Manipur has enacted Article 355

  • Unrest in the state of Manipur was recently sparked by the High Court’s decision to pursue a 10-year-old recommendation to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the non-tribal Meitei population.
  • According to trustworthy sources, the Centre has enforced Article 355 in the state in an effort to control the situation due to the current unprecedented fire crisis.

Article 355?

  • Article 355 of the Indian Constitution enables the Union government to defend all Indian states from external attack and internal instability.
  • It is a provision in the Constitution’s Part XVIII, headed “Emergency Provisions.”
  • It is based on the Constitution’s “duty to protect” premise, which requires the Union government to safeguard all states from external and domestic threats.

Restrictions under Article 355

  • Under Article 355, the Union government has the power to issue directions to any state to ensure compliance with the Union’s laws and regulations. However, there are certain restrictions on this power:
  • The directives can only be issued when the state machinery fails to comply with or give effect to any Union legislation or rule.
  • The instructions must be urgent and may not exceed the time required to correct the malfunction of the state apparatus.
  • Before issuing such directives, the state government should be given an opportunity to comment.
  • The Union government cannot utilise this ability to intervene in a state’s internal affairs unless the state machinery fails.

Duration of restriction

  • The Constitution makes no mention of the period of the assistance offered under Article 355.
  • When the situation has stabilised or when the state government requests it, the Union government may withdraw its support.
  • The length of Article 355 support is subject to judicial scrutiny and can be contested in court if it breaches any fundamental rights or constitutional provisions.

Imposition Circumstances Article 355 can be invoked by the President of India under certain circumstances, such as:

  • When a state fails to comply with or carry out any of the Union’s orders under the Constitution.
  • When India’s security is jeopardised by external aggression or domestic strife.
  • When any group or organization’s violent acts pose a threat to India’s unity and integrity.
  • When a state requests Union aid to maintain public order and the Union determines that the situation cannot be controlled by the state’s own forces.
  • When a state fails to safeguard minorities adequately, especially in times of communal conflict.
  • When a state government fails to sustain the constitutional apparatus of the state.

Reasonable constraints

  • It should be noted that the use of Article 355 is subject to certain limitations:
  • The President may not invoke this item on his or her own initiative; rather, it must be done with the approval of the Union Council of Ministers.
  • The application of Article 355 does not allow the President to intervene directly in state matters.
  • The President may only utilise this provision to direct the state government, not the state legislature or the court.
  • The employment of Article 355 should be restricted in time and extent, and it should not result in a permanent erosion of the state’s sovereignty or a breach of its fundamental rights.

Meitei Community is in the centre of the row

  • Manipur is divided geographically into the Imphal Valley and its surrounding hills.
  • The non-tribal Meitei community dominates the Imphal Valley, accounting for more than 64% of the population.
  • The hills, which cover 90% of Manipur’s land area, are home to more than 35% of the state’s recognised tribes, the majority of whom are Christians.
  • The Meiteis are primarily Hindus, with Muslims following closely behind, and the 33 recognised tribes are essentially classed as ‘Any Naga tribes’ and ‘Any Kuki tribes.’

The Meitei Argument and ST Status

  • The Manipur High Court ordered the state administration to submit a 10-year-old recommendation for the Meitei community’s inclusion on the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list.
  • The ST classification is required in order to “preserve” the community and “save the ancestral land, tradition, culture, and language” of the Meiteis.
  • The Meiteis were recognised as a tribe prior to the state’s merger with the Union of India in 1949.
  • Opposition of tribal tribes to the ST Status Advantaged community: Many tribal tribes believe the Meiteis have a demographic and political advantage over them, in addition to being more advanced academically and in other ways.

Benefits at the expense of others:

  • They believe that granting Meiteis ST designation will result in employment losses and allow them to acquire land in the hills, displacing tribals.
  • Those who have already benefited include: The Meitei people’s language is listed in the Constitution’s Eighth Schedule, and many of them are eligible for benefits related with their SC, OBC, or EWS status.
  • Political vendetta: The desire for ST designation is a ruse to dampen the intense political aspirations of the Kukis and Nagas, as well as a covert strategy of the dominating valley inhabitants to gain a foothold in the State’s hill districts.

Immediate sources of unrest

  • Some tribal groups with vested interests are attempting to derail Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh’s anti-drug fight.
  • The anti-drug campaign began with the destruction of poppy fields and the assumption that “illegal settlers” from Myanmar — ethnically related to Manipur’s Kuki-Zomi people — are responsible for clearing forests and government lands to cultivate opium and cannabis.
  • On March 10, the first violent protest occurred in response to the eviction of residents of a Kuki village.
  • On May 3 and 4, at least one person was killed in a large-scale burning and rioting that followed a “tribal solidarity rally” over the rumoured effort to add the Meiteis on the ST list.
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