Updated on 14 Nov 2021, 7:14 pm
Ukhrul district, Manipur (PHOTO: IFP)
After the All Tribal Students Union, Manipur (ATSUM) raised the ante in the demand for more autonomy in the hill areas by threatening to call bandhs and economic blockades, Chief Minister N Biren Singh has vowed that the state would never succumb to any pressure by vested interest groups and would always work for the maintenance of peace and unity among different communities. In the same breath, he has once again clarified that the decision to repeal or amend the ADC Act vest not with the state legislature but with the Parliament. Yes, the original Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act 1971 was passed by the Parliament and there are altogether six autonomous district councils. Just before the August session of Manipur assembly, the Hill Areas Committee had kicked up quite a furore by trying to force an amendment bill of the said Act giving wide ranging powers to the autonomous district councils, in the state assembly. As the state government sought time, HAC Chairman K Leishiyo of NPF and members went ahead by placing the bill in the public domain by calling a press conference. As intended, the matter was taken up by ATSUM and hill based civil society organisations. The government plea failed on deaf ears and the All Tribal Students Union, Manipur (ATSUM) went ahead with a 24 hour bandh in the hill districts demanding that the bill be passed by the state assembly. The proposed bill not only requires a detailed examination, but it also encroaches upon the Union list. So, it naturally needs vetting by the Union government. There is also the fact that a law passed by the Parliament cannot be amended or repealed by any other authority other than the Parliament.
Yet, we are confused with the stance of N Biren Singh and his government with the proposed amendment. What if the state legislature had the ability to amend the act and what stand it would have taken with regard to the proposal? Everyone knows that the proposed amendment of the ADC Act is a deliberate move on the geo-political chessboard orchestrated by NSCN (I-M) to time with the state assembly elections and its grand design of shaking the foundations of Manipur’s territorial integrity by usurping more political space in Manipur, as it faces disappointment in Nagaland state. As it desperately seeks to gain more political clout, it has somehow succeeded in taking along many of the tribal MLAs besides the Nagas. And, who would dare to remain silent to the call for more power to the ADCs except to earn the ire of hill based CSOs. The hill MLAs under the banner of Hill Areas Committee (HAC) have been continuing with its campaign for the bill which seeks more power for the ADCs. So, instead of beating about the bush the chief minister and his government needs to come clear of the threats posed by the proposed bill to the territorial integrity of the state.
On the other hand, we seldom bother to ponder upon the question as to whether the ADCs in its present form has done justice to the powers that were vested upon it. For one, we know that ADCs were defunct for a long time till it was revived in the last days of the earlier Congress regime. The latest scandal is of NSCN (I-M) threat to RTI activists seeking details of utilisation of funds under the various Autonomous District Councils (ADCs). The Movement for Peoples’ Rights Forum, Manipur had written to the Union Home Minister for taking prompt action to save the lives of four RTI applicants of Senapati District who had been repeatedly threatened and intimidated by some cadres of NSCN (I-M). The Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) had also directed the DGP to provide police protection to RTI activists and provide them a secure place. Earlier, we had written about the leakages in development funds sanctioned through the ADCs. It seems nobody is interested with the issue of leakages of development funds poured through the ADCs in the last few decades whether there is an elected body or not. Ever since the NSCN (I-M) threat, the RTI activists had been running from pillar to post seeking protection and justice. From Manipur State Human Rights Commission through Manipur State Information Commission they have even complained to Lok Ayukta.