Is suppression of tribal rights the reason behind the ongoing economic blockade in Manipur? Absolutely not, asserts the state government.
Sixty-nine days after Naga organisations imposed the blockade on two arterial highways connecting state capital Imphal, the Manipur government has scotched allegations that tribal people were being denied their rights in Manipur.
“These allegations are a pack of lies,” said Manipur government spokesman and irrigation minister N Biren said. He was referring to the Naga opposition to tribal council polls that led to the blockade in the state from April 11.
The All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur and United Naga Council, Manipur had called the blockade to protest the elections to what they said were dummy councils not under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
Manipur’s tribal councils are governed by the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Third Amendment) Act, 2008. This, Naga organizations say, ensures nothing but an administrative council without financial benefits but with a ‘sinister provision’ to acquire tribal lands ‘in public interest’.
Autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule, on the other hand, get developmental funds directly from the Centre. Tribes for whom such councils are created also enjoy exclusive rights to land.
But Biren negated any devious design in the five hill districts of Manipur inhabited by indigenous communities such as Naga, Kuki, Paite, Hmar, Mizo, Kom and Chiru.
“As per rules, the State government cannot do anything in these hill districts unless the policy framed by the government is cleared by the Hills Areas Committee (HAC) comprising 20 elected tribal MLAs. This is a mini assembly inside Manipur Assembly to safeguard the tribal rights and interests,” he said.
The Manipur Assembly, Biren added, passed the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (Third Amendment) Act, 2008 only after the HAC consented to it following a six-month study of the provisions. “If the tribal population of Manipur did not like the bill, no tribal MLA would have had to courage to clear it in the HAC. The clearance by the HAC shows the Act has the support of the tribal people of Manipur,” he said.
Thus, he argued, the economic blockade is riding on falsehood.