With the ongoing chaos over Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) – its aftermath and spill over in north-eastern states, it provokes the need to look at the recently passed Manipur People’s Bill – an amendment to the previous 2015 Bill in the state assembly. Overall – at a glance the Manipur People’s Bill 2018 is “not so bad”. It has all the best form of description and terms. Comparatively from the earlier 2015 Bill – which is a random and blanket cover with sweeping statements, the new bill is inclusive as in choice of words and mentioning of district councils, schedule tribes and minority communities of Manipur. The cut-off year 1951 for being a “Manipur Citizen” significantly though remains the same in line with the National Register of Citizenship even after the uproar in 2015.
As already known, this MPB 2018 is one form of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) or rather an offshoot of the 3 infamous Bill of 2015. Inner Line Permit (ILP) an official permit issued by the government of India for travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period – originate from the British administration’s Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations of 1873, which controlled the movement of British subjects into certain areas. In independent India, it has been seen both as a security measure as well as an effort to conserve the ethno-social demographics of certain societies. This is not implemented in Manipur , while other north-east states such as Arunachal, Nagaland, Mizoram have this system.
Meanwhile, the Protected Area Permit (PAP) is a permit issued to Foreigners visiting / travelling to north-east states in India. Unlike ILP this is applied in most of the states- Arunachal, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, parts of Sikkim, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir. This PAP a system under Foreigners (Protected Areas) Orders 1958 covers areas where the Inner Line Permit systems are implemented and states bordering the international borders. Sine 2010 this system has been relaxed periodically with certain conditions in state of Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram.
As observed, the movement in the Manipur valley to implement ILP is basically to monitor migrants (or even stop) from other parts of Indian states into Manipur. This fear of influx from other states emerged primarily from the Imphal valley – being the state capital and where all large business establishments were stationed and are occupied and control by mostly non-locals. Moreover, with progress and development, the valley districts – the state capital to be specific, have become congested and therefore the need for space arises. Beside the political angle, is the shirking resources and economy.
The Manipur People’s Bill primarily talks of “migrants from other Indian states”. It appears Manipur is up in arms against “Indian migrants” rather than a “foreigner” or migrants from other countries. This is reflected in the new MPB and the slogans of the movement for ILP system as it talks only of “Indian origin” migrants. Whether the state is free from illegal immigrants is something to look into- given its geography and proximity to neighbouring countries. In recent days though, talks of “immigrants from other countries” – mostly illegal, surfaces and is no longer a non-issue. More so, in the present context – post Rohingya issue and NRC crisis in Assam. Moreover, arrest of illegal immigrants by security and security beefed up at check post are frequently reported in the media.
The MPB in its present form does not appear to have much weight as far as illegal immigration is concern. In such a situation there is need for clarity on Indian migrants and non- Indian migrants. Moreover, another complication or complexity is whether a migrant from other Indian states would mean person from other north-east states as well. Given the ethnic and community situation this need to be clear too –will a person from Nagaland, Mizoram requires a “registration” in Manipur ?
In the context of the Hill Tribal areas the Autonomous District Councils have been designated the authority and responsibility for monitoring of “migrants from other parts of India”. This is not a ‘bad move’ as ADC are the ground level form of governance. This strategy is perhaps given a consideration as most migrants are economic migrants and their primary purpose is ‘business’. But a look at the bigger picture on a larger perspective in the case of the Tribal Areas, the better authority for “monitoring” of “non-locals” would be the Village Chiefs or the Village Authority- as this is a matter of citizenship and settlements.
It is a known fact that migrants do not stay or come for a mere short period of time – they all settle down – many families lived for ages and continues to do so- they do not go back to whichever states ( or country ?) they come from. The basic issue here is more to do with their settlements and own lands. The strict non-permission to buy or own land in tribal areas is primarily protected under “tribal customary laws, traditions” that comes under the ‘village administration’ of the traditional chieftainship system. It is also odd that Acts and Bills are required to be formulated when there already existed a system that is constitutionally legal. If the constitutional existing tribal system(s) are strengthen such exercise for monitoring / regulating and even preventing of outsiders influx would be easier, more authentic, more acceptable and less complicated.
Considering the recent events in Assam and its eventual consequences – there is high possibility of some form of future events in north-east states most importantly in Manipur. Given the present strong movement for ILP system there is likelihood of same demand for an exercise like Assam’s NRC. This would be most unfortunate for Manipur. With the insistent on 1951 as base year under the MPB – the same base year as in the National Register of Citizens which is in accordance to the 1951 census of India there is possibility of calling for an NRC like citizenship test in Manipur too based on this population census. While it is a known fact that a detail census of 1951 for Manipur is out of the question – for obvious reasons most importantly as there is no such NRC in 1951 – to avoid chaos, possible fall out it would be for the best interest of the common people in and of Manipur that the state government come out with better policies and plans and be prepared to face eventualities that are likely to be unavoidable in the future.