NE Dispatch: Slain Ex-Militant's Kin Lodge FIR Against Police; Manipur Gets Shillong Palace

A roundup of news from the Northeast this week.

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Meghalaya: Killing of Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, family calls it ‘fake encounter’ 

The family of Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, the former general secretary of the banned armed outfit from Meghalaya, Hanniotrap National Liberation Council (HNLC), has filed a first information report (FIR) demanding action against two police officials who had led the raid on the August 13-14 night at his house in Shillong in which he was shot dead.

The family, in its complaint filed at the East Khasi Hills district on August 17, has termed the state police raid a “fake encounter”.

According to local media, Cherishterfield’s younger brother Granary Starfield Thangkhiew said on August 20 that the family had filed the FIR “before East Khasi Hills superintendent of police” and its content would be “revealed at an appropriate time”.

Following the news of Cherishterfield’s encounter by the state police in the wee hours of August 13, Shillong witnessed widespread unrest, leading to clamping of curfew and shutting down of internet services.

While the state home minister Lahkmen Rymbui stepped down on August 15, demanding a judicial probe into the matter, the state government has instituted one to be headed by state Human Rights Commission chairperson justice (retired) T. Vaipei.

Chief minister Conrad Sangma has said that the truth about the sequence of events leading to his killing could be ascertained only after the report is received.

The state police, in a statement, had said that he was shot dead by the police in self-defence as Cherishterfield had attacked them with a knife. As per police, the former militant was involved in two recent low intensity blasts in the state.

The filing of the FIR by the family is in line with a growing demand from a section of civil society leaders calling for the resignation of the two police officials who had led the raid. As per local reports, a body of traditional heads, youth and social organisations of the Mawlai area of Shillong, Ka Sur U Paidbah Mawlai, on August 18, had given the state government a week’s deadline to suspend the senior officers – the East Jaintia Hills district SP and the East Khasi Hills district SP (Traffic).

Another civil society organisation, Seng Samla Mawlai Pyllun, met the chief minister along with the cabinet ministers and demanded the same. The Khasi Students Union has also sought the suspension of the police officials along with the director general of police.

The government has urged these groups to await the judicial probe report, likely to be ready in three months’ time.

Meanwhile, the chief minister has not yet accepted the resignation of the home minister. On August 20, Sangma told reporters that he had decided not to accept the resignation as it would “send a negative message to the rest of the country about the state”.

“We had decided to take collective responsibility from day one and not to allow the responsibility to fall on one person,” he said in Shillong.

The quick resignation of Rymbui, a leader of the regional party United Democratic Party (UDP), over the issue which has moved a considerable section of public, has put Sangma in a spot as the onus of the incident would then fall on his National People’s Party (NPP), also a regional entity.

Manipur: Disputed estate of Manipuri royal king handed over to state government

Ending a longstanding dispute between Manipur and Meghalaya, the Conrad Sangma government has decided to hand over the Manipuri king’s royal estate in an upscale area of Shillong to the Manipur government.

The property which houses a royal palace is significant in Manipur’s political history as it was there the king Bodhachandra had stayed before signing the Manipur Merger Agreement with the Dominion of India in 1949 which made the princely state a part of independent India. The king is said to have been confined to the palace, also known as Manipuri Rajbari, and not allowed to return to Manipur to consult his ministers about signing the agreement. A few weeks later, in October 1949, Manipur became a part of the Union of India.

On August 15, in a tweet, state chief minister N. Biren Singh said the palace would be made a state bhawan (building).

Singh said, “The historic Manipur Rajbari at Shillong belonged to the Maharaja of Manipur & it was here that Maharaja Bodhachandra stayed during the signing (of) the Manipur Merger Agreement (with the) Dominion of India in Sept 1949. Sadly, the plot no longer belonged to the Royal family of Manipur.”

The chief minister said the decision in Manipur’s favour came “after series of negotiations”.  The plot at Laitumkhrah’s Redlands measures 1.93 acres.

Arunachal Pradesh: Governor’s request to Kiren Rijiju to set up a high court in the state

Union minister Kiren Rijiju might have created a history of sorts by becoming the first Union cabinet minister from Arunachal Pradesh, but he is also perhaps the first Union law minister from a state which doesn’t have a full-fledged high court.

On August 19, during his visit to his home state, governor B.D. Mishra put in a request to Rijiju to set up a high court in Itanagar itself. As per local news reports, during his visit to the Raj Bhavan in Itanagar, the governor sought his intervention to set it up to strengthen “the judiciary system in the state”.

Currently, not only Arunachal Pradesh but Nagaland and Mizoram too have only benches located in the Gauhati high court in Guwahati city which poses a challenge to common people from those states specially in terms of logistics.

A common high court was instituted for five north-eastern states – Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura – and the two Union territories – Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh – as per the North Eastern Area (Re-organisation) Act 1971.

In 2013, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura got full-fledged high courts, thus increasing the number of high courts in the seven states of the northeast to four.

Note: In an earlier version of the piece, a photo caption had identified Lahkmen Rymbui as Cherishterfield Thangkhiew. The error is regretted.