Manipur Clashes: A Look At The History Of The ADC Bill And Demands Of Protesters
The latest clashes have thrown light on divisions within students' bodies that have been demanding more autonomy in the hill districts of Manipur.
A week after clashes in Manipur over the Hill Areas Committee (HAC)-recommended Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) Amendment Bill, 2021, All Tribal Students' Union of Manipur (ATSUM) called off its call for the economic blockade in the hill districts of Manipur. This came after the release of the five tribal student leaders arrested for calling a 24-hour shutdown on August 2 in the hill districts. The apex tribal students' body, however, said that it was resolute in its demand for the bill, drafted in 2021, to be made into law.
In a press statement on Wednesday, ATSUM general secretary Andria Sinruwng said, "We reaffirm our stand for the introduction of the HAC recommended The Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils Bill 2021 in the Manipur Legislative Assembly."
Amid the latest in a series of protests that have rocked Manipur, we take a look at what the protesters were demanding, and the history of the bill.
Also read: 'He Forgot Syringes': Suspended MP Officer Blames Nursing Student For Vaccine Debacle
Why did the students agitate?
The 24-hour blockade was called because the state government did not table the ADCs Bill in the budget session of the assembly. The clashes last week are only the latest conflict over the hill district wanting more autonomy over the region.
Instead of tabling the bill, the BJP-led state government in Manipur tabled the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils 6th and 7th amendment bills which were not even a part of the agenda of the assembly on August 2.
The bill concerns an issue that goes back decades. While the hills districts of Manipur say they have been denied opportunities that people in the valley enjoy.
What are the Manipur (Hill Areas) 6th and 7nth Amendment Bills?
The 6th amendment substituted the word "six" with "ten" in the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971. As the name goes, the law is with regards to forming administrative district committees in the hill areas. The amendment said that each district council will have a maximum 26 and a minimum five members and the state government would determine the number of members through gazette notifications.
The more controversial 7th Amendment Bill, which has now been referred back to the HAC, deals with the setting up of a delimitation commission every 10 years "to determine the number and boundaries of constituencies for the district council so that the population of all constituencies is more or less equal". It mainly concerns the devolution of power to the HAC and the ADC. Both the amendments give more power to the state government, while the people in the hills have been seeking autonomy.
AC Thotso, the general secretary of the All Naga Students Association, Manipur (ANSAM), a federating unit of ATSUM, told BOOM that the students' bodies have rejected the amendments as the bills were prepared by the government instead of the HAC.
"All the articles were worded according to the whims and desires of the government without taking into consideration the aspirations of the hill people," Thotso said.
The HAC is supposed to be the highest body in Manipur that oversees the planning, implementation and monitoring of all development activities in the hill areas.
Division within students' bodies
An MoU was signed between the Manipur Tribal affairs minister Letpao Haokip, HAC chairperson, Dinganglung Gangmei and three Tribal student leaders on August 7 before the release of the arrested students. The MoU said the 7th amendment bill was referred to the HAC for consultation with stakeholders before recommendation to the Manipur Legislative Assembly. It also talked about the release of the five arrested students without any charges after the lifting of the economic blockade.
Other members of the students' bodies rejected the MoU saying they were not consulted by the three leaders and denounced the agreement. Thotso said the agreement was manufactured by the government in connivance with three student leaders.
ATSUM said in a press statement on Tuesday that it suspended vice-president Vanlanlian Khaute for "gross violation of the conduct (sic) of the union by unilaterally appending a signature to the agreement" without consultation with the rest of the members.
Kuki Students' Organisation General Headquarters (KSO-GHQ) president Sashang Vaphei and ANSAM president Peter Thirtung Wanglar were the two other people that signed the MoU. KSO is also a federating body of the ATSUM.
Also read: Why Did Nitish Kumar Exit NDA Alliance? What His Remarks After Oath Reveal
What is the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill, 2021?
This draft bill was unanimously approved by the previous HAC members of the last state assembly on August 16, 2021 for introduction in the House to replace the existing Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971. The new bill sought more autonomy for the HAC and ADCs, an increase in the number of ADC constituencies, the creation of a hill areas secretariat, bringing the Hill House Tax within the purview of the ADC, and the direct involvement of the HAC in planning the budget and allocations for the hill areas.
ATSUM's core demand
Nearly a year has passed since the ADC Amendment Bill, 2021 was recommended by the HAC. ATSUM said due process was followed to formulate it, unlike in the past when the bill was framed and amended on "the whims and desires" of the state government. Thotso said, "The bill was approved by all the HAC members irrespective of their political affiliations. It represents all of us… The representatives from the hill areas know best about what's best suited for the people in their areas."
Thotso believes that if this bill is turned into law, it will bring equal economic opportunities for everyone in the state as "there's lots of gap in development between the hills and valley".
He said there was a deliberate effort to not introduce the bill by citing different technical difficulties and different interpretations. "We, the younger generation, as student leaders, felt that successive state governments have been fooling the hill people for the last so many years. This time around the hills people are now aware of what's article 371(C), HAC, ADC and the 1972 presidential order," Thotso said.
Stakeholders divided too?
Indigenous People's Forum Manipur's president Ashang Kashar pointed out that no one in the assembly raised objections to the new amendments despite 20 tribal MLAs being present. All of them are HAC members.
"All the HAC members in the legislature have accepted the bills whereas ATSUM stand opposed to the bills signifying that there's a big difference of opinion among the tribals, "Kashar said, adding that ATSUM has approached it the wrong way as they should have mounted pressure on all the HAC members instead of just the chief minister or the government.
Govt defends decisions
Ram Muivah, a first-time MLA representing the Naga Peoples' Front and a coalition member of the incumbent BJP-led government in Manipur, from Ukhrul assembly constituency, said the government introduced the 6th amendment to facilitate district council election in all the ten ADCs as they have been increased from six to ten.
"It's very premature on the part of ATSUM to continue with their agitations because the government has conceded to their main demand of tabling the ADC bill in the assembly on August 5," he said.
Johnson Elangbam, the former chief of United Committee Manipur, an influential and powerful civil society body in the valley and Manipur BJP spokesperson, said people in the valley feel that the bill would give an opportunity to hill-based underground outfits and their frontal civil society organisations for creating a state within a state on ethnic interests.
"The demand for the appointment of a chief executive officer in all the Autonomous District Councils with the rank of not less than a commissioner means the creation of a separate full-fledged secretariat for the hill districts," said.
Elangbam claimed the 7th amendment bill addressed almost 90 per cent of the ATSUM's demands.
Do you always want to share the authentic news with your friends?