Imphal, Aug. 12: The Congress-led Manipur government today defied the Centre’s opinion and lifted from select areas an act that allows armed forces to operate with special powers, a month after a woman’s controversial death triggered an explosive mass agitation.
The Imphal Municipal Area — which covers seven Assembly constituencies in the twin districts of Imphal East and West — will no longer be termed a disturbed area – a tag that allows the enforcement of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The rest of Manipur will continue to be declared “disturbed”.
Under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, even a non-commissioned officer can search without warrant and execute arrests on mere suspicion in order to “maintain public order”. He cannot be prosecuted without prior sanction from the Centre.
The disturbed area act was removed from these areas after an agitation over the death of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama, who was allegedly killed by Assam Rifles personnel, spun out of control and chaos threatened to engulf the state.
The issue also sent shockwaves across the country after women demonstrated naked outside the Assam Rifles base.
Chief minister Ibobi Singh, who is heading a coalition some of whose partners have threatened to pull out over the issue, said the partial exemption was in response to popular demand.
The Centre is not in favour of lifting the act as it fears repercussions in neighbouring states like Assam, Nagaland Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. The act is in force in these northeastern states.
Legally, Manipur does not need the Centre’s approval to lift the disturbed area tag as the state cabinet had slapped it. The Centre can reimpose it if it wants to — Delhi had done so in Nagaland — but it will be an extreme step that would be seen as a virtual declaration of no-confidence in the state government.
Opposition parties and 32 non-government organisations, which are spearheading the mass movement, rejected the partial exemption.
Jagat Thoudam, the president of the All Manipur United Clubs Organisation (Amuco), described the decision as an attempt by the Ibobi Singh cabinet not to save the people of Manipur from the hands of security forces but to protect itself.
“This decision is also an attempt to divide the people of Manipur. It is nothing but a divide-and-rule policy. The people of Manipur are not confined to the Imphal Municipal Area alone,” Thoudam said.
Addressing a media conference in Imphal, Ibobi said: “This is the beginning. If people cooperate and the situation improves, the area would be extended further.” But he said the Centre could reimpose the disturbed label if the situation worsened.
“The home ministry is not in favour of the decision. We honour the sentiment of the people and felt that the demand was justified. Taking into consideration the excesses by security forces, we decided to lift the disturbed status from the Imphal Municipal Area on a trial basis,” he added.
BSF moves in
The government has also initiated another step to cool tempers. In what could be the first step towards replacing the Assam Rifles in Manipur, a battalion of the Border Security Force, has been deployed in the Imphal Valley from Nagaland. “We are awaiting a final order from the Centre but the movement has begun,” a BSF officer said in Kohima.