carry out the drive to identify the immigrants who have settled illegally and had even obtained Aadhaar card, ration card, etc.
There is a saying that it is only in India that illegal immigrants can easily obtain the benefits extended to its citizens like free or highly subsidised rations, and even jobs of the government which were open to only Indian citizens.
The state government needs to take urgent steps to frame a State Population Policy which should be issued along with the notification of the establishment of the State Population Commission. The state population policy should be a document which if implemented properly protects the indigenes of the state and must be given proper and thorough discussion with all stakeholders before finalising so that the concern of all are catered to, besides objectives on healthcare, education, etc are also addressed.
Only a thorough debate can bring out a policy which is seen as beneficial to all, and should be a policy which is inclusive and not exclusive.
(The views expressed are the writer's own)