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EDITORIAL OF THE IMPHAL FREE PRESS
Much tears and blood have flowed down the rivers of Manipur over the three bills which have been in the thick of a controversy, deservingly or not. The three bills, were together meant to do for Manipur what the Inner Line Permit system does for three other Northeast states, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Unfortunately for Manipur, the intents of these bills have been interpreted so radically differently by different section of the people, which is why the state is on fire now. What is the way forward now? This is a question the whole state, whichever side of the divide they belong to, should be interested in. Without even trying anymore to analyse the merits and demerits of the different interpretations (which incidentally we have done many times before, and indeed have reproduced the actual texts of the bills to encourage all to go the actual contents rather than go just by what others have interpreted them as), let everybody agree on one thing. The friction must end. Let there be a line introduced clearly stating that the three bills will be applicable to the valley districts only for now, and will remain so till such a time there is a consensus on whether their provisions are needed in the hill districts as well.
This should not hurt anybody. The fear of the tribal population that the bills were meant to facilitate encroachment on tribal land will be put to rest effectively, and the non-reserved valley districts too need not be worried by this, for as everybody campaigning or supporting the passage of the bills have been taking pains to explain, the bills were not meant to affect the hills districts at all. Two of the bills, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015, and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015, seek amendments of existing Acts which do not apply to the hills as they were, and say nothing about altering their jurisdictions, so they would not have affect the hills as they were. In other words, these two can be left alone. Together they were designed to prevent unrestrained transfer of landed properties to non “Manipur People”. The third Bill, the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, is the only fresh Bill, and also mentions that its definition of “Manipur People” will be applicable to the whole of the state. This is the Act which would entail setting up a directorate, therefore fiscal involvement, which probably is another reason why it was interpreted as a money bill. Our suggestion is, for the time being, let this Bill define “Valley People” and not “Manipur People”, although we suggest the parameter of 1951 as base year of settlement be relaxed, as we have been suggesting in the case of the definition of “Manipur People” too, if not for anything else, than to avoid legal hurdles, both in terms of national as well as international law. It will also be the humane thing to do. This will serve the purpose of the ILPS equally well, and allay tribal fears as well, for let there be no doubt, it is the valley land which is under increasing pressure in the face of population influx, and not the hills. The hill lands are as it is already protected from ownership transfers to non-tribals. Official population density figures of the two regions will bear testimony to this any day.
Let the communities in the state agree to a formula like this to resolve the current crisis of faith. It is painful to see “experts” in the metropolises, with only half-baked knowledge of the issues here, explaining our problems for us and others, recycling the little data and arguments they have of a stereotypical, primitive conflict scenarios of the state they imagine, over and over again under different headlines, sometimes favouring one argument and at other times the other, all with a false air of superiority of judgment and fairness. One cannot help being reminded of the Meitei saying “Choubi chaphu kaire, Kwak haraore”, essentially saying the pot of rice was dropped and broke, and the only ones happy are the ravens. In later years, as and when everybody and feels the need for it, a more broad-based law of a similar nature, applicable to all of the state can be thought of. As of now, what the state should be looking for is a law that serves the purpose of checking the marginalisation of indigenous population but at the same time allaying all fears of different sections of the population. Both these purposes will be well served by reserving the three bills to the valley districts for now.