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Institutional Exclusion of the Hill Tribes in Manipur

Demand for Protection under the Sixth Schedule

L Lam Khan Piang ( teaches at the Centre for Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Ever since the colonial government brought the hill areas by annexation into the fold of Manipur, which was then only the Imphal Valley, the hill tribes and the valley community have been “living together separately,” with certain separate administrative arrangements. The problems of present-day Manipur are the consequences of this forced integration of two different entities. After India’s independence, the hill tribes in the North East were protected under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, but the Manipur hill tribes were left out. This denial of the extension of the Sixth Schedule to Manipur is a process of institutional exclusion, which has led to the demand for greater autonomy.

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for invaluable inputs and critical comments which have helped to strengthen and sharpen the focus of his arguments.

The hill areas of present-day Manipur are home to various tribes, such as the Nagas and Zo people (Kuki-Chin), which were brought into the fold of Manipur by the British colonial government, by slicing out portions of various hill ranges such as the Naga Hills, Chin Hills, Lushai and Cachar Hills, contiguous to the Imphal Valley. This colonial cartography cut across ethnic groups and was primarily geared towards administrative conveniences and military exigencies, which resulted in the division of the communities in the region by various administrative boundaries. So, it is argued that the political problems facing the hill tribes in Manipur are rooted in the process of how the British colonisers created this princely state, while consolidating their position in the region (Piang 2015: 160–61).

Historically, the hill tribes were never ruled by the Manipur raja and no attempt had ever been made to set up a regular administrative arrangement, even among the few villages of the hill tribes where he could, from time to time, forcibly wrest portions of their harvest in the form of taxes. In fact, the British engaged with them indirectly through their political agent, from 1835 till the Kuki Rising (1917–19). Thereafter, the hill areas were annexed and directly administered. As B K Roy Burman (2005: 10) aptly remarks, “for quite some time in the nineteenth century the British policy was to consolidate the control over the tribals in the borders of Burma and Cachar through the king of Manipur.”

The princely state of Manipur was a British protectorate and always readily got the backing of the British Native Infantry stationed at Cachar. The fact that the political agent of Manipur was stationed in Imphal is clear evidence of the nature of the relationship. Even James Johnston (1992: 101), the political agent in Manipur, recorded, “my chief work was to protect Manipur and its interest.” While serving the interests of Manipur, the political agents augmented the spheres of their influence towards the hills and brought the hill tribes into the fold of the state. However, showing great prudence, the British colonial government never made the hill tribes the subjects of the Manipur raja, even after they annexed the hill areas. Instead, the British maintained a “separate administration” for the hill tribes, by keeping them outside the purview of the Manipur raja’s durbar. Consequently, the hill tribes were neither under the control of the Manipur raja nor were they ever a part of the princely state of Manipur. In fact, the British maintained this separation throughout their regime and the same practice has continued even after the end of British colonial government, till the present-day.

Manipur state was constructed by bringing together the hills and the valley, which were never a united political, social, cultural and geographical entity. It was not the result of conquest or military campaign by the Manipur raja that brought the hill areas within the fold of Manipur. Rather, it was the British who were responsible for that, and even though they brought them together, concerted attempts were made to maintain their separate existences, as different entities in the form of a separate administrative arrangement for the hill and valley areas in Manipur. The Manipur raja, not to mention that he never established his overlordship, could hardly protect his subjects from the raids of the hill tribes. M McCulloh, the political agent of Manipur in the middle of the 19th century wrote:

Before the connection of the British Government with that of Manipur took place, the latter, not to speak of exerting influence over the tribes, was unable to protect the inhabitants of the valley from their exaction and blackmail, and even after the conclusion of peace with Burma, and the fixation of boundary of Manipur, the Majority of the tribe were independent, and known to us little more than by name. With the assistance of arms and ammunitions given to Manipur by the British government, some of the tribes have been thoroughly, the northern one particularly, reduced, and the attack of the one that bordering Burmese have led to apprehensive of the interruption of the general peace of the frontier. (McCulloh 1980: 75)

After the Government of India Act, 1935 was enacted, the British government was anxious to bring all the states under the direct control of the Government of India. Consequently, after prolonged official correspondences, Maharaja Churachand, in a letter dated 21 July 1939,

agreed to federate on terms which covered the exclusion of the Hills from his control. However, this process of federation was aborted and brought to an abrupt end by the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. (Reid 1997: 95; Bhattacharyya 1963: 311)

This shows that the maharaja acknowledged that he was not the rightful ruler of the hill areas and hence explains his readiness to be a signatory to such an arrangement that excluded the hills. Taking this fact into account, the question that arises is: how legitimate is the “merger agreement” with the Union of India, signed by the Maharaja of Manipur in 1949, for the hill areas?

Institutional Exclusion

Manipur has been in the limelight recently due to the brutal killing of tribal youths by the state security forces, who were protesting against the passage of three bills by the Manipur state assembly on 31 August 2015. The bills are: The Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015 (PMP Bill), the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment Bill), 2015 and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment Bill), 2015. The hill tribes of Manipur were not only against the three bills, but also the manner in which the bills were passed, in complete disregard of the “Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business” in the Manipur Legislative Assembly [Section 4(2)], such that the President of India also did not give his assent to those bills. This shows that the whole episode was nothing but the manifestation of the unresolved, deep-rooted political problems, that exist ever since the colonial regime brought the hill areas, which were a separate political entity, to the valley for consolidating their reign in the region.

The hill tribes do have their agency in the form of the Hill Areas Committee (HAC), a committee of all elected members of legislative assembly (MLAs) from the hill areas. But, in a state where the population is extremely divided along ethnic lines, besides the division between the hills’ and valley’s dwellers, the 20 members from the hill areas out of a total of 60 members in the state assembly, could not effectively protect the interests of the hill tribes. In the case of the three controversial bills, besides many factors that led to the passage of the bills, the main issue was that the bills were dealing with schedule matters of the HAC, but were designed to bypass the HAC, by attaching a section called “financial memorandum,” along with the PMP Bill, to make it look like a “money bill,” as a money bill does not fall under the ambit of the schedule matters of the HAC.

This article attempts to understand this problem through the conceptual framework of institutional exclusion, by analysing emerging issues, such as making the HAC dysfunctional even though it has a number of subject matters under its purview, bypassing it in certain important matters related to hill areas and denying proportional representation to the hill tribes. In fact, the HAC was established due to the apprehension that certain problems would arise when Manipur was given full-fledged statehood. This can be understood in the words of D C North (1992: 73), who says that, “Throughout history, institutions have been devised by human beings to create order and reduce uncertainty in human exchange.” According to him,

institutions are the rules of the game of a society or more formally are the humanly devised constraints that structure human interaction …composed of formal rules (statute law, common law, regulation), informal constraints (conventions, norms of behavior, and self-imposed rules of behaviors); and the enforcement characteristics of both. (North 1992: 74)

This is the situation in Manipur where existing formal institutions are neglected knowingly, to promote the interests of the dominant community, which defeats the noble objective of the constitution of the HAC.

This process of neglecting established rules and procedures, with the intention to secure partisan advantages can be considered as institutional exclusion, which Anton Oleinik (2012) views as a destabilising factor. He defines it as, “The alienation of ordinary people from government and their inability to rely on the law and official procedures when being engaged in everyday activities” (Olenik 2012: 154). Looking at the situation in Manipur, institutional exclusion can be defined contextually as the alienation of ethnic minorities in the institutional arrangement within the government system, where the majority ethnic community dominates the representatives of the lesser ethnic communities, and their interests are kept in abeyance. This is done by ignoring the existing arrangement of asymmetrical federal relations and power structure, by manipulating the electoral mechanisms, which dictates inclusion and exclusion in terms of conferring advantage and conversely, disadvantages. Matthew Holden (2008) aptly remarks that

Inclusion begins with enfranchisement. But electoral mechanisms themselves have known effects. Those mechanisms that enhance the likelihood of female and minority representation are critical tools of potential inclusion. But electoral mechanisms equally can be used as tools to exclude as well. (Holden 2008: 4–5)

The institutional exclusion of the hill tribes has manifested in various forms, but the most remarkable will be the passing of the said three controversial bills. The hill tribes, while protesting against these bills, put forth their demand for a “separate administration,” from the domination of the valley community in the state government. Looking back to the development of administration in the hill areas of Manipur, separate administration was always maintained, even after they were brought within the fold of the Manipur princely state. Though separate administration has been continuing in the hill areas of Manipur with the functioning and implementation of the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971, it is in fact without any autonomy, due to lack of legislative and judicial powers, and also no separate budgetary allocation from the Government of India, besides the domination of the state assembly in which almost two-thirds of the seats are occupied by the dominant community. Thus, the hill tribes never got a chance to taste political autonomy to develop themselves culturally and economically, since their encounter with the state from the colonial times to the present.

The questions that arise are as follows: Why has there always been a separate administrative arrangement for the hill tribes in Manipur ever since they were brought into the fold of Manipur princely state by the British colonisers? Considering the reality of the existence of the hills and the valley as separate entities in Manipur as in Assam, why were the Manipur hill tribes not brought under the ambit of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, as in the case of other tribes in the region? Why have the provisions for the protection and safeguarding of the interests of the Manipur hill tribes under the Constitution, not been implemented as envisaged? Why has the demand for the extension of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in the hill areas of Manipur never been considered with sincerity, despite the state cabinet’s recommendation?

Integrating Hills and Valleys

Before the colonial expansion towards the present Indo–Myanmar border areas, topography played an important role in delimiting political control of the various rulers of the region. This article deals specifically with the encounters of the British colonisers and the various political entities—raja, paramount chiefs, village chiefs, etc, in the region, especially in present-day Manipur. Raids, retaliation, suzerainty, submission and the like were commonly witnessed in the region, and there were tribal feuds among the hill tribes, which resulted in the rise of paramount chiefs like the Kamhau/Sukte, Sailo, etc. The relationship of the Meitei raja and the villages closer to the valley was rather hostile, as he did not rule by making regular administrative arrangements in those villages, but extracted tributes from them forcibly, which Robert Reid (1997: 41) calls “periodical massacre.”

From the colonial historical accounts, it can be discerned that it was the British colonisers who brought the hills into the fold of the valleys, in the process of establishing and consolidating their control in the region. So, it is not the colonial regime that divided the hills and the valleys, rather they were responsible for integrating these entities which had separate existences before. The hills and valleys divide is not due to the now infamous “divide and rule” policy, rather it is the by-product of the nature of politics prior to colonial ascendency, in these areas. The problems that emerged as the result of this division are the consequence of the truncated project of bringing the hills and the valleys together under the state. After the British withdrew, the legatees of the colonial state did not allow the hill indigenous peoples to have their right to self-determination, and also disregarded their claim to territorial integration.

The British encountered the hill tribes after their intervention in Manipur, at the behest of the raja in exile, due to Burmese invasion and occupation, to oust the Burmese invaders from Manipur. This led to the Anglo–Burmese War in 1824, which was concluded by the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. Following a series of subsequent treaties, the British stationed a political agent in Manipur in 1835 to aid the raja. The political agent, on various occasions of expeditions towards the hills, encountered the hill tribes and engaged them. The British annexed Manipur after the Palace Uprising in 1891, but even after the annexation,

the hill tribes were excluded from the jurisdiction of the State Darbar and Administered by the Vice-President (President in the subsequent revision) of the Manipur Darbar, who was a British Officer, subject to the general control of the Political Agent, with the Lambus acting as intermediary.1

This indirect administrative arrangement was regarded as one of the causes of the Kuki Rising (1917–19). Nicholas Beatson Bell, the chief commissioner of Assam, then proposed a new administrative arrangement for the hill areas when he visited Manipur in 1919, after the successful military operation suppressing the Kuki Rising. Immediately, as proposed, the hill areas were brought under direct administration by dividing the area into four subdivisions (Gimson 1920: 2)—the south-west area with headquarters at Churachandpur inhabited by the Kukis, with B C Gasper in-charge; the north-west area with temporary headquarters at Tamenglong inhabited by the Kukis, Kala Nagas and Kaccha Nagas, under William Shaw; the north-east area with headquarters at Ukhrul inhabited by the Tangkhul Nagas and Kukis, to be administered by L L Peters; and the large area in the north of the state, including Mao and Maram Naga groups, the whole of the Mombi area in the south-east and the various hill tribes bordering the valley, continued to be administered directly from Imphal by the president of the Darbar.

All these subdivisions were kept under British officers as shown above, who reported to the president of the Darbar, a post reserved for a British officer. Colonel Maxwell, Colonel Woods and Colonel Shakespeare have variously remarked in their Confidential Reports, noting that the “Manipuris are unfitted to control the Hill tribes” (as quoted in Dev and Lahiri 1987: 111–13). The British always had inhibitions about keeping the hill tribes under the direct control of the Raja of Manipur, due to the apprehension voiced by the chief commissioner of Assam about the attitude of the Manipuris towards the hill tribes, which is stated by J E Webster, chief secretary to the chief commissioner of Assam, in a letter dated October 1919, as follows:

Unfortunately … the Manipuri has not yet learned to look upon the Kuki or Naga as a human being and it would not be fair to the hill tribes to hand them over, unprotected, to the mercies of the Manipuri. Also, as the trouble is of our making and as it involves a substantial increase in expenditure of the hills, it obviously behoves us to put the hill administration on a sound and humane basis before asking the maharaja to take over it.2

If due consideration is given to the historical aspect that brought the hill and the valley together during the colonial regime, it would be helpful to understand how the colonial accounts are replete with information about the construction of the binaries of hill–valley peoples. Defying this binary in the case of Manipur, J Yengkhom (2015: 283–86) argues that the colonial classification and differentiation are based on race, religion, language/dialect and politics. Viewing through the evolutionists’ perspective, he considers “religion as one of the important criteria for assessing the position of community on the civilisational scale” (Yengkhom 2015: 285). He also argues that, “Religion … became one of the reasons to favour Meitei over the ‘hill-tribes’ on the civilisational scale… [in] ‘hierarchisation’ of society into a neat model of evolution” (Yengkhom 2015: 285). Even if we have to agree with him, his argument speaks for itself that the hill and the valley were different cultural entities and had separate existences, as a result of which they were at different civilisational scales.

Further, it may be argued that the royal decree that coerced the Meitei to convert into Vaishnavism has no effect on the hills. Yengkhom (2015: 286) also points out that, “The separation of hills and valley peoples was linked with the larger politics of colonial expansion and control on the frontier.” Further, he says, “sometimes, classifications were based merely on topographical division, rather than any ethnological difference” (Yengkhom 2015: 287). In fact, the categories mentioned above invariably form the basis of classification of the human population and the assertion made for “the separation of the hills and valley was link to colonial expansion and control is a historical fact” (Yengkhom 2015: 286). However, it is important to note that all these were preceded by bringing the hills areas into the valley, through annexation for the consolidation of the British position in the region.

From the above observation, it is clear that the British took moral responsibility towards the hill tribes, as they realised that they were responsible for bringing them within the fold of Manipur, which otherwise would never have been a part of Manipur. Thus, a separate administrative arrangement for the hill tribes has been upheld throughout, since the creation of Manipur state by the British.

From Colonial Rule to Statehood

When the British were about to leave Manipur, a constitution drafting committee for Manipur was constituted. The committee, considering the existing administrative system, made an arrangement to continue with the separate administration of the hill areas. The draft constitution was enacted by the maharaja, which has two parts—the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 and the Manipur Hill Peoples’ (Administrative) Regulation, 1947. This constitution continued to maintain separate administration for the hill areas, that is, the tribal areas in Manipur. However, the new government formed under the new constitution was short-lived, due to the merger of Manipur with the Union of India on 15 October 1949. Thus, the princely state which could maintain an independent existence under the British regime was downgraded to the status of a Part “C” state within the Union of India. However, in relation to the hill areas, the Regulation of 1947 was continued, until it was repealed by the abolition of the chief court and hill bench (1956) and the circle authority (1955), and also partly by Section 58 of the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956.

Manipur was then provided with a territorial council, following the enactment of the Union Territorial Council Act, 1956. The council, consisting of 30 elected members and two nominated members, was constituted on 16 August 1957. By the Government of Union Territory Act of 1963, Manipur became a full-fledged union territory, with its territorial council converted into a territorial assembly. Special provisions were made in Section 52 of this act, for a committee of the legislative assembly of the union territory of Manipur, consisting of members from the hill areas to safeguard the interests of the hill tribes, which was also known as the Hill Standing Committee.

A similar situation came up when the Manipur was about to be conferred full-fledged statehood, as that of the situation when the British government was considering whether to keep the hill tribes under the purview of Manipur Darbar immediately after the Kuki Rising (1917–19). In fact, the hill tribes were never under the control of the raja, as mentioned in the letter of J E Webster:

In 1907 when the Raja Churachand Singh was installed as Chief of Manipur, the administration of the State was entrusted to a Darbar of which the Raja was President. The Hill tribes were then treated as on a footing distinct from that of the Raja’s Manipuri subjects, being only “dependent on” the Manipur State; and under the authority of Foreign Department Letter No 1081 E C, dated the 18th March 1908, the hill tribes were excluded from the jurisdiction of the State Darbar and Administered by the Vice-President of the Darbar subject to the general control of the Political Agent.3

In both the situations, the issue of the tribes was handled with caution. In the former, the British kept the hill tribes under the direct control of the vice president of the Manipur Darbar, the post reserved for a British officer; whereas the latter situation came up when the North Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Bill, 1971 was about to be introduced in Parliament. While introducing the bill, K C Pant, the then minister of state, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India said, “We have considered the special problems of the new units, which would emerge as a result of reorganization” (Pant 1971: 40–41). Consequently, to deal with the expected problems, the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 was enacted by Parliament of India for separate local administration, whereas to safeguard the interests of the hill tribes in the state assembly, the Constitution (Twenty-seventh) Amendment Act, 1971 was passed.

This amendment of the Constitution inserted Article 371, Section C, with the aim to extend the executive power of the union for giving directions to the state in relation to the administration of the hill areas, to provide for the constitution and functions of a committee of the legislative assembly of the state, consisting of members of that assembly elected from the hill areas of that state, and for the modifications to be made in the rules of business of the government and in the rules of procedure of the legislative assembly. By exercising the power conferred under Article 371C, the President of India promulgated the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972. By adopting this order, the HAC was constituted to safeguard the interest of the tribes in the state legislative assembly, as the Hill Standing Committee of the Government of Union Territories ceased to operate when Manipur was given full-fledged statehood.

The intention of the act and the subsequent order were honest, as both aimed to safeguard the marginalised sections in the state of Manipur, but they could not function in practice as envisaged, due to the “party whip” of the ruling party and the domination of the chief minister over the HAC members of his party, the lack of institutionalisation of the HAC even though it has numerous subjects, which are called schedule matters, under its ambit.

The apprehension of the central government leaders at the time of the North-eastern Areas Reorganisation in 1971 was quite accurate, as they could clearly foresee what would happen in Manipur to the hill tribes in the absence of constitutional safeguards, as is evident in the current scenario. However the “measures” they adopted by enacting those acts could not deliver according to their expectation, which was “to associate the people of these areas (hill areas) closely with matters of the local development and other matters of important to them” (Lok Sabha Secretariat 1971: 40) and to “safeguard the interest” of the hill tribes from the state assembly. Following the attainment of statehood, the Government of Manipur implemented the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act (1971) by constituting six autonomous district councils, which were Chandel, Churachandpur, Sadar Hills, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul, in the hill areas of Manipur and the first election to these councils was held in 1973.

In fact, the powerlessness of the district councils was identified by the member of Parliament from Tripura East, Dasaratha Deb, during the time when the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Bill, 1971 was debated in the Lok Sabha. He observed:

The proposed arrangement, as suggest in the Bill, may give a limited opportunity to the neglected Hill tribes of Manipur to participate in the affairs of the administration of Manipur. The … Bill has a very limited scope of functioning of the District Council and their powers to protect the interests of the tribal people of Manipur, particularly in land, in services and into other matters which are very much limited. The Council remains as a hapless child who has to look to the good grace of the administrator in carrying out even a petty development work for the tribal of Manipur. (Deb 1971: 42)

He further pointed out that, “[It] could not really provide the tribals self-government since it did not have provisions for legislative and judiciary, with very limited executive power” (Deb 1971: 42).

In the first term of the council itself, the hill people realised the limitation of the council’s power and authority. So, the hill tribes protested and boycotted the council election and raised demands for the extension of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to the hill areas of Manipur. The state responded by amending the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 four times, but without any devolution as well as delegation of much-needed legislative and judicial power, and shifting its financial dependency from the state to the centre, such that the councils were functioning more like a mere implementing agency of government programmes and projects, instead of making district plans and implementing them.

Left out of the Sixth Schedule

With colonial intrusion in the home territories of the hill tribes and subsequent annexation as the historical experiences in the region, the framers of the Constitution understood the situation and took the initiative to provide certain safeguards, as there was apprehension that the hill tribes might face discrimination from the dominant communities. For various tribes in India, excluding those in the North East, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution was provided and the Sixth Schedule for erstwhile undivided Assam, which was later extended to Tripura in 1985. Thus, the tribes in Manipur, unlike others, may be the only ones who were covered neither in the schema of the Fifth nor the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

This is, perhaps, not necessarily with the intention to treat them differently from the rest of the tribes in India, but it is due to the fact that Manipur was not a part of the Union of
India at the time when a subcommittee of the Constituent Assembly, popularly known as the Bordoloi Committee, drafted the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. This committee’s main task was to work out a modus operandi in the Constitution for the tribals of “Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas,” and to enable them to safeguard their ethnic identity and culture in a democratic way in then undivided Assam.

At the time the Bordoloi Committee was discussing and drafting provisions for safeguarding the interests of various tribes within Assam, the drafting for the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 and the Manipur Hill Peoples’ (Administrative) Regulation Act, 1974 was going on in Manipur, for the valley and the hill areas respectively. This shows that Manipur was not yet a part of the Union of India while the drafting of the Sixth Schedule was in progress. In fact, the hill areas were administered with the said regulation, until Manipur became a union territory in 1963. Thus, it is more of a historical factor that the hill areas of Manipur were left out of the schema of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. However, not extending the Sixth Schedule to the hill areas of Manipur even after the state cabinet has recommended it thrice can no longer be explained as historical mistake—rather, it is a politically manipulated act.

Democracy at Stake

Besides the denial for the extension of the Constitution’s Sixth Schedule to the hill tribes of Manipur, there is also a lack of proportional representation in the state assembly with respect to the hill and valley areas of Manipur. To address the situation, Parliament enacted the Delimitation Act, 2002, following which the Delimitation Commission was set up to readjust the division of each state and union territory into electoral constituencies, for the purpose of elections to the house of the people and to the state legislative assemblies, based on the population census of 2001. The Delimitation Commission, as per its findings based on the Census 2001 report, said that there was unequal representation in the valley and the hill areas relatively, and recommended increasing five additional seats in the hill areas, with a corresponding decrease in the valley areas.

However, the Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee filed a writ petition at the Gauhati High Court, challenging the population figure of Census 2001, alleging an abnormal growth rate in certain areas in the hills, specifically in the Senapati district. The court directed for a fresh census in the three hill districts and stayed the delimitation exercise till the completion of the census. This ruling was appealed by the Government of India in the Supreme Court, which stayed the operation of the Gauhati High Court order. However, the President, on being satisfied with that a situation had arisen in which the unity and integrity of India was likely to be threatened, and also taking cognisance of the situation that there was a serious threat to peace and public order, hereby deferred the delimitation exercise in the state of Manipur, with immediate effect and until further orders.

Some of the reasons cited by the deferment order of the President were as follows:4

(i) The Delimitation Commission recommendation involves the transfer of some assembly seats from the valley to the hill areas which will arouse the sentiments of the people residing in the valley districts.

(ii) Certain hill districts have abnormal growth rate in Census 2001.

(iii) The situation can lead to violent conflicts among the communities living in the valley and the hills.

(iv) Various Meitei extremist organisations of Manipur along with all factions, wings and front organisations, who had been declared as “unlawful associations,” had intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.

(v) The state government of Manipur has requested for the maintenance of status quo, in the interest of peaceful coexistence of tribal and other communities of the state, and its territorial integrity and the maintenance of peace and public order.

The enumerators conducting the population census of 2001 in the hill district of Manipur were state government employees, so rejecting the work done by their own employees exposed the complete failure of the Government of Manipur. In fact, the census population of 2001 was accepted later in 2014, by the Registrar General and Census Commission,5 after the President of India issued the deferment order in 2008. Thus, the Government of Manipur conducted itself in an overtly biased manner at the cost of the interests of the hill tribes. Consequently, the recommendations of the Delimitation Commission were kept in abeyance and the majority community continued to control the assembly with almost two-thirds majority of the seats in the state assembly.

The hill tribes demanded for the implementation of the Delimitation Commission’s recommendation to increase certain number of seats in the hill areas, with a corresponding reduction of the same number of seats in the valley, as they were under-represented in the state assembly with only 20 seats out of the total 60 seats, though comprising 40.45% of the state population, as per Census 2011 (Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner 2011). Further, it can be seen how the proportional representation principle is not considered in the functioning of democracy in Manipur through the case of Senapati district (which was recently bifurcated into two districts—Kangpokpi and Senapati), in the hill areas. With a population of 4.79 lakh, undivided Senapati district had only five MLAs, whereas Imphal East district in the valley areas with a population of 4.52 lakh had 11 MLAs (Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner 2011). This trend can be further elucidated from the “average number of voters” in a constituency—for the valley constituencies the average number of voters is 26,673, whereas for the hill areas, it is 34,642 (Government of Manipur nd). Hence, given the kind of disproportionate representation in the assembly, the scope of effective participation for the hill tribes is non-existent and it gives an opportunity to vested interest groups to continue playing discriminatory and oppressive politics towards the hill tribes.

In fact, the problems of the hill tribes of Manipur are not dissimilar to the problems faced by the tribes elsewhere in undivided Assam. However, the measures adopted to deal with the problems have been different, as the hill tribes of Manipur have had different historical experiences since Indian independence. The question arises as to why the hill tribes of Manipur have to be treated differently? Is it because of the unique historical experiences? This differential treatment exposed them to a vulnerable situation, resulting in their marginalisation, exacerbated by the absence of any safeguards and protection in the form of Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Needless to say, such marginalisation and insecurity of the hill tribes has engendered political unrest in Manipur.

Mistakes or Manipulation

The HAC has not been functional as it was envisaged, as party politics have overshadowed it in all aspects, without leaving even the subject matters under its functions. Besides, arbitrary alteration of vital key words happened in the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972, promulgated by the President of India when it was entered in the Rules of Procedures and Conduct of Business of the Government of Manipur, and published by the Manipur Legislative Assembly Secretariat, Government of Manipur (Sanga 2013: 8–9). The mistakenly altered words were too accurately similar to the keywords, to be merely clerical mistakes. In the alteration from the original Order in the “Functions of the Hill Areas Committee” (in Section 4, Subsection 3), the words “so legislation” were completely omitted, as a result a loophole was created to bypass the HAC in certain matters related to legislation affecting the hill areas in the state.

In Section 7 of the Order, the word “Governor” was altered as “government,” which means the governor’s power was snatched and given to the state government. Another alteration was of one of the keywords in the phrase “Special responsibility of the Governor” in Section 9 of the Order, in which the word “discretion” was altered as “direction.” The Fourth Schedule of the Order originally stated that “When the Bill is not approved by the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) but is passed by the Assembly, the Speaker shall submit to the Governor the Bill as passed by the Assembly together with the Bill as reported by the HAC” (Rule 157A, Section 2). Without any amendment by the legislature, the words “the bill as reported by” were replaced with “the report of the Hill Areas Committee,” thus changing the meaning altogether.

Thus, all these alterations, at the first instance, look like a clerical oversight as the words look almost similar, such as “discretion” changed into “direction.” But the alteration happened in most of the keywords, which raises a question whether the alterations were inserted with mala fide intention. These alterations curtailed the power of the HAC on the one hand, and the role of the governor for protecting the interests of the hill tribes, on the other hand. Leaders from the hills tribes (B D Behring and R Sanga) complained to the Rules Committee through the deputy secretary, which resulted in a correction in the 9th edition. The house adopted this correction and the same came into force on 24 June 2013. Though corrections were made, the damage had already been done, as it aggravated the already existing trust deficit between the hill and the valley people.

Demand for Extension of the Sixth Schedule

The HAC of the Manipur Legislative Assembly unanimously resolved in their sitting held on 5 March 1978 to demand for the extension of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to the hill districts in Manipur, as the existing act did not satisfy the aspiration of the tribal people, which it reaffirmed on 8 June 1983. Subsequently, the Sixth Schedule Demand Committee, Manipur (SSDCM), was formed by the leaders of the hill tribes and it raised the slogan, “No Sixth Schedule, No Council Elections,” and boycotted the elections of the district council from 1987 to 2010. The hill tribes also organised protests in the form of a bandh and strike from time to time in Manipur, especially in the hill areas. The HAC in its meeting on 18 July 1990 once again reaffirmed its earlier resolution.

On 13 May 1991, for the first time, the government gave positive responses to the demand of the hill tribes spearheaded by the SSDCM, with the state cabinet passing a resolution to recommend for the extension of the Sixth Schedule in the hill areas, with “certain local adjustment and amendment.” The chief minister in his letter6 to the then Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao, clarified the rider “local amendments and adjustments” as follows: (i) manner of bearing additional expenditure following the extension of Sixth Schedule, (ii) the necessity or otherwise, of repealing the existing central and state enactments operating in the hill areas, and (iii) what type of Sixth Schedule to be applied.

The letter did not reach the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), as the Prime Minister’a Office did not forward it to them. As a result, the MHA could not take any further action on this recommendation. Besides, the leaders of the hill tribes were apprehensive about the rider, and as a result, the protest was resumed and intensified, which compelled the state cabinet to once again recommend for the same, without the contentious rider, on 17 August 1992. The recommendation was conveyed to the secretary (home), Government of India on 5 September 1992, but no positive step was taken to this end.

The demand for the extension of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution was reiterated again by the HAC in their sitting on 5 March 2000 and it passed a resolution for the same. Once again, due to the pressure from the SSDCM, the state cabinet recommended the same again with the contentious rider on 21 March 2001 and conveyed it to the MHA on 4 April 2001. In response, the Government of India sent a series of reminders to specify this rider on 6 August 2000; 20 July 2001 and 17 June 2002, but no response was received from the Government of Manipur. To this effect, L K Advani, the then Deputy Prime Minister of India, wrote a letter to O Ibobi Singh, the Chief Minister of Manipur, dated 7 April 2003. It mentioned that

Government of Manipur had recommended to the Ministry of Home Affairs on April 7, 2001 that the State Government had no objection to the extension of the Sixth Schedule provisions in the Hill District of Manipur with certain local adjustment and amendments. The Ministry had sought details from the State Government regarding local adjustments and amendments to be made. The State Government had reported in April 2002 that the matter was under active consideration of the State Cabinet and the Manipur Hill Areas Committee of the Manipur Legislative Assembly. However, details of the local adjustments and amendments to be made, while conferring Sixth Schedule status to these Councils, are yet to be received from the State Government.7

Since no positive development was seen to this end, a memorandum signed by all the MLAs from the hill areas was sent to the Prime Minister of India on 14 September 2003.

Besides, there are reports of commissions and task forces like the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation’s Task Force on Panchayati Raj (1996–99), the National Commission to Review the Working of Constitution, 2002 and the expert committee on “Planning in the Sixth Schedule Areas and Those Areas Not Covered by Part IX and Part IX-A, 2006” that have recommended for the extension of the Sixth Schedule in the hill areas of Manipur (Hausing 2015: 80). Even at the time when the bill for the extension of the Sixth Schedule in the tribal areas of Tripura was discussed in 1984, the then Home Minister, P V Narashimha Rao, promised in both the houses of Parliament that the Sixth Schedule would be “extended at the earliest” in Manipur as well.8 This was also intimated through a letter officially to the Manipur Legislative Assembly Secretariat by the Joint Director, Lok Sabha Secretariat.9

The Government of Manipur constituted the Advisory Committee on Social Policy (1995–97) for the implementation of the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution. It also drafted a bill for the amendment of the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils act, 1971, by recommending the inclusion of legislative power, but it was not considered and it rather turned out to be merely an addition of the term “autonomous” to the title of the act. This was amended for the second time in 2006, which repealed the earlier amendment of 2000. This was further amended for the third time in 2008, but nothing was done to empower the councils. In fact, all these amendments were undertaken to deal with the protests by the hill tribes.

A Recurring Issue

This issue for the extension of Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in the hill areas of Manipur came up once again when an unstarred question, number 2303, was admitted for an answer on 18 March 2015 in the Rajya Sabha. The questions were related to the recommendation of the state government for the extension of the Sixth Schedule provision to the district councils of Manipur and the road map for the same. The MHA answered the question as follows, as it is mentioned in the letter sent to the chief secretary, Government of Manipur:

The government of Manipur has not sent details of the rider local adjustment and amendments/revised proposal in this regard so far. The Rajya Sabha secretariat had conveyed that the reply has been treated as an assurance. So, to fulfill the assurance, reply of the government of Manipur to the Ministry’s letters dated 21 Sept and 17 Oct, 2001 is required.10

In the letter, it further requested the Government of Manipur to “furnish details of specific areas to be included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and propose local adjustments and amendments.” A reminder of the same subject was sent on 7 May11 and 28 May12 2015 and on 6 January13 and 6 February14 2016. However, the Government of Manipur never responded to the above-mentioned letters. This insincerity on the part of the state government reminds one of the apprehensions that the British had when they deliberated upon whether to keep the hill areas under the Manipur raja, at the time when Manipur was annexed to the British Empire. As C S Mullan aptly remarked in his letter to C L Corfield (dated 29 July 1937),

To place the Manipur hill tribes under the direct administration of His Highness and the Darbar would be far more dangerous than to place the Assam hill tribes under ordinary administration of the Assam Legislature.15

The act of not cooperating with Government of India by the Government of Manipur shows the blatant institutional exclusion and marginalisation of the hill tribes. It can be reasonably asserted that the Government of Manipur is controlled by forces beyond the cabinet and the state assembly, as they have repeatedly shown their inability to enforce and follow up on their own resolution. The question remains, how long do the hill tribes of Manipur have to wait for the same constitutionally mandated provisions and rights, that the other tribes in the North East got without any struggles and protests? Thus, it may be reiterated that for meaningful engagement with the problems facing the hill tribes in Manipur, it is imperative to recognise the historical reality that compelled the maintenance of a separate administrative arrangement for them, and look at the problems not merely as law and order issues, but as political issues deeply rooted in history.


1 J E Webster’s Letter: “Chief Secretary to the Chief Commissioner of Assam’s Letter to the Secretary to the Government of India, Foreign and Political Department,” dated 4 July 1919. Ref. Pub. B. Oct-1919 No 14, New Delhi: Deptartment of Home Affairs, National Archives of India.

2 Webster’s letter: Ref. Pub.B Oct-1919 No 14.

3 Webster’s letter: Ref. Pub.B Oct-1919 No 14.

4 The Gazette of India: Part II, Sec 3, Sub-Sec. (ii), February 8, 2008 1 Magha 19, 1929.

5 Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Order No 9/25/2013-CD(CEN).

6 D.O. No.2/6/91-CM/366.

7 Letter sent to the Chief Minister of Manipur by L K Advani, Deputy Prime Minister (D.O. No. 11012/41/2001-NE.IV).

8 The Constitution (25 August 1984), 51st and 53rd Amendment Bill, 1984, p 205.

9 Letter sent to the Under Secretary (HAC), Manipur Legislative Assembly Secretariat, Imphal by A N Kaul, Joint Director (LR), Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, No.3(1)-PRIS (LC)/88 dt. 25/4/1988.

10 Letter to the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur by Manohar N Sukole, Under Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, NE Division (vide No 13013/11/2015-NE.IV dated 7 May 2015).

11 Letter to the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur by Manohar N Sukole, Under Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, NE Division (vide No. 13013/11/2015-NE.IV dated 7 May 2015).

12 Letter to the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur by Sushil Ekka, Under Secretary to the Govt of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, NE Division (vide No. 13013/11/2015-NE.IV, dated 28 May 2015).

13 Letter to the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur by A C Jha, Under Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, NE Division (vide No U- 13013/11/2015-NE.IV dated 6 January 2016).

14 Letter to the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur by A C Jha, Under Secretary to the Govt of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, NE Division (vide No. 11012/69/2011-NE.IV dated 6 February 2016).

15 Letter sent to C L Corfield by C S Mullan dated 29 July 1937, File No G.S.2753 of 1940, Assam Secretariat.


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Updated On : 13th Apr, 2019


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