BEHIND THE FAÇADE OF THE MANIPUR ASSEMBLY SPEAKER’S ORDERS

The induction of the nine valley Assembly Constituencies is only a political motivated decision, as the geographical landscape of the Manipur valley has not risen up overnight with a tectonic activity. It is high time that Manipur move forward in recognizing its rich diversity without devaluing each other rights.

In the anticipation that full-fledged statehood will be accorded to Manipur on 21st January, 1972, the Parliament passed the 27th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1971 extending a Constitutional protection for the Scheduled tribes of the Hill Areas. The protection it accords has been in consonant with the protection already accorded to the Scheduled Tribes of Manipur Hill Areas under the provisions of the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 which formulates a Committee in the Legislative Assembly of the Union territory of Manipur, consisting of members from the Hill Areas. The statement of Objects and Reasons of the 27th Constitutional Amendment specifically states,

Hill Areas of Manipur are predominantly inhabited by members of Scheduled Tribes. To safeguard their interests… it is proposed… to continue this arrangement even after Manipur becomes a State. So, a specific provision is being made in the Constitution for the formation of such a Committee (clause 5).

The formation of such committee was translated into the Hill Areas Committee by the Order of the then President V.V. Giri i.e. The Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972.

The Orders of the Speaker, Manipur Legislative Assembly on 1st September 2021 inducted 9 Valley Assembly Constituencies representative into the Hill Areas Committee. The reasons it put forward for the induction was based on the superfluous (mis)interpretation of the 1972 Presidential Order. The Orders of the Speaker failed to reason that it is the prerogative of the President of India to constitute and define a Hill Areas.  Article 371C states, “Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the President may, by order made with respect to the State of Manipur, provide for the constitution and functions of a committee of the Legislative Assembly of the State consisting of members of that Assembly elected from the Hill Areas of that State…”. The orders of the speaker appear to have mis-interpreted the Presidential Order i.e. Order 3(1): “all the members of the Assembly representing the Assembly Constituencies situated wholly or partly in the Hill Areas of Manipur, provided that the Chief Minister of the State and the Speaker shall not be members of the Hill Areas Committee”. The phrase ‘all members’, should be read in consonant with Schedule I of the Order along with the Statement of objects and reasons of the 1971 Amendment. As the Article in the Constitution and the Presidential Order relate to the same subject in pari materia, they are to be construed together.

Also read: Tribal Land Rights: NO KHAS LAND in the Hill Areas of Manipur

The Supreme Court in Utkal Contractors & Joinery Pvt. Ltd. v. State of Orissa [1987] 3 SCR 317, held that the safest guide to the interpretation of statutes is the reason for it, and can be discovered through the external and internal aids. The external aids are Statement of Objects and Reasons when the Bill was presented in Parliament and internal aids accordingly are the preamble, the scheme and the provisions of the Act.  Again in the case of Babua Ram And Ors vs State Of U.P. And Anr (1995) 2 SCC 689, the supreme court held, the Statement of Objects and Reasons can be referred to ascertain the mischief sought to be remedied by the statute. A re-reading of the whole Order 3(1), along with the ‘objects and reasons’, points that “all members” only refers to all tribal elected members from the hill areas as specified under Scheduled I of the Presidential Order. Even in the event when a tribal becomes a Chief Minister or the Speaker of the Assembly, he/she is not entitled to be a member of the Hill Areas Committee. The expansion of the Presidential order outside the ambit of the Article 371C is tantamount to an indirect amendment to the Constitution of India. Article 371C(1) only entitles the President to pass an order for the Constitution and functions of the Committee (HAC) and not otherwise (i.e Speaker, Manipur Legislative Assembly).

The Hill Areas as per Schedule I of the Presidential Order include Manipur North, Manipur East, Manipur West and Manipur South revenue districts; and Chandel, Chakpikarong and Tengnoupal revenue sub-divisions of the Manipur Central revenue district. It is important to note that in 1974, from the Sub-Divisions of Tengnoupal, Chakpikarong and Chandel of the Central District have been clubbed together to constitute a new hill district to be named as Tengnoupal District (now Tengnoupal and Chandel Districts) by Manipur Gazette Extraordinary Orders dated 11th May, 1974 No. 2/22/72-DM(R). Again in 1983, the nomenclature of 4 districts’ name were changed by Order of the Governor, Manipur (Extraordinary Gazette) No. 43/2/81-R(Pt.) dated 15th July, 1983. As per the Order, Manipur North was changed to Senapati District, Manipur East was changed to Ukhrul District, Manipur South was changed to Churachandpur District and Manipur West was changed to Tamenglong District.

The expressed provision in the presidential Order when critically read is nowhere near the reasons given by the Speaker’s Order to induct the nine Valley Assembly Constituencies (ACs) as enunciated in the line “…Assembly constituencies… comprise partly of Hill Areas”. It is however undeniable that there is a number of overlapping with regards to the revenue jurisdiction.  For instance: 1) 89 villages of Churachandpur District(Hill Areas) vide Govt. notification No. 142/12/60-M Dated 22.2.62; 2) MakhawTampak village of Churachandpur District, vide notification No. 140/12/60-M(A) Dated 20.11.69; 3) 14 villages of Mao sub-division, situated in the Sadar Hills Circles, vide notification No. 138/4/64-M Dated 26.2.65 4) 809 hectares of land in Khoupum Valley of Tamenglong District(Hill Areas), vide Govt. notification No. 3/12/83-LRC Dated 14/11/1978 fall under the jurisdiction of the MLR & LR Act, 1960. However, this does not warrant the revenue district in the valley nor the nine Assembly constituencies to be considered as Hill Areas. Such decision will only defeat the purpose of Article 371C and the Presidential Order, 1972. The Parliament’s sole intention for the creation of the HAC (Article 371C) is towards the protection of tribal interests. It is also important to note that seventeen villages located in the Hill Areas has been transferred to the valley districts by Order of the Governor, Manipur on December 18, 1984 No. 6/1/73-R (Pt-V) and unsurprisingly so, in the names of public interest and administrative conveniences. In light of this order, it is always possible to transfer the pocket hill villages located in the valley to the nearest hill district instead of not declaring the nine Valley Constituencies as hill areas by inducting the representatives as members of the Hill Areas Committee.

The strategic induction of nine ACs to serve as a buffer zone to the existing hill areas can be undoubtedly understood to serve the interest of the non-tribal people, as the Constituencies represent the voice of the majority non-tribal voters.  In light of the precedent which the State has always followed since 1971, the HAC is represented by a legislature elected from the reserved tribal Assembly Constituencies (19/20 out of 60). If the rules of the precedent are applied as have always been followed all over the country, the induction of the new nine Assembly Constituencies would only imply that the nine seats are subject to be reserved for the tribal. This logic seems absurd and shallow as much as the speaker’s Order that undeniably defeats the statement of objects and reasons of the 27th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1971.

The induction of the nine valley Assembly Constituencies is only a political motivated decision, as the geographical landscape of the Manipur valley has not risen up overnight with a tectonic activity. It is high time that Manipur move forward in recognizing its rich diversity without devaluing each other rights.

Thanglianmung Neihsial is a Research Scholar in the Department of Law, NEHU, Shillong. He can be contacted at mungneihsial@gmail.com

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