Imphal: The All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) and its federating units have urged the Governor of Manipur today, by way of submitting a joint memorandum, to “immediately withdraw the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council (Sixth Amendment) Bill 2022 (which has now become an act) as it is not a Money Bill.”
The tribal student bodies also urged the Governor to convene a special session of the Manipur Legislative Assembly to table and discuss “The Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill 2021.”
The ATSUM and its federating units said that they reaffirmed the “pledge taken in the 2nd general assembly of the ATSUM held on July 15, 2022 at Haipi village.
The memorandum was submitted under the subject, “Non reference of Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council (Sixth Amendment) Bill, 2022 to the Hill Areas Committee by deceitfully presenting it as a Money Bill, contrary to the provisions of Constitution of India, and, for convening a Special Session of the House to table and discuss ‘The Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill 2021.’”
The ATSUM and its federating units said in the memorandum that the representation is to prevent the violation of the special provisions provided under the Constitution of India for the protection of the Hill Areas of the State of Manipur.
The memorandum alleged that the Government of Manipur tried to bypass the acts/provisions envisaged for safeguarding the interests of peoples of the Hill Areas of Manipur by passing of a Bill wholly affecting and relating to the Hill Areas of State of Manipur, i.e. the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council (Sixth Amendment) Bill, 2022 ( Bill No. 15 of 2022) (“Said Bill”) as a Money Bill despite the fact that the amendments passed in the Said Bill does not deal with any tax, money from the contingency fund of the State, declaration of any expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of the State i.e. matters spelt out in the definition of “Money Bills” in Article 199 of the Constitution of India.
The memorandum mentioned that the said Bill is the exact copy of the “The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Sixth Amendment) Ordinance, 2021” amending the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 (Act No.76 of 1971) which was placed before the Hill Areas Committee of Manipur (“HAC”) for consideration as per law and which the Hill Areas Committee refused to entertain but eventually the same was withdrawn by the Government of Manipur itself in the year 2021.
According to the ATSUM and its federating units, during the recently concluded Assembly Session, this same ordinance mentioned above was masqueraded as a money bill (Bill No. 15 of 2022) and presented in the House in order to bypass the requirement of placing it before HAC. As per the provisions of Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972 (“Presidential Order of 1972”), read with Article 371C of the Constitution of India, every bill other than a Money Bill affecting the Hill Areas of Manipur be referred to the HAC for consideration and only on being recommended by the HAC it may be passed by the Assembly, the memorandum added.
Also mentioning a brief “factual matrix” of the provisions affecting Manipur, the memorandum said that, in the year 1971 Article 371C was inserted in the Constitution of India by way of the Constitution (Twenty-seventh Amendment) Act, 1971. The said Article 371C provides for Special provision with respect to the State of Manipur. As per the said Article 371C, the President was empowered to issue an order with respect to the State of Manipur, providing for the constitution and functioning of a committee of the Legislative Assembly of the State consisting of members of that Assembly elected only from the Hill Areas of Manipur. The Constitution (Twenty-seventh Amendment) Act, 1971 was brought into effect on February 15, 1972.
On March 13, 1972, the Parliament passed the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971(“1971 Act”) [which is being amended herein by the Said Bill i.e. Bill No. 15 of 2022] providing for establishment of District Councils in the Hill Areas of Manipur. The 1971 Act has been amended several times, one of them being in the year 2008, the present operational Act, said the memorandum.
On June 20, 1972, the President of India in exercise of the powers conferred under Article 371C of the Constitution of India, passed the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972 (“Presidential Order of 1972”). The Presidential Order of 1972 provided for constitution of Hill Areas Committee and also listed down the matters that shall fall within the purview of the Hill Areas Committee, it added.
The memorandum of the ATSUM and its federating units then said that a perusal of Article 371C of the Constitution of India provides for a separate scheme for the administration of the hill areas in the State of Manipur through the Hill Areas Committee. The Presidential Order of 1972 was issued in furtherance of the objective of Article 371C, it also said. The 1971 Autonomous District Council Act was also enacted by the Parliament around the same time when the Manipur achieved complete state hood. The Act of 1971 provided for the constitution of Autonomous District Councils in the Hill Areas of Manipur, the memorandum stated. “It is pertinent to note that Hill Areas Committee as constituted under the terms of the Presidential Order of 1972 and is vested with functions and power over all Scheduled Matters which relate to the Hill Areas including constitution, power and functioning of the Autonomous District Councils (the Act for which the said bill is amended) and legislative powers on specified subject amongst others, the memorandum also said. They have also been given powers to manage their resources, public health and sanitation services, education, and also undertake administrative and welfare services, the memorandum further stated.
According to the tribal student bodies, a bare reading of the Article 371C of the Constitution of India, read with Paragraphs 3, 4, 5 and Schedule 2 of the Presidential Order 1972 clearly demonstrates that the Hill Areas Committee will have the powers to deal with all the items listed under Schedule 2 of the Presidential Order 1972. Further, Paragraph 4(2) of the Presidential Order 1972 provides that every bill introduced in the State Legislature having bearing on the Hill Areas partly or wholly and relating to matters listed under Schedule 2 will be referred to the Hill Areas Committee for its consideration and report. Further, Paragraph 5 of the Presidential Order 1972 provides that any bill that is referred to the Hill Area Committee in terms of Paragraph 4(2), may, if so recommended by the Hill Areas Committee, be passed by the State Assembly with such variation as may be necessary, it added.
The tribal students then suggested the Governor to observe that proviso to the Paragraph 4(2) of the Presidential Order 1972 says that if any question arises whether a Bill attracts the provisions of Paragraph 4(2) or not, the question shall be referred to the Governor and his decision thereon shall be final.
The ATSUM and its federating units then said that they made this representation to the Governor to decide whether the said Bill, “which redraws” the number of Autonomous Districts and the composition of the District Council of the Hill Areas (thereby wholly affecting the Hill Areas and containing provisions dealing with the Scheduled matters under the purview of the HAC), can be considered a Money Bill and be passed in the Assembly without the recommendation of the HAC.
They also said that the said Bill only “states to redraw” the Autonomous Districts in the Hill Areas from the existing 6 to 10 Autonomous Districts and does not bring in any additional area in the already defined “Hill Areas” of Manipur, “which makes it clear that there is no expenditure or increase of any expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of the State which is a mandatory condition for the said Bill to be deemed to be a Money Bill.”
The tribal student bodies said that such an approach “plays foul with the intent and spirit of the Constitution of India which clearly provides safeguards for the people of the Hill Areas of the State of Manipur which is predominantly inhabited by the members of the Schedule Tribes thereby providing special dispensation for people of the Hill Areas of Manipur and further ensuring that the heritage and uniqueness of the Hill Areas is preserved.”
The ATSUM and its federating units then urged the Governor to exercise powers mandated under the ‘Special responsibility of the Governor’ of the ‘Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order 1972 (Presidential Order)’; to act in accordance with the provisions of the Order, and,‘in the discharge of his special responsibility, act in his discretion’. “It is evident from recent events that Your Excellency has shirked this responsibility and gone by the directions of the Government rather than direct the Government by exercising your discretion,” the memorandum added.
The tribal student bodies also said that it would be a great shame and a travesty of justice if the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of “our great nation” were to be distorted at the convenience of those in power.
In view of the above, the memorandum stated, “It is most respectfully submitted that Your Excellency affects immediate withdrawal of the said Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council (Sixth Amendment) Bill, 2022 (which has now become an Act) as it is NOT a money Bill. Your Excellency’s intervention is absolutely necessary at this juncture. If Your Excellency ignores this plea, we will be constrained to take up steps which may be detrimental for the State, in our quest for justice.”
According to the memorandum, the second intervention we seek is in matters regarding The Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill 2021. This is a Bill which had been unanimously adopted on August 16, 2021 and recommended by the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) to the Government on August 17, 2021 and has been ignored by the Government since then. The Government must introduce the Bill recommended by the HAC for discussion, it cannot be ignored. “Whether it is accepted and passed or rejected and forwarded to Your Excellency,” the memorandum further mentioned.
The ATSUM and its federating units then said they are aware that sometime towards the end of 2021, the HAC had directly submitted an appeal to the Governor for redressal and effecting the introduction of The Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill, 2021 in the Manipur Legislative Assembly. “Your Excellency is constitutionally obligated to see this Bill to its rightful end and not follow dictation from the government. We therefore urge Your Excellency to convene a Special session of the House for introducing and discussing The Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill 2021 and passing it,” the memorandum added.