Missing focus in proposed Manipur Regulation of Non-Local People Act, 2016

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By: Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan and Md. Nasir Khan

A critical analysis

The bill under section 1(2) seeks to implement the act in whole of the state of Manipur’. However, Manipur has areas where schedule 6 is already in place. Moreover, Hill Area Committees under Article 371C governs many hill related issues. This brings one to the confusion that if passed, will the act supersede Hill Area Committee and schedule 6 provisions? The present form of the draft bill overlooks this issue which will be a point of contest between valley- and hill-based groups, as seen last year. It appears that there is lack of consultation and inclusiveness in drafting the bill. Indias decadal exercise of census is not an inclusive and definitive exercise as experts have time and again highlighted the loopholes, including poor training of surveyors, and connectivity issues keep remote areas out of census.

A base year of 1972 proposed under section 2(b) will be difficult to verify. Although 1972 is much more logical one compared to 1951 (The protection of Manipur peoples bill 2015), it will still be a challenge for local people to prove their domicile. The reasons are many. The literacy rate in 1981 of Manipur was less than 40% and border districts like Senapati and Chandel had less than 35% (Komol Singha, Conflict, State and Education in India: A Study of Manipur, American Journal of Educational Research, 2013, Vol. 1, No. 6, 181-193). Do not judge the awareness level of those decades (1960-1980) by todays wisdom. One needs to consider multiple factors to construct the awareness level. India has been essentially a country with socialist schemes since beginning, but, in those years (1970s), social welfare schemes were limited and concentrated in selected areas leaving out a large section of the deserving population from their entitlements. Unemployment problem remained untamed for decades. Way back in 1990s, educated unemployed youths above 35-40 year-old used to burn down their academic certificates as hopes of employment dried up with age. All these socio-economic characters of those decades point to the fact that general public particularly rural residents didnt have any pressing reason to possess an identity card. The draft bill is kind enough to take this into consideration by mentioning that in case of non-availability of acceptable identity proof, nearest subsequent year for which record is available can be used as identity proof. Is not it vague? Is it okay with 1981, 1991, 2001? A maximum time limit is needed.

The main intention of this draft bill is to regulate entry and exit of non-locals to and from Manipur by issuing a pass. Apart from the obvious reasons to limit the movement because of limited resource that locals are forced to share with non-locals/migrants since 1970s and impending explosion of Manipurs population, we need to understand some sociological reasons for movement. Every person who comes in or goes out does so because of various factors. Since the beginning of 17th century, trans-state population movement in the region has been driven by political truce (e.g., mass influx of Pangals/Muslims), conflicts (e.g., displacement of communities during seven years devastation), tribal/nomadic nature of communities (e.g., hill to plain migration before 1970s and reverse migration after 1970s), and economic considerations (e.g., migrant workers influx after 1970s) (these factors are mentioned athttp://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/2710/12/12_chapter%204.pdf). In view of this, to say the least, migration or flow of human population is imminent. In fact, human beings are social nomads. From nomadic tribes looking for food, we have evolved to the socio-cultural/religious/economic nomads. A pass to flow of population is against natural evolution and it will not stand the test of time. We believe the main reason why the president of India didnt give assent to the earlier bill (The protection of Manipur peoples bill 2015) was the very unconstitutional nature of the bill which regulates movement of citizens in India. Tribal cultures are bound to give way to more homogenised/monolithic culture. In this global village, it will be a waste of resources and time to regulate movement, issue pass, set up checkpoints. Moreover, migrant workers, who are the main targets, are viewed with a myopic vision by those who drafted this proposed bill. How can one ignore the enormous economic, infrastructure, and technological contributions of migrant workers in Manipur? The bill fails to mention these pluses. From a tourists point of view, a person who wants to travel to Manipur from Silchar or Kohima will be reluctant to undergo this pass profiling’ to visit Manipur. So close, yet so inaccessible for them.

This bill proposes for opening up of a directorate for issuing passes to regulate non-locals moving in and out of Manipur. Since the bill intends to bring whole of the state of Manipur under the ambit of the act to be passed, the first question is where will the directorate be located and how many checkpoints will be commissioned. On one hand, in an attempt to be non-local friendly, section 4 (4) lays down a provision for temporary pass to be issued to the applicant to enable her/him to approach the director for redressal of grievance, in case s/he is denied a pass at a checkpoint. However, it is unclear about the validity of such temporary pass. How much s/he can travel using temporary pass? Why there is no mention of the actions liable on non-locals staying without a pass? On the other hand, sections 5(2) and 7 mandate a local person/owner of properties to report every fortnight on the number of non-locals staying/employed in his/her property/business. This is torturous. In addition, penalty of minimum Rs. 2000 will be fined for failing to intimate the directorate about non-locals associated with him/her. We believe this provision will be in conflict with police department who is authorised to maintain such registers. Moreover, these sections will disturb peace of mind of owners and they may be by-default discouraged from letting or leasing out property to non-locals. This may adversely affect Manipurs centre-assisted economy, which is by any standard not faring well.

We presume that matters concerning economic blow should be highly accountable. In contrast, section 9 exempts the authorities of the proposed directorate from punishment in the pretext of work done in good faith. This creates room for misusing the provisions in the section. The directorate can break down Manipurs economy. Then, why is their accountability check/system check not included in the bill? It will be quixotic to presume that the efficiency of the registration authority including director, checkpoint, and its sophistication (in the matters of databases, IT peripherals, connectivity) will be state of the art. What about corruption? Manipur is notorious for unchecked corruption. Even CM O Ibobi Singh last year agreed that there is corruption in Manipurs secretariat. Remember, ration cards, and voters ids are forged. A newspaper report in November 2014 indicated around 3 lakh fake voters in Varanasi alone, at present represented by PM Narendra Modi. Subsequently, EC announced that those were repeated names, not necessarily fake. Such repetitions result from relocation, death and other reasons. Though EC is routinely carrying out physical verification before updating their database, we cannot deny the fact that voters id is not full-proof. In Assam, Bangladeshi fear has led to suspecting residents even if they have ration card deriding the authenticity of ration card as id proof.
There is still more clarity needed about the directorates (registration body) powers. For example, what will be its relation with Home ministry of India who will control entry of non-Indians at Moreh or other porous portions of the border with Myanmar?

Change the lens

It appears that the drafting committee of this bill are unclear about the aim of this bill. Is ILPS to preserve, protect locals, or isolate them from other states of India? Protection or preservation wont need regulation of flow of migrants or visitors. Only, exclusive land rights to locals will protect them from uprooting, and also prevent overcrowding in Manipur. This is to say that to preserve local culture or character, land should be not sold to non-Manipuris, just like in Himachal Pradesh. For regulating sale/purchase of land, this bill is inappropriate.

The intent and form of the proposed bill is regressive. We need emancipation. Change the lens which gives a bigoted view of the situation in Manipur. Adjust the focus. And you will see that economically, such regulations will be disastrous.

(Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan teaches at Gauhati University. Md Nasir Khan is a Development Officer with LIC. MIK is Vice-President and MNK is General Secretary of Manipuri Muslim Online Forum, a not-for-profit registered society.)

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