Expanding the Hill Areas Committee

With the hills up in arms against the September 1 order and rightly so, it would be most appropriate at this stage to cancel the September 1 order as it not only created tension between various communities but was in colourable exercise of power.


(Representational Image: Unsplash)

 

When in social media, the order of the Speaker bearing No 5/11(2)/2021-LA(Secy) dated September 1, 2021 was received in the evening of the same day, I was shocked and my immediate reaction was whether none reads the Constitution or the 1972 Presidential Hill Areas Committee orders notified on June 20, 1972 after the insertion of Article 371C by the 27th Constitution Amendment which came into effect from December 30, 1971, and the said order can be stayed if the matter is agitated before the Court of Law. I was expecting analysis of this order by our legal luminaries who are more competent than me though a few observations have been made by our hill brethren while none is forthcoming from the valley communities. As this order is considered divisive and perceived as an effort to reduce the relevancy of our hill brethren, there is a need to assuage such feelings. I am no constitutional expert but after having served with the state government for a long time and having worked in positions where understanding of the Constitution is essential, thereby forcing one to read it on a regular basis, it was decided to pen this article with my personal viewpoints on the matter.

In the said order dated September, 2021, emphasis was laid on Para 3(1) of the said 1972 orders which need a detail understanding for the term used in “.... for the time being represent the Assembly constituencies situated wholly or partly in the Hall Areas of the State” which means the AC should situate in the Hill areas and not necessarily all those ACs which contain a small part of the Hill areas should be included.. The eight AC in addition to Lamlai AC which was included by the September 01, 2021 order per se does not situate in the Hill areas but rather in the valley districts though it may include the villagers of a number of villages situate in the Hill Areas, as electors. The attempt to link the ACs boundary and the inclusion of the members in the HAC is rather tenuous and seems a misinterpretation of the relevant provisions.

If one goes into the Constitution, Article 371C casts responsibility on the President for issuing orders constituting the Hill Areas Committee of the Legislative Assembly of Manipur and a special responsibility to the Governor to ensure proper functioning of the committee. The special responsibility on the Governor is again reiterated in the 1972 Presidential orders. No responsibility or power was given to the Speaker in this regard and the said order can be deemed to be a colourable exercise of power and is can be deemed as unlawful. In fact, the Speaker has no authority to determine who should be in the HAC or not. Even if not laid down in writing, the power for such should vest with the President.  

This is not the first time that such a move was initiated. If I remember correctly in the early eighties, similar proposal was made but on the advice of the then Ld. Advocate General (Late) R.K. Manisana, the then Speaker (Late) Y Yaima did not entertain the proposal and Pabung Yaima used to mention that he was fully convinced by the lucid, logical and detailed advice given by the Ld AC and he had no hesitancy in following the advice.

One fails to understand why the LA Secretariat was not aware of such precedence though those who were in the helm of affairs then must have all retired. However, dedicated officers try to understand the working of an office through interaction with various persons and by going through old records. In government functioning, rules are the guiding principle and precedence also provides guidance. This order did not do any service to the reputation of the institution of the Speaker or the Legislative Assembly Secretariat.

Although there are three Congress MLAs who submitted representation for inclusion, after consultation with their party they refused to join the expanded HAC in writing and the Assembly Secretariat on receipt of fresh representation from the eight MLAs, kept the order in abeyance by an order issued on September 4. The question is why only keep it in abeyance and why not completely withdraw the order of September 2021? Has not the Assembly Secretariat taken legal advice before the September 1 order was issued, which if not, is a serious shortcoming as such major issues need to be considered in depth with proper expert advice; else it will be seen that orders were issued at whims.  

Manipur is now a very complicated state to manage with communalisation of politics. Not however based on religion at present but on community lines. Many of the smaller community perceive that the majority community is making every effort to continue to dominate the scene. And in such a situation, such acts which are perceived likely to undercut the delicate balance will further distance the communities and as it involves political aspects, a wide range consultation should have been held.

Despite the fact that Kangpokpi is not a reserved seat for ST, the MLA from this AC deserves to be in the HAC, irrespective of whether he or she is an ST or not by virtue of the location of the AC which is now under Kangpokpi district and formerly under Senapati or North District. The tendency to link the boundary of the AC with the membership of the HAC is uncalled for and seems a not very judicious extrapolation of the intent of the Presidential orders and the Constitution. The reaction from the Hills was negative which is expected and understandable.

The order perhaps is a fallout of the HAC recommendation to consider the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council Bill, 2021 which could not be introduced during the recent session. The HAC resolved to approve the said Bill in its sitting on August 16, 2021 and in a press conference on 19 August it was announced by the Chairman of the HAC that it will be introduced during the session starting 20th August.

Whether a Government Bill will be introduced or not is the prerogative of the government and thus the statement creates misunderstanding. It is not clear when the Bill was sent to the State Government which is their right under Para 4 (3) of the Presidential orders of 1972, but even if it was sent on the next day, that is 17th, the government has no time to examine the Bill in detail and place it before the House, as the period of notice of a motion for leave to introduce a Bill require a five days period unless allowed by the Speaker to curtail the notice time in terms of Rule 141 (3) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Manipur Legislative Assembly.  As the session start on August 20 and ended on August 24, there was hardly any time for the government to consider the Bill and place it before the House.

The HAC has every right to recommend Bill but it is the responsibility of the government to introduce before the House if it is to be a Government Bill.

The press conference by the HAC on the eve of the session was also a bit of a surprise as traditionally these are not done as it can disturb the delicate balance between the Legislative and the Executive wing of the establishment. The press conference is seen more as a pressure tactics and a strategy to consolidate the electorate with the election coming round the corner.

It would be inappropriate to comment on the Bill as the same was not seen but it need to be looked into whether it will be a money bill or not, if the former the recommendation of the Governor has to be obtained in terms of Art 207(3) before introduction of the same before the House. Such procedure takes time. The HAC recommendation and the announcement that it will be placed before the House and the September 1 order seems to have created a misunderstanding between the MLAs cutting across party lines.

With the hills up in arms against the September 1 order and rightly so, it would be most appropriate at this stage to cancel the September 1 order as it not only created tension between various communities but was in colourable exercise of power. The matter need to be discussed in a holistic manner with transparency and if considered necessary move the appropriate authority, if not, allow it to die its natural death.

(The views expressed is personal)

First Published:Sept. 8, 2021, 12:40 a.m.

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