Manipur remains tense, thousands take refuge in neighbouring States

State appoints new Chief Secretary amid the unrest; mobile internet suspension remains for now; reports of nine villages razed to the ground, but security advisor says only some abandoned huts burnt, none killed

May 07, 2023 10:20 am | Updated 09:51 pm IST - GUWAHATI/NEW DELHI

The total curfew that prohibited the movement of any person outside their homes will be relaxed for three hours in violence-hit Manipur’s Churachandpur district on Sunday morning. | file photo

The total curfew that prohibited the movement of any person outside their homes will be relaxed for three hours in violence-hit Manipur’s Churachandpur district on Sunday morning. | file photo | Photo Credit: ANI

An uneasy calm prevailed in Manipur on May 7, four days after the State spiralled into ethnic violence, with thousands either taking refuge in neighbouring northeastern States or being evacuated from conflict zones by their respective governments. 

Though there were some curfew relaxations as the situation improved, it was decided not to restore mobile internet in the State, Manipur’s newly appointed security advisor Kuldiep Singh told The Hindu.

He put the tentative death toll at 37, as on May 7, cautioning that the administration is verifying whether all deaths were due to the violence or not; the unofficial toll, based on hospital body counts, has crossed 50.

Amid the unrest, Manipur appointed a new Chief Secretary, requesting that IAS officer Vineet Joshi be repatriated to his parent cadre from Central deputation to the Union Education Ministry in order to take up the role.

Curfew relaxed briefly

Authorities in Manipur’s Churachandpur district, one of the worst affected districts, relaxed the indefinite curfew for three hours from 7 a.m. onwards for people to fetch essential supplies.

The unrest had started from areas near the border between the Kuki-Zomi tribe-dominated Churachandpur and the majority Meitei-dominated Bishnupur district, following a tribal solidarity march on May 3, which was meant to protest a Manipur High Court order directing action be taken toward granting Scheduled Tribe status to the Meiteis.

Also read |Explained | What is behind Manipur’s widespread unrest?  

Mr. Singh said there was a considerable improvement in law and order situation in the State in the past two days and curfew relaxations were made in Imphal city on Sunday for two hours.

The retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer said that district police chiefs have been asked to identify miscreants and take strict legal action by either binding them down or arresting them. 30 people have been arrested so far, he said. Noting that thousands were living in relief camps, he said that efforts were on to ensure regular supply of food and drinking water to the affected people.

Officials in other northeastern States said that about 2,000 people, mostly from the Kuki-Zomi group of tribes, have taken refuge across seven relief camps in southern Assam’s Cachar district, while more than 200 have crossed over to the Saitual and Vairengte districts of Mizoram. 

Providing special buses, Nagaland evacuated about 600 of its citizens from strife-torn Imphal and about 110 people, mostly students, have returned safely to Meghalaya through special flights organised by Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma. 

Internet ban to stay

Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh said that the situation in the State, especially in Churachandpur, has been improving, adding that the decision to relax the curfew partially was taken after an assessment of the ground situation and “talks between the State government and various stakeholders”. 

Mr. Singh, retired director general of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) who was appointed as Adviser (Security) by the Manipur government in the aftermath of the violence, said that despite the improvements, mobile internet would remain suspended for now. “Today, we took a call to not restore mobile Internet in the State. In some areas, broadband is available, and people are using it,” he told The Hindu.

He added that the administration was treading cautiously when it came to declaring the number of people killed in the violence as each death is being verified. “Many rumours are doing the rounds and till we verify each death; we cannot release the death toll. There are people who have died of drug overdose or natural death, such deaths are also being included among those killed in violence. As on May 7, 37 people were killed,” he said.

‘Nine villages razed’

Neklun, chief of Lairok Vaiphei village in Imphal East said that nine villages in the area were razed to the ground on Saturday (May 6). “We were hiding in the jungles when the incident took place. Most homes were empty when an armed group burnt them. Around 700 villagers are now staying in a camp run by Assam Rifles in Andro. More than 500 houses were set ablaze,” Mr. Neklun said.

Also Read | Fifty-five Army columns deployed in violence-hit Manipur, 9,000 people shifted to safer places

When asked about the incident, Mr. Singh said that some abandoned huts had been burnt, but no one was killed.

Security firing leaves 3 dead

He added that three people, including a woman, were killed in firing by security forces on the night of May 5 in Churachandpur district. “A security situation has developed in the area following some rumours. Assam Rifles opened fire in which three people were killed,” he said.

East Mojo, a news portal, had posted a video where the security forces are seen firing at a group of people including several women who had formed a human chain to stop the convoy from moving forward.

‘No Article 355’

The retired officer said that Article 355 of the Constitution — which empowers the Centre to take all necessary steps to protect a State against internal disturbances and external aggression — has not been promulgated. “Had it been invoked, there would have been a notification,” he pointed out.

Mr. Singh said that 134 weapons looted from the police armoury since May 3 have been recovered. Officials said that about 10,000 soldiers, paramilitary and central police force personnel have been deployed across eight vulnerable districts, with Army and Assam Rifles personnel conducting regular flag marches to aid the return of normality in the State. 

25,000 displaced

A defence spokesperson said that more than 25,000 people have been shifted from the conflict zones to the operating bases of the security forces and military garrisons, while surveillance in the riot-affected districts has been enhanced through unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters. 

“Ray of hope due to the efforts of 120-125 Army and Assam Rifles columns, who are working tirelessly for the past 96 hours to rescue civilians across all communities, curb violence and restore normalcy, has emerged with no major violence being reported…” a defence statement said. 

The Nagaland-based Spear Corps of the Army also reported the birth of two babies in one of the shelters for the victims of violence. 

New Chief Secretary

Amid the unrest, Vineet Joshi, a 1992 Manipur cadre IAS officer, was released from a central deputation to the Ministry of Education and made the Chief Secretary of the State. An official order from the Department of Personnel and Training said that he has been repatriated to his parent cadre on the request of the Manipur government. 

Mr. Joshi, also appointed as Manipur’s Chief Vigilance Commissioner, replaced Rajesh Kumar as the Chief Secretary. The latter, who retires on June 30, has been given a special assignment at the Chief Minister’s Office. 

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