Terming the ongoing violence in Manipur as “ethnic violence,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah said on Thursday that a judicial probe would be conducted by setting up a commission to “investigate the violence, its causes, and fix responsibility” on the Centre’s behalf. It will be headed by a retired Chief Justice of a High Court.
Addressing a press conference in Imphal on the fourth day of his trip to Manipur, the Home Minister said that the Central Bureau of Investigation would also begin its own probe. Out of all the cases registered so far, the CBI will select five cases and register a general case of conspiracy. “The special CBI team will probe the cases without any bias,” Mr. Shah said. More than 2,000 FIRs have been registered since the violence broke out on May 3.
With many security agencies now at work in Manipur and to bring them to a common ground, an inter-agency unified command is being set up, Mr. Shah said. It will be headed by retired Central Police Reserve Force director Kuldiep Singh, who was appointed as security adviser by the Manipur government soon after the violence began.
Action against SoO violations
The Home Minister also warned the Kuki militant groups of stern action if the terms of agreement of the Suspension of Operations (SoO) were violated.
The SoO was formalised in 2008 with two Kuki umbrella bodies — the United Peoples’ Front and the Kuki National Organisation — which together represent 24 insurgent groups. They had 2,200 armed cadres whose weapons were to be surrendered at designated camps as per the SoO pact. However, it is being alleged that the Kuki groups used those weapons against the Meitei community when the clashes began on May 3.
“I want to send a strong message to SoO groups that any kind of violation of SoO pact will be taken sternly, terms of agreement will be strictly monitored,” Mr. Shah said.
The Kuki groups, on their part, have accused the Meitei radical groups such as the Aarambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun of looting arms from police armouries to attack tribal communities.
‘Surrender looted weapons’
As many as 1,420 weapons have been looted from police camps since May 3. The Home Minister called for all to be surrendered to the police. “I want to appeal to those who have the weapons to surrender them immediately. Police will start combing operations from tomorrow; they should come forward and surrender the weapons to the police. If they fail to do so, strict action will follow. We know the people who possess the weapons,” Mr. Shah said. Asked how the police allowed the arms to be taken in the first place, the Minister said, “Many arms have been recovered, [but] when a mob comes, police hesitate to fire at them.”
Appealing for peace from “either or side” and cautioning people not to fall for rumours, Mr. Shah said that a peace committee comprising eminent personalities and civil society groups would be set up under the chairmanship of Governor Anusuya Uike.
‘Manipur HC’s hasty verdict to blame’
Mr. Shah said that the peace established in Manipur over the past six years had been disrupted in May due to a court judgment, adding that “there have been some misunderstandings” since then. “I can say without any hesitation that on account of a hasty decision of the Manipur High Court, a situation of ethnic violence between two groups erupted. For the last six years since a BJP government was formed here, Manipur became free from bandhs, blockades, curfews and violence,” Mr. Shah said.
On March 27, the Manipur High Court had directed the State government to submit a recommendation for the inclusion of Meiteis in the Scheduled Tribe list, preferably within four weeks. This was opposed by Manipur’s existing 34 Scheduled Tribes, who comprise 41% of the State’s population and predominantly live in the hill districts. A tribal solidarity rally was organised in Churachandpur and other areas on May 3, following which violence erupted. Many parts of the State remain under curfew.
Myanmar border fencing
With some sections blaming the violence on illegal migrants from Myanmar, Mr. Shah said that fencing has been completed on a 10-km stretch along the Manipur-Myanmar border, adding 80 km would soon be fenced.
“The biometrics — iris scan and thumb impression — of people coming from across the border are being recorded,” Mr. Shah said, adding that, “for a permanent solution, the Manipur and Myanmar border will be sealed.” India and Myanmar currently share a free movement border regime.
Air, rail services
The Home Minister announced that helicopter services would be started for the hill areas at a cost of ₹2,000 per person. They can be used as transportation to airports or for travel within the State. A part of the cost will be borne by the State; the Centre will monitor the scheme. As reported by The Hindu, tribal groups in the hills had demanded aerial services to the neighbouring State capitals of Aizawl and Guwahati as they refused to travel to the airport in Imphal citing safety concerns.
A temporary railway platform will be built and start functioning in the next few days so that the supply of essentials is not affected due to road blockades, Mr. Shah said. There is no operational rail connectivity to Manipur as yet.
“To deal with any possible food crisis 30,000 metric tonnes of rice have been allocated by the Government of India,” the Minister said. Special medical teams have arrived in Manipur, and will be based at Moreh, Kangkokpi and Churachandpur, he added.
As per the relief and rehabilitation package, the families of those who died in the violence will recieve a compensation of ₹10 lakh through a direct bank transfer. Those who have been injured or suffered property losses will also be compensated, with the details to be announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs on Friday.
With Manipur under an Internet shutdown since May 3, the courts will enable virtual hearings for the public’s convenience, while online education classes will be arranged for students.