Dr. Vareso Ningshen
The making of a new Manipur as a just, equitable, open, pluralist, vibrant and prosperous state in the new millennium will remain a day dream if the standard of judgment over the 3- Controversial (ILP) Bills by the stake holders including that of the experts and intellectuals of the state are of any indication. In the past, most of the issues in Manipur either socio-economic or political remained unresolved due to the colonial-like attitude of the government or lack of sound judgment over the issues by many stake holders. Yes, it is a knowledge era, no doubt. Manipur although a small state is known for its best intelligence and knowledge in science, technology, medicine, arts, and sports. But what is the use of our best knowledge and intelligence if it is not guided by wisdom and character when it comes to application? Knowledge alone can destroy rather than build our society and our world. This is what M.K. Gandhiji meant when he once said ‘Knowledge without character is a powerful evil’. It can bring injustice, chaos, division and destruction in our society if not prudently used.
The 3-controversial bills: The Protection of Manipur People Bills, 2015 (PMP Bill), The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015 and the Manipur Shops And Establishment (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015 are all said to have been passed with the primary objective to protect the indigenous peoples of Manipur. The first bill is learnt to have been withheld whereas the other two bills are to be returned for reconsideration by the House. Indebt discussion, consultation and debate on the substance of a bill is not only a fine democratic culture but an inalienable structural ingredient of a constitutional democracy like ours. Any legislative process bereft of this requirement will not produce a good law for want of credible and composite ideas, opinions, information and consensus on the subject matter. However good and productive laws can be passed by optimizing all available legislative credentials and adhering to the constitutional jurisprudence relevant to our context. Frankly speaking, the prevailing crisis is a self made crisis of the Government of Manipur and the Hon’ble Legislative Assembly. The dubious attempt of the Government to extend the new provisions of MLR & LR in the entire state without inserting an exceptional clause negates the very constitutional objective to protect and safeguard the tribals and their land. It stands in direct contravention of the Principal Act of MLR and LR which exempts the Hill Areas from its operation. It will above all breach the customary laws of the tribals which govern and safeguard their land from time immemorial. This reality and the sentiment attached therein needs to be respected by the state and all concerned. Transfer of tribal land, however, is legitimately done either to the Centre or State Governments for any developmental purpose by lease, donation, sale or acquisition process purely on the basis of the agreed terms and conditions arrived between the tribal land owners and the government or any other such similar entity. The agreed terms must include reversionary right of ownership to the original land owners in the event of expiry of the project span of the government and/ or winding up of such developmental projects/ programs.
The contentious new amendment bill in Section 14 A (1) of the MLR and LR provides that “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, Non-Manipur persons, firm, institutions or any other similar entities who intend to purchase any land in the state of Manipur shall submit an application to the Deputy Commissioner of the district concerned where the land to be purchased is situated for obtaining the prior approval of the State Government before such purchase is made by him”. Honestly, this section does not require logical interpretation to get its clear-cut construction of the content. Grammatical interpretation itself conveys its clear literal and technical meaning. It express that discarding or regardless of all existing laws including exemption provision for Hill Areas contained in Section 2 (2) of the Principal Act, this new amendment bill if enacted into law will allow Non-Manipur persons, firms, institutions (all outsiders) to purchase land in Manipur including Hill Areas by obtaining prior approval of the State Government.
Meaning, the new amendment bill will extend and cover the Hill Areas currently outside the MLR and LR jurisdiction in order to enable the Non-Manipur persons to purchase land in the Hill Areas even while non-tribal brethren of the state are still prohibited therefrom. This is the crux of the problem. The comment of various experts and government officials either spoken or written that the bill does not extend to Hill Areas and, hence, not affecting the rights and interest of the tribals seems to be duping and misleading the people of both hill and valley. Such comments appear to be lopsided and lack universal standard-quality required in building a vibrant and pluralist society in Manipur. The tribals will fully support the amendment bill which provides adequate procedural safeguard in the purchase of land by outsiders in the MLR and LR extended valley districts but not to the Hill Areas where the Principal Act itself is not extended and where sale of land to non-tribals is prohibited leave alone the Non-Manipuri persons (not even defined in this Act), firms, etc. as envisaged in the proposed bill. I see no credible justification for such a move in as much as it violates their standing customary laws and the Constitution of India which sanction prohibition of absolute transfer of land belonging to Scheduled Tribes to non-tribals. Thus, the bill will certainly affect the tribals if not rectified.
The 2nd and in fact the most important issue is the ambiguous nature of the PMP Bill, 2015 which is now being withheld by the President of India. The reason for such rejection could obviously be not on the constitutionality of the bill but its defectiveness in substance and in procedure. PMP Bill was virtually an ordinary bill and not a Money Bill as such. The substance of the draft-bill wholly relates to restriction and regulation on the movement, works and residence of Non-Manipur persons (migrants and immigrants) entering the state of Manipur. The question of Money Bill will arise only in the subsidiary bill evolving fiscal and other financial structure for implementing PMP bill only after being enacted into law. This has deprived the democratic space and privilege in the legislative process of the House and more particularly that of the Hill Areas Committee. Comprehensive consultation would have avoided or at least minimized the gravity of the present crisis. Another general defect is the non-feasibility of the execution of the PMP law by sheer reliance of the 3- Registers of 1951 (a basis for determining Non-Manipur persons). This is due to the non-availability of the relevant registers and other records in the valley district and more specifically in the obscure Hill Areas where there was extremely poor communication and administrative system in those days. The bill is also vague and uncertain as the term, “Native people of Manipur” in section 8 (A) who are to be exempted from the application of the bill remains undefined. The principal of legislation opposes any vague and uncertain legislation.
Let us not forget to always remember that it is not sweet words alone that we often utter but our good attitudes and actions that will ultimately count in making a harmonious, equitable and progressive society. In that perspective, a win-win approach can be had with these options of workable solution:
1. As regards to MLR & LR (7th Amendment) Bill 2015, maintain status quo by inserting an exemption clause for the Hill Areas concurrent to the Principal Act.
2. Manipur Shops And Establishment (2nd Amendment) Bill 2015 may be thoroughly reviewed by consulting the stake holders of the tribal society and the Hill Areas Committee.
3. A new PMP legislation be initiated to protect and safeguard the demographic interest of the indigenous peoples (‘Yelhoumi’ in Meiteilon and ‘Haomi’ in Tangkhul dialect) of Manipur. It appears that there is no immediate threat to the demographic interest of the tribals in Hill Areas as they have the constitutional protection in this regard. However, if the Government desires to enforce PMP law in Manipur including Hill Areas all stake holders including tribal Village Chiefs/ Headmen, ADC members and Civil Societies must be thoroughly consulted prior to such legislation. Over and above this, mandatory procedural requirements including House debate and reference to Hill Areas Committee must be fully exhausted for consensus and better result. Any repeated legislative attempt without addressing the genuine concern of the tribals of Manipur may further alienate them to the extent of resorting to peaceful non-cooperation and non-participation of the ensuing Manipur Legislative Assembly Election 2017. May the good office of the Government of Manipur be guided by the will and wisdom of God, and may we all be given the wisdom & ability to have sound judgment over the crisis so as to peacefully resolve it in the interest of all.
(Note: This write up is purely an academic exercise for public discourse without ill will or prejudice to anyone.)