Manipur elections: Tug of war over ADC Bill highlight of second phase of polling
Manipur assembly election 2022: The ADC Bill seeks to give more power to the Hill Areas Committee and the six existing autonomous district councils in matters governing them.
IMPHAL: The hilly regions of Manipur, and pressing issues of the people in those areas, are set to take centre stage during the second phase of polling on Saturday.
Manipur has 10 hill districts, predominantly inhabited by the Nagas and Kukis — two prominent tribes of the state. The second phase will have 22 constituencies going to polls, including 11 out of the 19 reserved seats for scheduled tribes.
While Meiteis, who comprise 53% of the state’s population, occupy the Imphal Valley that constitutes around 8% of the total area, the Nagas (24%) and Kukis (16%) reside in the areas that constitute the rest of the state’s territory. The Imphal Valley has 40 constituencies, with the remaining spread across other hill districts.
All three groups have several differences, but a key factor that unites the Nagas and Kukis is the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council (ADC) Bill, 2021. The demand to table the draft bill in the state assembly is a pivotal issue in the region and is bound to play a significant role in the second phase of polling.
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In August last year, all 20 MLAs from the hill districts (cutting across party lines) drafted the bill, which seeks to give more power to the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) and the six existing autonomous district councils (ADCs) in matters governing them. The draft bill was then sent to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government. So far, however, the legislation is yet to be tabled in the state assembly.
“It is quite normal in Manipur that whenever we tribal people assert our constitutional rights, the majority-dominant (Meitei) government try all means possible to obstruct it,” said SM Andria, general secretary of the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur (ATSUM), an umbrella organisation of Naga and Kuki student bodies.
“One main reason for this is that a majority of MLAs are from the Imphal Valley. Though the bill was drafted, we never anticipated the state government would give a positive response to it and then come up with various reasons to sideline our movement. But we will continue to fight for our rights,” he added.
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ATSUM and associated organisations such as the Kuki Students Organisation (KSO) and All Naga Students Association of Manipur (ANSAM) have been staging protests, blockades and strikes demanding the tabling of the bill. In November last year, several office bearers of these organisations were arrested for pressing for an economic blockade on the matter.
“It’s as if people in the hills are seeking a parallel government through the bill. It can’t be done. There’s a tendency among hill people and organisations to blame Meiteis and the people of Imphal Valley for the lack of development in the hills. But it’s more of a political compulsion than anything else as most of the construction work in the hill areas are undertaken by contractors based there,” said Yambem Laba, advisor to the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee-Manipur, which is demanding ST status for the Meitei community.
The HAC was formed in Manipur under provisions of Article 371C of the Constitution that were included in 1971. However, tribal groups say the HAC has been made ineffective by successive governments and the ADC Bill aims to give more financial and administrative autonomy to the HAC and the six ADCs in the state. They stress that the bill is needed to bring the hill areas and the people from the region at par with those from the Imphal Valley.
The BJP-led government in Manipur maintains there are certain legal compulsions regarding tabling of the ADC bill in the assembly. The government has said that since Article 371C was inserted into the Constitution by the parliament, the assembly can’t make any amendments to that. Tribal organisations say these arguments don’t hold water.
“Article 371C was introduced in 1971, when Manipur was not a state and didn’t have an assembly. However, after Manipur came into formation, it has been amended several times by the assembly and once even repealed in 2000. So, for the state government to now give frivolous reasons not to table the Bill is very unfortunate,” said Andria.
The issue has support of political parties such as the Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF), which won four seats in 2017 and was part of the BJP-led government. The NPF, which is part of the opposition-less government in Nagaland, is contesting on 10 seats in Manipur this year.
“For the political, economic and social upliftment of the hill people who are economically and socially poor in comparison to others, Article 371C was incorporated in the Constitution. As of now, ADCs in Manipur are very powerless,” said Awangbou Newmai, president of NPF-Manipur and a minister in the present government.
“After a thorough study, the ADC Bill was proposed and submitted to the government. The government says they will need to study the legal aspects of it. We as a party will continue to pursue tabling and passing of this Bill for economic and political balance of the hill people of Manipur,” he added.
The newly formed Kuki Peoples’ Alliance, which aims to protect the rights of the state’s Kuki population, blames the present government for failing to table the bill. The party has fielded two candidates in this election.
“ADCs in Manipur have become toothless and sidelined the interest of the state’s tribal population. We have included in our manifesto that HAC and ADCs, which don’t have financial authority, have to be empowered,” said Chinkholal Thangsing, vice president of KPA.
“I have no idea what the government’s problem is in tabling the bill, which is about rightful demands of the tribal people. By citing Covid-19 and other issues, they have gone back on their commitment on this issue. We are dismayed by this delaying tactic and our party will work together with all tribal bodies to ensure this bill is tabled and passed in the next assembly,” he added.
“There is disparity in the development in Imphal Valley and the hill areas, but it is not due to the ill-will of the people from the valley against those in hills. There are several factors such as the topography of the hills, which impedes the pace of development works. The ADC Bill is needed, but it should be done in a rational and judicious way. If autonomy is given to hill areas, there should be some mechanism to give autonomy to those areas in the Imphal Valley that are underdeveloped,” said senior journalist and political commentator Pradip Phanjoubam.
Results for the two-phased polls for the 60-member Manipur assembly will be declared on March 10.