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Councils’ sit-in over transfer of powers

Imphal, Jan. 17: Members of six autonomous district councils in Manipur are gearing up for a protracted agitation over devolution of administrative and financial powers.

The members and chairmen of the councils today staged a sit-in at the District Council Bhawan on the outskirts of this city, marking the start of the agitation. They are prepared to resign en-masse if the government remained indifferent to their demands.

The councils were constituted for the five hill districts of Ukhrul, Chandel, Senapati, Tamenglong and Churachandpur and Sadar Hills subdivision in Senapati district, on June 25, 2010. Each council lasts for five years and comprises 26 members.

Barring Churachandpur and Sadar Hills councils, (which function from Churachandpur and Sadar Hills), the other four councils function from here as members of Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Chandel councils face alleged threats from Naga organisations. The United Naga Council, Manipur, does not recognise these councils. The members of Ukhrul, Chandel, Senapati and Tamenglong councils stay at Youth Centre and District Council Bhawan, both in Imphal.

The councils have accused the state government of not devolving enough power and financial authorities to them, as promised.

After waiting for nearly three years for devolution of powers, the councils had cons e on September 29 last year to spearhead the agitation. The committee had resolved to launch an agitation in January.

On November 10, the committee had submitted a memorandum to chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, listing a four-point charter of demands. When there was response from the government, it resolved to launch an agitation. The committee is demanding autonomy and separate budget for the councils and devolution of powers in respect of centrally sponsored schemes in the hill areas and according to the District Councils (Third Amendment) Act, 2008.

“Devolution of powers remains only on paper. Therefore, the councils could not play any role in development at the grassroots. They do not have any financial or administrative power. We are unable to deliver service to the people,” Hemjathang Khongsai, secretary of the coordinating committee, said.

The members also denounced the government’s decision taken earlier to constitute a commission headed by a retired judge to examine the present development status in the hill districts.

“It is through the district councils that the government can accelerate the pace of development in the hills. The decision to constitute the commission by ignoring the district councils is an insult to the elected bodies,” Fillson Y. Lunghar, a member of Ukhrul autonomous district council, said.

Khongsai said the committee would approach governor Gurbachan Jagat and the Centre and if they fail to respond, the members would resign en masse. He said if the councils functioned properly, unrest and discontentment in the hills could be contained.