Tribal students in Manipur to resume agitation from April 5

All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) has announced on Wednesday to “resume agitations” from April 5, 2021, demanding that Autonomous District Council (ADC) poll is held at the earliest.

“Perturbed with the state government’s apathy attitude towards the ATSUM charter of demands which were agreed for materialisation by both parties in its parley held on August 3, 2019, and the state government’s deliberate act of paralysing the grass root level democratic institution of the hills by procrastinating the Autonomous District Council elections against the two Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) dated November 4, 2020 and March 14, 2021, signed between the State government and ATSUM, and demanding issuance of  notification for General elections to Autonomous District Councils, ATSUM has resolved to resume agitation from April 5, 2021,” said ATSUM in a press statement. According to ATSUM, the agitations include two days picketing of government offices including ADCs of the hill districts, mass rallies in all the hill districts and to be followed by “intensified” forms of agitation.  

“In a perfect design to divide and confuse the tribal populace on the contentious Autonomous District Councils elections, the state government in its cabinet meeting held on March 27, 2021, dubiously decides to hold ADC elections including newly created four districts namely Pherzawl, Noney, Kamjong and Tengnoupal districts,” alleged the apex tribal student body of Manipur. ATSUM stated that the Manipur state cabinet decision is ambiguous and “it is an ideal mechanism of the state government to divide the tribal brethren and derail” the Autonomous District Councils elections. Further, ATSUM said that depriving the tribals of their given constitutional rights, the state government has been deliberately ignoring the agreed terms of the charter of demand placed before the state government. The charter of demand includes various issues confronting the tribals in all aspect like reservation, education, health, TA & Hills, land and forest etc., stated the tribal student body.

While accusing the Manipur government of continuing with its “traditional deceitful act”, the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) asked the tribal people to be prepared to stand united to assert their due constitutional rights.

The ATSUM said that it was extremely annoyed with the Government of Manipur “for the traditional deceitful act of the state government to further suppress the constitutional rights of the innocent tribal populace through its (state government) appeasement and divisive policy”. The apex tribal student body of Manipur also said that the decision of the state government to conduct Autonomous District Council (ADC) election including the four newly districts namely- Pherzawl, Noney, Tengnoupal and Kamjong districts in its cabinet meeting held on March 27, 2021 is ambiguous and needs to be clarified by the state government to the public. It alleged that the decision is nothing but another “sinister design to divide the tribal brethren,” and to derail the elections to the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) of the hills. The ATSUM further said that the state cabinet decision is one good “modus operandi to loot the tribal people” of their constitutional rights.

According to the ATSUM statement, the Manipur state government is accustomed to dismantling the rights and solidarity of the tribal people. “One of such is the present ADC election impasse,” it pointed out, adding, “From day one of ATSUM’s insistence for timely conduct of ADC election in early part of 2020, we have been placing on record that the constitutional rights of the tribals for instituting a mandated and popular democratic set up in the hills should not be played at the fancy and whims of any individual including people at the helm of affair”. The ATSUM further said, “However, the office of ADC was extended for 6 months in the convenience of the present dispensation with a condition that elections to the six Autonomous District Councils shall be held in the intervening month of October and November 2020 via an order No. 7/1/2019 – Hills (ADC/ELEC) dated March 19, 2020 issued by Tribal Affairs and Hills, Government of Manipur”.  “But, contrary to its standing order and with clear intention of delaying the ADC Election, the state government deliberately failed to conduct the ADC Election within a stipulated period of time (i.e. October/November 2020) citing an excuse that electioneering processes were not timely processed,” it further pointed out.

Subsequently, according to the ATSUM, after the Hill Areas Committee (HAC)’s recommendation for timely conduct of ADC Election and relentless pressure from apex tribal student body of Manipur, the state government in its cabinet meeting dated November 10, 2020 hesitantly decided to hold ADC Elections timely. Accordingly, the Manipur state Election Commission was intimated to initiate the necessary arrangement for timely conduct of ADC Election, said the statement of the tribal student body. “And thus, from the official conveyance between state government and State Election Commission, it was ascertained that the whole process of electioneering including schedules of date for election was finalised but the publication of Election notice was halted at the last hour”, it alleged. The ATSUM then said that during this “whole episode of mudslinging”  for and against timely conduct of ADC election between ATSUM and state government, the demand of instituting separate ADCs for newly created 4 districts did not arise. “However, as perfectly designed, the demand for separate ADCs by the newly created districts  surfaced all of a sudden and the state government with its wit had cleverly grasped it as a tool to  paralyse the grassroot level democratic institution of the hills,” it alleged.

The ATSUM then said that it “is neither against nor in support” of installing separate ADCs in the newly created four hill districts of the state in this given situation “because it is envisaged that immediate installation of separate ADCs in four districts is far-fetched and technically expensive as the process will be time consuming and ultimately the existing 6 ADCs will have to be stalled at the expense of demand for more number of ADCs. Clause (d) of sub-section (2) of section (3) read with sub-section (3) of section (3) of the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 clearly defines that ‘the administration may after consultation with the Hill Areas Committee may, by order notified in the Official Gazette unite two or more autonomous districts or parts thereof so as to form one autonomous district council’”. According to the ATSUM, Autonomous District Councils of other Northeastern states also followed the same. It pointed out that Garo Hills Autonomous District Council of Meghalaya covers five districts,  Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council covers three districts, Bodoland Territorial Council covers four districts and Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council covers two districts. “Thus, for the time being, the four newly created districts namely Pherzawl, Noney, Kamjong and Tengnoupal districts can be covered under the existing 6 ADCs for the convenience of facilitating a timely and consistent  installation of grass root level democratic institution in the hills at this given time and the process of bifurcation can be initiated after election,” it added.

The apex tribal student body of Manipur then said that India being the largest democratic country in the world with its constitution, “the longest written constitution on earth”, many political leaders of national status as well as the state under current dispensation have been vocally advocating how state is administered in strict adherence to the rule of law (i.e. constitution).  “Having frequently advocated the affairs of state being administered in firm compliances of the constitution, the current BJP led coalition government under the leadership of Shri N Biren Singh, Hon’ble Chief Minister, should walk the talk by respecting and considering the recommendation of the HAC for timely conduct of ADC Elections because HAC is constituted under article 371(C ) of the Indian constitution wherein all schedule matters including Autonomous District Council relating to hill areas of the Manipur State  is under the purview of HAC,” it further stated, adding, “Thus, belittling the HAC by the state government is tantamount to demeaning of the Indian Constitution”.

The ATSUM statement then said, “At this time of confusion, instilled within us (tribal brethren) by selfish individuals, the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur implored all the tribal populace to stay vigil and be prepared to stand united to assert for our due constitutional rights”.  

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