A report by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has observed that several hill villages in Manipur were wrongly included in the valley districts during the Census 2011 exercise.
It said that in the Booklet of Census of India 2011 and Administrative Atlas, “Manipur has wrongly included several hill villages under valley districts” and that the issue had been flagged to the State government by the office of the Registrar General of India in 2017.
Following this, the Revenue department of Manipur had in October 2022 asked the deputy commissioners of the districts concerned to rectify the list of hill villages (around 400) overlapping between the districts of Kakching, Tengnoupal, Kangpokpi, Imphal West, Bishnupur Districts, the NCST report noted.
The NCST’s report was prepared on a State review of Manipur conducted in December 2022. During the review, the NCST team met with officials of the Manipur government and also took representations from the All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) and the Joint Coordination Committee on Tribal Rights in Imphal (JCCOTR).
The report had also noted that the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 from the hill areas of Manipur needs to be reviewed taking into account the ground reality of the hill areas as they have become peaceful, as the AFSPA has been withdrawn from 15 police stations of valley districts in the State.
The NCST report, from December last year, had also flagged that reserve forest, including pocket settlements, in Kangpokpi district were moved to the Imphal East district in October 2022 by the Revenue department without specific approval from the Hill Areas Committee (HAC), recommending that this order should be reviewed.
The NCST further said that the definition of “Hill Areas” was clear in the First Schedule of the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972, and that all boundary disputes had to be settled as per this definition. Hence, it proceeded to recommend that any order, notification or legislative action issued without the express approval of the HAC needed to be “reviewed/rescinded”.
In its representation, the ATSUM highlighted that the demand from the Meitei community for Scheduled Tribe status at this juncture was an alleged attempt to grab tribal land, further pointing out alleged discriminatory policies of the State government.
It noted that about 144 hill villages had been placed under the jurisdiction of police stations in valley districts “in the name of convenient administration”, calling it a “systematic way of encroaching into hill areas”. The ATSUM had also added that several hill villages had their land records in the custody of adjacent valley districts.
Further, it had said that the removal of the AFSPA from all valley police districts and not hill districts was discriminatory.
With the ethnic conflict in Manipur between the dominant valley-based Meitei people and the hills-based Scheduled Tribe Kuki-Zo people continuing for over four months now, the Kuki-Zo community has consistently alleged that the N. Biren Singh-led Manipur government had helped radicalise the Meitei community through alleged discriminatory policies, culminating in the beginning of the ethnic clashes.
The tribal bodies also told the NCST of complaints about the majority Meitei/Manipuri language being imposed on the Scheduled Tribe people in the State. The ATSUM alleged that recruitment in banking institutions and postal services in the State required proof of passing Meitei/Manipuri language class at the level of Class X or XII, when most ST students either opt English or their traditional language at that level.
The commission had called such policies “unfair and discriminatory”, calling for them to be reviewed in the interest of the Scheduled Tribe people of the State. It also advised the State government to examine all the points raised by the JCCOTR and the ATSUM, in their representations, and take action accordingly in the interest of the STs of the State.
In a review of the funds spent by the Manipur government under the Central grant under Article 275(1) of the Constitution, the commission had also noted that it had not utilised any of the ₹52.47 crore allotted to it in the last three financial years (2020-21 to 2022-23), adding, “The Government of Manipur does not seem to be serious about getting the funds in time from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.”
While the report was based on the review conducted in December 2022, and had sought a slew of information from the State government, the NCST on August 23 this year, sent a fresh reminder to the Manipur government, seeking the action-taken report on the recommendations of the commission within 30 days.