Manipur assembly passes controversial inner line permit bill amid protest from locals
A new bill passed by the Manipur assembly on Monday to regulate the entry and exit of “outsiders” on lines of the British-era regulatory regime has incensed a section of the locals.
“We have been living in Jiribam since 1971. Now if this Bill becomes a law we will be forced to eventually leave,” said Abdulla Laskar, a 31-year-old techie who works in Guwahati. His family moved to Jiribam in 1971 for business purposes from neighbouring Cachar in Assam. “Manipur came about as a state in 1972,” he added.
The Manipur People’s Protection Bill 2018, a long-pending demand, especially of the dominant Meiti community of the valley, was passed in the state assembly by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government on July 23. According to the bill, Manipur people include Meitis, the Pangal Muslims, scheduled tribes as listed under the Constitution in terms of Manipur and all those citizens of India who have been living in Manipur before 1951.
The rest have been put in the category of non-Manipuris and will have to register themselves within one month of the notification of the law. They will be issued a pass extendable up to six months. While those who have trade licences can get a pass extendable up to five years, which will have to be renewed every year. Any outsider visiting Manipur would need a pass.
“There are just 19 lakh of us, while there are about 9 lakh outsiders. We want to preserve our identity,” said Arjun Telheiba, convener of the Joint Action Committee on Inner Line Permit System, which has been leading the protests for the bill and has been closely involved in the drafting of the legislation. It is this committee that wanted the base year as 1951.
“We are Indians but also Manipuris. We are worried for our future. All the local market is controlled by outsiders,” he said.
In August 2015, following protests by the Joint Action Committee, the Manipur assembly passed the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, all of which defined the ‘Manipuri people’.
However, the tribal majority areas protested, calling the bills anti-tribal and a ploy by Meitis to dominate the hills that are protected under Article 371(c).
The then President Pranab Mukherjee rejected the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, while the other two were sent back. They have since been shelved.
The new bill seems to have a nod from the tribal groups. “We accepted the 1951 base year in the current bill with clauses,” said HM Mangchinkhup, convenor of the Joint Action Committee against Anti-Tribal Bills that led the protest against the three bills. He, however, says that they, too, suggested 1971 as the base year. “There is no National Register of Citizens of 1951. How will they prove it,” he asked.
This is also the reason for the anxieties of the Hindi and Bangla speakers and several others who live in Manipur. On Wednesday, Jiribam saw a huge protest against the new Bill.
“Manipur is also India. It is not a separate country,” said Ashab Uddin, the Jiribam MLA. “1972 as a base year, since it is also the statehood year, would not have been a problem,” he said. “In Jirbam alone, more than 10,000 Bengalis who came after 1951 and have been living here will be impacted,” he said.
Even those who came before do not have proper documents. “There is no proper voters list. No land documents. It will be a problem,” said Taj Uddin, secretary of All Jiribam United Minority People’s Organisation.
“The purpose of those pushing the bill is to keep these group of people who have come from outside in check,” said Mangchinkhup.
But will these lead to taking away of their other rights including the voting rights? “Once the bill is passed the non Manipuris will anyway cease to be permanent residents,” said Telheiba.
Former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh says while the bill has been passed by the “majority”, it will be difficult to implement. “It is a sensitive issue,” he said. “What if tomorrow Assam implements a similar regime? We have so many Manipuris living there . They will face problems,” he added.
According to a senior government official who did not want to be named, this bill may face hurdles like the earlier ones in 2015. “For the government it is again a tactic to buy time,” he said.