Imphal, March 10: Manipur chief minister . Ibobi Singh has said extension of autonomy to the hill districts of the state on the lines of the model found in other northeastern states is under “active consideration”.
The chief minister clarified that the Congress-led Secular Progressive Front was not opposed to this demand in the hills.
Ibobi, in fact, said the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, which is regarded as a “state within a state”, would usher in a “fast pace” of development in the five hill districts of the state — Chandel, Tamenglong, Churachandpur, Ukhrul and Senapati- which are mostly inhabited by tribals.
“Granting the Sixth Schedule would be a further development of our policy of granting equal treatment to the valley and the hills. We had earlier decided to allot as much as 50 per cent of the budget for the hills. The modalities are being worked out currently and we have already started gathering data from states where this model is in operation,” the chief minister said.
Autonomous councils under the schedule, that provide for decentralisation of power, are in operation in Assam, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. But most of them are either crippled by shortage of funds or lack of power. While an agitation for more autonomy is already on in Karbi Anglong, a delegation from Tripura had also submitted a memorandum last year to Union home minister L.K. Advani for delegation of greater powers.
Ibobi, however, said the councils, whenever they are implemented in Manipur, would be an “improvised” version of the other states.
“We are aware of the problems being faced by the councils and basically it relates to financial matters. This is related to the fact that all the northeastern states are reeling under an acute financial crunch and at times it takes some time before the allotted funds reach the councils.”
The demand for greater autonomy in the hill districts of Manipur is around three decades old. In 1974, the Hill Areas Committee had passed a resolution in support of the Schedule and a decade later it even decided that elections would not be allowed to be held till the government comes out with a clear policy.
By agreeing to consider more autonomy, the chief minister has stuck to the policy adopted by some of his predecessors who were also in favour of the policy with certain “local adjustments and amendments”.
“All these aspects would be looked into while framing the policy. There are problems that need to be sorted out”, Ibobi said.
The population distribution in the state is skewed in that about 70 percent of the state’s 2.3 million people are concentrated in the valley which comprises only 10 per cent of the total landmass. This means that a tremendous push factor has been generated in the five hill districts both on account of insurgency and relatively slow pace of development.
Decentralisation could open up new vistas of progress in these backward tracts if the model is implemented well.
The Centre is also in favour of giving more autonomy to the hills. Advani had written to the chief minister, asking his opinion on the subject. Before a bill can be moved in Parliament bringing new areas under the Schedule, it has to be preceded by a resolution in the Assembly.