Imphal: The All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) alleged today that the “charge made by the Hon’ble Chief Minister N Biren on the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) recommended ADC Bill 2021 as “disintegrating Manipur” published in local media on August 12, 2022 is nothing but an attempt to politicize and criminalize the tribal movement and further deprive tribals of constitutional rights.”
In a statement, the apex tribal student body of Manipur said that it was “unfortunate to learn the head of the state interpreting the existing legislative procedure into his convenient terms.” The ATSUM statement also stated, “As empowered by Article 371C read with the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) orders 1972, the HAC had recommended a landmark ADC Bill 2021 which is permissible under the law to strengthen the Autonomous District Council (ADC) and ensure equitable development in the state of Manipur.”
According to the tribal student body, the HAC has done its constitutional duty as specified under paragraph 4 (3) and paragraph 7 of the presidential orders 1972. “Therefore, rather than derailing the genuine constitutional demand of the tribal populace, the Hon’ble Chief Minister should facilitate the flow of the legislative procedures in the Manipur Legislative Assembly by introducing the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils Bill 2021 which was recommended by the HAC,” the ATSUM added.
According to the ATSUM, the remark of the chief minister is, “in fact, a ploy to mislead” the people of the state and foster further misunderstanding between the “hill tribals” and the valley community. The ATSUM added that there is nothing as such in the contents of the bill that aims to disintegrate the state but autonomy and equitable development for the hill areas as envisaged in the Article 371 C of the Constitution of India. The tribal student body further said that the ADC Bill 2021 provides for a Hill Secretariat to oversee the administration of the ADCs headed by an officer not below the rank of chief secretary but it does not mean that there shall be a “separate state secretariat” for the hill areas to be headed by a chief secretary. “Two secretariats” or “two chief secretaries” as alleged by the chief minister is just a figment of his imagination, the ATSUM further added.
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The ATSUM then said that the two proposed Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Sixth Amendment) Bill, 2022 and the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2022 are just eyewash to thwart the movement for the demand of HAC recommended ADC Bill 2021. The ATSUM expressed its regret that the “inimical stance” of the State Government to the constitutional concept of tribal autonomy and the two proposed Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Sixth Amendment) Bill, 2022 and Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2022 as nothing but another dangerous political bait to countermand the HAC recommended the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill, 2021. The ATSUM rejected the two proposed Bills as a dissolution rather than devolution, disempowering rather than empowering, inter alia, for the following reasons.
Firstly, according to the tribal student body, by omitting the operative term “Autonomous” in particular, the State Government attempts to reduce the existing autonomous district councils into mere small town district corporations. Secondly, according to the ATSUM, Section 29(xxvii) of the proposed Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2022 proposes a dangerous land use policy in a blatant attempt to dilute the existing tribal land rights. Apart from the erstwhile requirement of being a Scheduled Tribe, the new land use policy attempts to introduce other “domiciliary” criteria as an alternative qualifying status for the purpose of acquiring land in the Hill Areas. “Meaning, any person including a non-tribal can now acquire tribal lands if he is a domicile within a given hill district. The proposed Bills also attempt to exempt the State Government from the existing bar as the State Government may now freely acquire lands in the Hill Areas if it is for public utility purposes,” the ATSUM statement pointed out.
Thirdly, the ATSUM said that the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2022 has omitted the subject “public health and sanitation” and Section 29(2) of the principal Act, i.e. the competency of the District Council to recommend in the matters of (a) appointment or succession of Chiefs; (b) inheritance of property; (c) marriage and divorce; and (d) social customs. Fourthly, the ATSUM also said that the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2022 “attempts to rope in the Indian Forest Act, 1927.” Fifthly, the new Bill attempts to take away the “protected forest” from the existing power of the autonomous district councils to manage any forest as proposed under Section 29(xiv), according to the tribal student body.
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Sixthly, the ATSUM said that the proposed Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Sixth Amendment) Act, 2022 which provides each district council to consist maximum of 24 elected members and a minimum of 3 elected members makes a mockery of the Autonomous District Councils. “Moreover, by conferring equal voting rights and privileges to the nominated members and by giving the state government the power to determine the number of members in each District Council, the Bill attempts to further strangulate the existing autonomous district councils,” the ATSUM further alleged.
“Rather than suppressing the democratic aspirations of the hill tribals through threat and intimidation”, the ATSUM urged the State Government to promptly address the issue in the interest of peaceful “mutual co-existence.”