Manipur hills tension: Tribal leaders meet president

New Delhi, Sep 23 (IANS) In the backdrop of the violence and subsequent tension in the hills of Manipur following the passing of three contentious bills by the state assembly, tribal leaders from the northeastern state have met President Pranab Mukherjee and union minister for tribal affairs Jual Oram seeking the Centre’s intervention on the issue.

Representatives of the Manipur Tribals’ Forum, Delhi (MTFD), along with five delegates from the Autonomous District Council of Churachandpur in Manipur, on Tuesday met Mukherjee and Oram reiterating their demand for the Centre’s intervention for a political solution to the problems faced by the tribal people in Manipur, according to an MTFD statement issued on Wednesday.

On August 31, in a specially convened session, the Manipur assembly passed the Protection of Manipur People Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill (Seventh Amendment), and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill apparently to protect the rights of the indigenous people of the state.

The passing of the bills brought to an end a months-long mass agitation by people living in the valley districts of the northeastern state demanding an inner line permit system (ILPS) on the lines of those in force in three other northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.

However, tribes like Nagas, Kukis, Zomis and Hmars have claimed that the three bills would directly undermine the existing safeguards for the tribal hill areas regarding land ownership and population influx as the primary threat for the tribal people came not from outside the state but the Meitei people from the valley itself.

The very day the bills were passed, protesters, mainly comprising tribal organisations, torched five houses belonging to Congress lawmakers, including those of state Health and Family Welfare Minister Phungzathang Tonsing and Outer Manipur Lok Sabha member Thangso Baite in Churachandpur district of the state.

The violence and resultant police action left at least nine people dead.

In Tuesday’s meetings with the president and the union tribal welfare minister, the tribal leaders of Manipur submitted memorandums highlighting the major concerns of the hill people and the history of discrimination and subjugation of the tribal people of Manipur.

Both Mukherjee and Oram assured the delegations that they would do the necessary follow-up, the MTFD statement said.

The delegations also requested the president to meet Ashok Prasad, secretary for internal security in the home ministry, who visited Churachandpur on Tuesday spending about three hours with the people of the hill district.

“The team strongly urged the president that the secretary must be consulted before he makes any decision on the bills, when the bills come to his office for consideration,” the statement said.

The leaders strongly urged the tribal affairs minister to fight for the protection of the tribal people’s rights which were recognised by the Constitution of India.

“The team also requested him (Oram) to play an advocating role for the suffering tribal people of Manipur within his own government,” the statement added.

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