A new controversy is brewing in Manipur over a draft bill that aims to regulate the entry and exit of ‘non-locals’ to the state with the aim of protecting the local population.
The Manipur Regulation of Non-Local People Act, 2016, was made public on August 9 - the same day the state’s best-known civil rights activist Irom Sharmila ended her 16-year long hunger strike seeking abolition of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
The bill, which is in the public domain for “pre-legislative consultative process” seeking suggestions, will be taken into consideration by the government anytime after Wednesday.
This is the second such bill drafted by the state government after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected the Protection of Manipur People Bill, passed by the state assembly last year, due to strong opposition from several groups.
Once adopted and implemented, people from other Indian states will have to seek permission to visit Manipur - a provision similar to inner line permits needed for Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
One of the aims of the bill is to maintain peace and public order, but there is already a significant opposition to it from tribal and non-tribal communities who are seeking major changes.
“The divide spawned by the bill is indeed deep and one can expect more stormy days ahead,” Wednesday’s editorial of The Sangai Express, Manipur’s largest circulated English daily observed.
The joint committee for inner line permit system (JCILPS), which is spearheading a campaign to regulate entry of outsiders, wants the draft bill to set 1951 as the cut off base year, instead of 1972, to define locals.
Comprising mostly of Meiteis, the state’s dominant non-tribal group, the JCILPS adopted three resolutions at a peoples’ convention held at Imphal on Monday seeking changes in the draft.
The state’s minority tribal population, which comprise mostly of Nagas and Kukis living in the hill districts, have also opposed the bill terming it ‘old wine in a new bottle’ and similar to the earlier one rejected by the President.
The groups are also opposed to two other bills, Manipur Land Reforms and Land Revenue (7th Amendment) Bill and Manipur Shops and Establishment (2nd Amendment) Bill, passed by the state assembly last year.
Nine tribals, including an 11-year-old boy, lost their lives in police firing at Churachandpur in September last year during violent protests that erupted in the hill districts against the three bills.
Tribals under the banner of joint action committee (JAC) believe the bills, including the new one, are attempts by Meiteis living in the valley to take away their traditional rights and land.
“The state government’s attempt to pass the new bill while the nine bodies are still lying in morgue at Churachandpur is collective humiliation of all tribals,” chief convenor of JAC, H Mangchinkhup, told Hindustan Times.
Tribal groups in Manipur are planning to hold a unity day on August 31 to mark one year of the police firing incident and also step up campaign against the Bill.
Here are some of the provisions of the Manipur Regulation of Non-Local People Act:
• Locals are those who were citizens of India and residents of the state immediately before Manipur gained statehood in January 21, 1972, and their descendants residing in the state.
• Non-locals are citizens of India but were not residents of the state immediately before January 21, 1972.
• Once implemented, every non-local will have to get registered and obtain a pass to visit to state or stay as a tenant. Passes will be valid for 6 months and will have to be extended after that.
• Any house owner who fails to inform the authorities about leasing his property to non-locals will be fined anything between two thousand to five thousand rupees.
• Provisions will not be applicable to employees of union and state government, public undertakings, constitutional bodies, leaders of recognised political parties and students of educational institutions located in Manipur.