A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.
Manipur: Crucial tripartite talks between UNC, Centre and state government on February 3 in New Delhi
After a few failed attempts, the Centre, the Manipur government and the United Naga Council (UNC) will finally hold tripartite talks on February 3 in New Delhi, which will aim at lifting the over three-month-long economic blockade that has crippled normal life across the state.
Since November 1, the UNC has been protesting the decision of the state government to create (first two and later five more) new districts in the state claiming it would bifurcate the ancestral land of the Nagas. The powerful civil society body representing the Nagas living in Manipur has pointed to a few earlier assurances from the state government that they would be consulted before any such decisions were taken. The state government, however, argues that it has the full authority to create a new district for ease of administering.
The confrontation has led to the UNC blocking the two arterial national highways to the state which has broken the supply chain of essential commodities, leading to an acute shortage of cooking gas, fuel and other daily necessities for months, besides leading to counter blockades in the valley districts causing incidents of violence and arson. Though the state government had asked the Centre for 60 companies of paramilitary forces to clear the highways of protesters, many of whom are women squatting on the roads, it has so far sent only 29 companies for the job. There have been reports of attack on trucks carrying goods, even with security cover provided by the armed forces.
According to latest news reports, UNC president Gaidon Kamei and publicity secretary S. Stephen – in jail since November 25 – are also likely to take part in the talks. The chief judicial magistrate (CJM) of Imphal East has refused to grant them bail, but has agreed to the duo’s plea to be allowed to be a part of the talks. CJM A. Noutuneswori has reportedly directed the state government to facilitate their travel and participation in the talks in Delhi.
As per UNC officials, the talks might go on for about a week as there are many issues to be covered both with the state and the central governments. One of the immediate demands is the unconditional release of the two UNC leaders from jail. Chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh has been asking the UNC to first call off the blockade.
Political observers are looking at the impending tripartite talks as crucial in the poll-bound state, where many in the majority Meitei community are increasingly looking at the BJP-led central government as a supporter of the UNC’s demands. The two-phased assembly elections to be held in March is likely to be a two-cornered fight between the BJP and the ruling Congress, which seems to have established an edge over the crucial Meitei and Kuki votes due to the ongoing crisis with the UNC.
Manipur: One of the nine bodies of protesters allegedly killed by police bullets in Churachandpur in 2015 was ‘stolen’ from the district hospital mortuary; now buried in a local cemetery
The shifting support on community lines to the ongoing agitation in Manipur’s Churachandpur district over the passage of three controversial Bills in the state assembly in August 2015 saw an unforeseen effect recently – the body of the youngest of the nine killed, allegedly in police firing in the town over a year and a half ago, was “stolen” from the hospital mortuary.
The body of 11-year-old Khaizamang Touthang – belonging to the Kuki community residing on one side of the town – was later buried in the Bijang cemetery, close to where his family resides.
The agitation leaders accuse “the state government of using militants to steal the body and thereby try and weaken the movement.”
Khaizamang belonged to the Kuki community while the rest of the eight dead young men lying in the mortuary belonged to tribes that come under the nomenclature Zomi. Though the Kukis were initially a part of the agitation against the state government, in mid 2016 they resigned from it stating that they were still opposed to the Bills but would not support keeping the bodies in the district hospital mortuary to press for another demand – that of a “separate administration”.
It has been over 500 days now that the bodies have been kept unburied.
The joint action committee of Churachandpur, spearheading the agitation, has been demanding not just the withdrawal of the Bills as a condition for the burial of the bodies but also “separate administration” of the region stating “years of neglect by the majority Meitei community”.
Though the president rejected the Bills in June 2015, the demand for a separate administration continues in Churachandpur, home to as many as 15 tribes and the state’s largest district which has recently been bifurcated to create another district, Pherzawl.
Nagaland: Over 100 WW2 bombs unearthed in Kohima
On January 30, Kohima police took possession of as many as 122 bombs, believed to be dating back to the Second World War, from a construction site near an old Red Cross building in the capital city’s PR Hill Colony.
Local media reports quoting Kohima police officials said the bombs, unearthed by the labourers, were of different sizes. The police, on being informed of the discovery, at once reached the spot with a bomb detection and disposal squad and took possession of the bombs. As per the bomb squad, the bombs are no longer active.
This is the second time since September last year that the police has taken possession of such bombs. In end September 2016, it recovered two bombs from the same site.
Kohima is known for one of the bloodiest World War II battles between the British and the Japanese forces in 1944. The city has a sprawling cemetery of the Allied forces soldiers who fell during that battle.
Tripura: State government confiscates properties of Rose Valley chit fund organisation
Even as news of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) castigating an officer for being seen with the wife of the main accused Gautam Kundu in the Rose Valley chit fund scam hit national headlines, the Tripura government has begun tightening the noose around the company by beginning to confiscate both its movable and immovable properties in the state.
Local news reports said state principal secretary (finance) M. Nagaraju issued a notification on January 20 as per the state’s Protection of Depositors Rights’ Act, asking the district and sub-divisional magistrates of eight districts to attach all it movable and immovable assets. As per a state government official, the notification has led to confiscation of property in over 20 places across the state from January 21 onwards.
The Act was passed by the state assembly in 2000, following many cases of non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) and chit fund organisations defrauding depositors in the state.
The Rose Valley chit fund was launched in Tripura many years ago and has allegedly swindled money from a large number of investors. In 2013, the state government handed over the cases of 37 such companies to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) out of which the CBI picked only five, including the Rose Valley case. In 2015, following a probe by the ED and the CBI, its proprietor Gautam Kundu was arrested in Kolkata.
With the menace of chit fund companies continuing unabated in the state, the Tripura high court, last year, asked the Manik Sarkar government to set up a special investigation team to probe all the defaulting NBFCs and chit fund organisations operating in the state. As per the state inspector general of police (law and order) K. V. Sreejesh, who also heads the SIT team formed, it is probing 78 such cases leading to the arrest of 112 persons.
Lately, opposition parties in the state, particularly the BJP, have been accusing the Left government of going slow on the Rose Valley case.