The All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM), the apex tribal students’ organization of the state, is in agitation mood/mode “as there are no visible measures coming forth from the state government” to conduct election to the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) on time. The ATSUM said it would be compelled to resort to drastic forms of agitation if the state government does not pay any heed to the demand of the tribal students’ body.
The ATSUM memorandum submitted to Chief Minister N Biren Singh, which was made available to Newmai News Network on Monday, said, “While reiterating the demand for conducting the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) election on time, we would like to lay down few points of resentment over the delay in announcing date of election of 6 Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) of Manipur and beseech your esteemed office for immediate perusal and consideration of the recommendation of the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) for timely conduct of ADCs election vide its resolution No.35/2020(HAC) dated 8th October 2020”.
According to the memorandum, the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971 was enacted by the Parliament of India on December 26, 1971 when the present day Manipur was still a union territory with the objective of instituting self-governance of the tribal people in the hill areas of Manipur in order to protect its land, resources, culture, traditional practices and decentralization of the governance system. It also said that, subsequently, in 1972, in exercise of its rule making powers conferred by section 51 read with section 53 of the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971, the Government of Manipur through the Governor, framed the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Rules, 1972 and thus elections were held for consecutive terms until 2015, though elections for two decades (1988-2010) were abruptly halted with hill people demanding more autonomy of the Autonomous District Councils.
According to the memorandum, in the aftermath of the two decades (1988-2010) long abrupt halt of the election process of Autonomous District Councils, and as necessitated to prevail decentralization of governance system in the hill areas as envisaged in the principal Act of 1971, elections to 6 ADCs were resumed starting from 2010 and consecutively in 2015.
“And with the incumbent term of office of 6 ADCs (i.e. 2015-2020) nearing its expiry, the Hill Areas Committee (HAC), Manipur for reasons best known to them had deliberately misinterpreted ‘rainy season’ as administrative difficulty and recommended the Manipur State government for deferment of ADC election preferably in the month of November 2020,” the memorandum also said. “Accordingly, in pursuance of the state cabinet decision dated 3rd March 2020, the government of Manipur extended the tenure of ADCs of Manipur for 6 months w.e.f June 1, 2020 and ending on November 30, 2020 vide order No.7/1/2019-Hills(ADC/ELEC) dated 19th March 2020,” it also said. The same order also mentioned that election of the ADCs, Manipur shall be held in the intervening month of October and November 2020, the ATSUM pointed out.
It then said that with the ADC election just “round the corner and in pursuance of the Government of Manipur, Secretariat: TA & Hills Department’s order No 7/1/2019-Hills(ADC/ELEC) dated March 19, 2020 regarding extension of the present term of office of all the members of ADCs, Manipur for a period of 6 months w.e.f 01/06/2020, the Manipur State Election Commission conveyed its decision vide letter No.7/1/2020-SEC dated 22nd August 2020 to the Tribal Affairs and Hills department, Government of Manipur for holding ADC elections, 2020 under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Election of Members) Rules, 2009 in the mid of November 2020,” the ATSUM memorandum to the Chief Minister also said.
Further, in order to enable the conduct of election on time, the State Election Commission had also “asked the state government to kindly” issue notification for publication of draft electoral rolls of ADCs of each constituency on September 14, 2020, the students’ body further pointed out. “However, the state government is adamantly hesitating to initiate ADC election related activities like publication of electoral rolls and announcement of election dates till now”, it added.
The ATSUM then said four chairmen of 4 ADCs namely ADC Chandel, ADC Ukhrul, ADC Kangpokpi and ADC Tamenglong, as decided in its joint meeting on July 21, 2020, urged the HAC and the state government to extend the terms of office of all members of 6 ADCs by another 6 months starting from December 1, 2020 till May 31, 2021 citing “harvesting and COVID-19” as reasons for extension. “This move of the 4 ADC chairmen is a selfish act to meet their self whim and to deprive the tribal populace of their constitutional franchise rights,” the ATSUM also said. “The reasons for the extension as mentioned by the 4 ADC chairmen are ridiculous and irrational because people of the state including the hill populace are directly connected with the agriculture activities throughout the year starting from the beginning of the year till the end. Thus, citing ‘harvesting’ as a reason for extension of ADC term and coining/interpreting it as administrative difficulty as per the Manipur (Hills) District Council Act 1971 is ridiculous”, the ATSUM memorandum stated.
Secondly, according to the ATSUM, “it is a matter of fact that” everyone in the whole globe is reeling under dreadful pandemic. “However, the hill people need effective and popular local/grassroot governance to deal with these pandemic according to law,” it also said. “Importantly, the Election Commission of India (ECI) had already announced the date of by-election for five assembly constituencies of Manipur. For safety conduct of the elections, the ECI had also issued protocols/broad guidelines to be followed during the conduct of by-election during COVID-19. Thus, the intention of extending ADC terms of office on the pretext of COVID-19 pandemic is nothing but to meet whims of a few individuals,” the ATSUM added.
According to the ATSUM, the first extension of ADCs tenure for 6 months (from 01-06-2020 to 30-11-2020) was done on the basis of June-July being the rainy season, and not convenient to hold elections. “However, if another 6 months extension of ADC tenure (starting from December 2020) is granted, the next election of ADC will fall in the month of June-July 2021 which will naturally be again a rainy season. Thus, it will self-nullify their previous reasons of extension,” it added.
According to the ATSUM, as empowered by the Article 371C of Indian Constitution and subsequent order of V.V Giri, the then President of India, vide The Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972, wherein, constitution and power and functioning of District Councils in the Hill Areas are included in the schedule matters of the function of the Hill Areas Committee, the latter in its meeting on October 8, 2020 vide resolution no 35/2020(HAC) resolved to propose and recommend the Government of Manipur to conduct the ADC election on time.
“Now that, as the terms of office of all the incumbent members of 6 ADCs are due to expire on November 30, 2020, it is imperative on the part of the Government of Manipur to respect the proposal and recommendation of HAC to hold election on time and adhere to the state government order no 7/1/2019(ADC/ELEC) dated 19th March 2020 for holding of ADC election in the intervening month of October and November 2020,” the ATSUM memorandum to the Chief Minister urged.
“In the light of the above facts and circumstances, your good office is requested to kindly initiate necessary prompt measures to dissolve the term of office of the incumbent members of ADCs of Manipur and pave ways for timely conduct of fresh election in consonance with the state government order no.7/1/2019-Hills (ADC/ELEC) dated 19th March 2020,” it added, while cautioning, “Failing to pay heed to the appeal of ATSUM for ensuring constitutional francise rights of tribal populace through timely conduct of ADC election 2020, the ATSUM along with its federating units will be compelled to undertake various forms of agitation”.