Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Manipur is in turmoil for implementing the Inner Line Permit to protect the indigenous people of the state. So far, 8 people have been killed and dozens injured in protests that have engulfed the region. The houses of an MP and 6 MLAs were set on fire in Churachandpur town on Monday following which an indefinite curfew has been imposed. 

What is the Inner Line Permit?

The Inner Line Permit (ILP) is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to grant inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indians residing outside those states to obtain permission prior to entering the protected areas.

  • Currently, the Inner Line Permit is operational in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
  • The document has been issued under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 and the conditions and restrictions vary from state to state.
  • It can be issued for travel purposes solely.
  • Visitors are not allowed to purchase property in these regions. However, there might be a different set of rules for long term visitors, though they are not valid for central government employees and security forces.

Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers 

Bill 2015

In Manipur, for the past several months, protests are on to demand the implementation of the Inner Line Permit in the region. In 2012, the Manipur assembly passed a resolution to the government, seeking the implementation of the ILP system in the region. But instead, in March this year, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh introduced the Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill 2015. The bill proposed to list all visitors, tenants and migrant workers with the directorate of regulation of visitors and tenants, which will be set up under the proposed act and state labour department.
However, the bill was later withdrawn after it earned the wrath of the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit, who felt the bill failed to safeguard the interests of the indigenous people.

Excessive influx of tourists

Prior to Manipur's merger with India, Manipur had become a state and nearly had the ILP system. However, it was only in 1951 when the then chief commissioner Himmat Singh lifted the rule and allowed unregulated entry of outsiders into the region.
According to the 2011 census, the population of Manipur is a little over 27 lakh. Of this, only 17 lakh (1.7 million) are indigenous people and 10 lakh (one million) are outsiders. Whereas, according to a Business Standard report, of about 2.7 million people in Manipur, about 700,000 are of non-Manipuri origin.

Fears and worries of the Manipuris

  • According to a report in DNA, the influx of foreign tourists has increased exponentially, thus creating a demographic imbalance in the region. 
  • If this was not enough, illegal immigration from Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar has also contributed to the crisis. 
  • This has created fear among the locals over employment and availability of resources. At a time where there already exists stiff competition between the locals and outsiders over jobs, the outsiders mostly settle for low paid work.

What we know about the protests ?

The ongoing agitation took an ugly turn when villagers torched the houses of MP of Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat, Thangso Baite, Manipur Family Welfare Minister Phungzaphang Tonsimg, and that of five MLAs, including Manga Vaiphei and Vungzagin Valte of Thanlom.

What we don't know about the protests ?

  • A report in the Indian Express stated that it is the dominant Mietei community of Manipur, largely Vaishnav Hindus, who have been the active players in the agitation.
  • The tribal population of Manipur which inhabits its five hill districts of Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong, Chandel (Naga districts) and Churachandpur (occupied by the Kuki and Zomi tribes), reportedly have no role to play.
  • A rumour that ILP agitation is a Meitei ploy to gain the Scheduled Tribe status is making rounds in the region. The move by the Meitei is being seen as an attempt to grab the land of the tribals and deprecate them further.
  • The Indian Express reported that according to Principal Secretary (Home) Dr J Suresh Babu, the ongoing agitation in the state has "communal overtones and tends to polarize the society".

Reaction of political parties

Political parties have come in support of the implementation of the ILP. The BJP has also come forward to join the cause. Earlier, BJP had opposed the operation of the ILP in Manipur, including Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya. However, in July, Manipur Pradesh president submitted a memorandum to the governor, seeking the implementation of ILP. In addition to BJP, several regional parties have also extended their support to the same.

Division in Congress

Although the Congress claims to oppose the implementation of the Inner Line Permit and remain united over the issue, the stand by Chief Minister Ibobi Singh in favour of the same clearly brings to light the differences in the party over the ILP. Singh has shown his support and has appealed to the BJP-led Centre to bring the document into effect.

The acceptance of the ILP regime by the Manipur government is bound to push the state into deeper strife. Why ? Discuss !!

The hills-plains divide

  • It is important to note that though Manipur is not under the ILP regime (which is in operation in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh), there is a law that forbids non-tribal people from within as well as outside the state from buying and owning land in the tribal/hill areas in Manipur.
  • There is a special provision for Manipur under Article 371C of the Indian Constitution providing for the Hill Areas Committee. This commitee – made up of the 19 members elected to the state legislative assembly from all the tribal areas – was envisaged to be the guardian of tribal interests. The law dictates that it must be consulted in all legislative matters affecting the Hill Areas of the state. Further, the state governor must send the president annual reports on the administration of Hill Areas, and the central government has the power to give directions to the state government regarding administration of these areas.
  • Unlike Article 371A and Article 371G of the Constitution, which confer special autonomy on Nagaland and Mizoram, respectively, Article 371C relates only to the Hill Areas of Manipur. It is an intra-state asymmetrical federal provision. Also, while Articles 371A and 371G enhance the autonomy and power of the Nagaland and Mizoram state legislatures vis-à-vis the Indian Parliament, Article 371C limits the power of Manipur legislature vis-à-vis the Hill Areas of Manipur. It signifies a constitutional recognition of the hill-plain divide in Manipur. The constitutionally designated Hill Areas are inhabited by the tribal, or Scheduled Tribe, people of the state.

How the issues are Interconnected ?

  • It is also important to bear in mind that the Meiteis, who are not tribal, have been demanding Scheduled Tribe status, emphasising their “indigenousness”, in addition to the Inner Line Permit system. The idea seem to be to convert Manipur into a tribal state (like Nagaland or Mizoram) by forcing the government to admit the Meiteis into Scheduled Tribe category and then place the entire state under a uniform ILP regime.
  • This will, in one stroke, level the constitutional division between the tribals and Meiteis in terms of land rights and other reservation benefits. Remember that even though the term “indigenous” is much used internationally, it is neither recognised nor used in the Indian Constitution as a description of social or cultural status.
  • The Meitei demand for Scheduled Tribe status itself is incongruous. Most Meiteis are Hindu, comprising both the twice-born Hindu castes and Scheduled Caste, though there are recent attempts to re-emphasise their traditional Sanamahi religion. They live in the plains, practice sedentary farming and are neither geographically isolated nor under-developed. Their language, Manipuri or Meiteilon, is recognised under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, which makes it mandatory for the government to take measures for its development.
  • There are other procedural issues with the Meitei demand. The hill tribals are sub-divided into more than 30 ST groups, based on dialect, clan relationships, mythical origin, etc. Do the Meiteis plan to enter the ST category as one homogeneous category? Else, what will be the basis for sub-classification?

How is granting ILP a recipe for more strife ?

While some tribal people are ambivalent about the ILP demand – mainly because they are unaware about the details and its implications for them – they are united in opposing the Meitei demand for Scheduled Tribe category

  • They already have enough complaints about attempts to encroach on their land. 
  • For instance, the All Tribal Students Union Manipur, the apex tribal students’ body in the state, has often raised the issue of the surreptitious transfer of some villages within the Hill Areas to “plain areas”, which means that those villages will cease to be under the protective tribal-area laws. 
  • Complaints about flouting of reservation rules in favour of the plains people are common too.

In the eyes of the tribal people, there is a hidden design behind the recent demands and protests. They see the demand for the ILP regime as a Meitei issue. 

  1. To begin with, none of the four members in the Committee set up by the Manipur Government on July 21 to draft a new ILP Bill for the Assembly were tribal.
  2. Secondly, the proposed ILP regime seems designed to target not just mainland Indians or recognised outsiders, but also “internal immigrants” from Myanmar, etc. Impossible to implement, this will be a sure-fire recipe for social strife.
  3. Most of the hills people do not have official papers to prove their identity and ownership of their land, and in much of the region the government’s presence is minimal. More than this, the idea will be anathema to the tribals since many of their cognate tribes live across the porous border in Myanmar. In fact, there has been a political integration movement amongst the Zomi-Kuki-Chin tribes, parallel to the Naga integration movement, with the goal of uniting all these cognate groups under one political authority. This is one unfulfilled goal of the Mizo National Front whose independence movement is still hanging fire.

Unanswered questions

So many crucial questions remain about the proposed ILP regime. 
  • Is it meant to cover the entire state, including the Hill Areas? 
  • If so, how would it be reconciled with the existing intra-state constitutional safeguards that apply to the Hill Areas? 
  • Will the existing safeguards that the Hill Areas enjoy vis-a-vis the plain areas be affected in any way? 
  • How will the cut-off year of 1951, for detection and deportation of outsiders, be enforced?

A memorandum submitted by the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System, a conglomeration of Meitei groups spearheading the ILP demand, to Manipur Chief Minister on August 8, ignores the constitutionally-sanctioned distinction between the Meiteis and the tribals. Instead, it resorts to the all-encompassing, nebulous term “indigenous peoples of Manipur”. 

Trust deficit

  • On another level, the recent events underscore the lack of  trust between the Meiteis and the tribal hill people. 
  • The political demands of the Zomi-Kuki group ranges from full-fledged Kuki state to the Autonomous Hill State. 
  • But the Meiteis will countenance none of this. They are opposing even the long-running demand for upgrading the existing Autonomous District Councils to the status of Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, a demand which the Manipur Cabinet itself had agreed to and recommended at least twice in the past.

Multiplying grievances

  • At the moment, with various forms of agitations overwhelming the Manipur plain areas, it is not surprising that the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System has been able to dictate terms to the state government and browbeat the chief minister into accepting them. However, that may turn out to be the easier part.
  • For the proposed legislation to become law, and if the Hill Areas are to be within its ambit, it will require the consent of the Hill Area Committee, which is unlikely to happen. The bill, even after passage in the assembly, will have to go to the governor and the central government, where it will most probably get stuck. And by the time the matter reaches that level, the tribal people will probably start giving expression to their opposition.
  • For the tribals, the threat in terms of demographics and land ownership comes not from outsiders, it comes primarily from the Manipur plains people. Any tampering with the existing safeguards of the Hill Areas will be unacceptable to them. Given this situation, it is difficult to see how the plan will work. Whatever the outcome, grievances will multiply. The end result of this will be more trouble, not less.

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