High Level Committee on Influx – half truths and assumptions

By S Marbaniang

My attention was drawn to an article published in your esteemed daily titled “Misconceptions about ILP and its (wreckless)? handling” (ST 10 Oct, 2013). More than anything else, I am amused by the outbursts of Mr BM Lanong who is still trying to justify the shoddy work of the so called “High Level Committee” under his able chairmanship. He appears to be hell bent on misleading the gullible public of the State by virtue of his having been the Chairman of the High Level Committee on Influx. As soon as the pro-ILP activists announced their agitational programmes, I applied for a copy of the report and recommendation of the High Level Committee through the RTI route. As an educated person, I was curious to know about the issues involved and concluded that the best way to understand things would be through access to records. The Report was authenticated and signed by Mr BM Lanong in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee.

I do not normally react to newspaper article but having read the report and recommendation, I felt it would be in the interest of the people of the State to know at least, the salient features of the report and recommendation of the High Level Committee on Influx. The minutes of one of the meetings of the High Level Committee held on the 30th October, 2012 quoted Mr Ardent M. Basaiawmoit, MLA as having stated that “this meeting was convened not to discuss whether ILP should be implemented or not but to evolve a model of ILP for the State. Citing the terms of reference of the Committee, he reminded that members should also look into other measures to contain influx directly or indirectly. ILP by itself is not a panacea to the problem of influx, but it is only one of the tools to contain influx”. Basaiawmoit was very clear in his mind about what the report and recommendation should contain. Sadly, the Committee did not bother to accept his advice but pressed ahead with only one recommendation.

The Terms of Reference of the Committee are: (1) To review the situation of influx in the State and suggest a multi-pronged strategy and approach to deal with the issue (2) to examine and outline the role of traditional institutions and their empowerment in dealing with the problem of influx (3) to recommend a comprehensive institutionalized mechanism (4) any other matter incidental thereto as considered necessary by the Committee.

Records indicate that 10 (ten) written suggestions were received by the High Level Committee from different individuals and groups, out of which 9 (nine) were said to have been discussed. However, this was not borne out by the records of the proceedings of the five meetings. One written suggestion from some prominent non-indigenous citizens of Shillong could not be placed before the meetings of the Committee as, according to the report, it was received late. Therefore, the tall claim made by Mr Lanong about the High Level Committee having examined the “various documents received from various quarters, including that from non-indigenous citizens of the State” is an exercise in fictional frivolity. In any event, I fail to understand the hurry in dealing with such crucial issues? Was it the impending election? Was the hurry dictated by a desire to make public pronouncements during the ensuing election campaign then? If that was the case, did it not end in a denouement? If one goes by the margin of votes by which Lanong was defeated the ILP recommendation certainly did not cut any ice. In any event, the mandate of his constituents had to be respected, which means “No ILP”.

The last paragraph of para 3.2 of the Report indicates that “members were not convinced with the credibility of the data furnished by the Police and the Labour Department on the status of infiltration/influx, including migrant labourers as, according to them, these figures did not appear to correlate with the actual ground reality. The nature and cause of influx was not projected and analyzed in the presentation to indicate whether the influx was due to economic opportunities available in the State or due to a desire to assimilate with the local society in the State”. Facts and figures drawn out from Government records were discarded as not being credible. On the other hand, the report did not indicate the alternative facts and figures which must have been obtained independently by the Committee from other sources nor were the sources disclosed to indicate the basis of the decisions of the Committee. By doing this, the High Level Committee conveniently gave a go-bye to the first term of reference.

Para 3.4 of the Report reads “The Committee then focused and emphasized on the implementation of ILP in the State. It was also agreed that the views and suggestions of other individuals/groups that were not in favour of ILP should also be taken into consideration. Further it was decided to zero in on details which should include issues like-(a) what sort of ILP are we looking for? (b) we should identify a model which will not disturb the smooth flow of tourists into the State, (c) whether the ILP should be made applicable only to mining and industrial areas? (d) whether there is a need to have a sub-committee to examine and discuss all details of the ILP and the 3-Tier I/D card system or any other mechanism”. These were the tasks that the Committee had assigned to itself but which it unfortunately did not even bother to proceed with, any further. Did the Committee recommend any model of ILP that would suit local conditions, if I may ask Mr Lanong? If not, he would be well advised to come out with a suggested model of the ILP that he desires to put in place in the State so that an informed debate can take place. Most regrettably, however, is the fact that the views and suggestions of other individuals and groups which did not favour the ILP were ignored in the recommendation.

Para 4.1 of the Report goes on to say that “the Committee took note of the fact that the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 known as the Inner Line Regulation framed by the British Government under the Government of India Act, 1870 can be made applicable only to Khasi-Jaintia Hills District (excluding the Khasi State areas) However, in respect of the three districts of Garo Hills, the Regulation had been repealed in 1897. The Committee felt that the proposed ILP should be made applicable to the whole State and the ILP should be structured in a manner which would suit local conditions in the State”. The moot question is whether the High Level Committee delved into those details? Was the proposed structure of the ILP recommended for implementation in the State ever discussed? The answer is a big “No”.

Para 4.2 of the Report states that “the Committee was seized of the fact that the legal position of the ILP needed close examination so that genuine citizens of India in the State are not unnecessarily harassed by the introduction of ILP. It was also noted that partial implementation of ILP is bound to create problems for people residing in the Garo Hills Districts whenever they are required to travel to other parts of the State. On the other hand, it was observed that there are many Garos living in Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and other neighbouring States and countries and therefore, creation of a separate dispensation for the Garos of Meghalaya might create problems in identification of Garos coming from States/countries other than Meghalaya”. Were these issues discussed any further? Was it not the job of that Committee to specifically outline, with concrete suggestions, how best the Government could go about the entire gamut of issues? Or was the High Level Committee constituted only to flag issues without going deeply into them and come up with suitable recommendations? The main reason for constituting and notifying the Committee, to my limited understanding, was precisely and specifically to entrust these issues to a dedicated and broad based body with membership drawn from across the spectrum.

Even the 2nd Term of Reference relating to the role to be played by the traditional institutions and their empowerment to deal with the problem of influx was not discussed at all. Not even a single line was devoted to this very important and vital issue. Therefore, I would humbly request Mr Lanong to kindly go through each and every line of his own report before he goes next to the press. The 3rd Term of Reference of the High Level Committee reads “To recommend a comprehensive and institutionalized mechanism”. The operative portion of the recommendation reads “introduction of ILP throughout the State of Meghalaya through appropriate legislation which should include Garo Hills also, by looking into the legality of repeal order of 1897.The proposed ILP could be structured in a manner that would facilitate the participation of traditional institutions, NGOs and civil society and due care be exercised so that genuine residents of the State should not be subject to undue harassment”.

The credibility of the repeal order of 1897 appears to have come into question when the recommendation suggests that the legality of the repeal order of 1897 should be looked into. On the other hand, out of the 10 page report and recommendation, as many as five and a half pages of the legal advice tendered by the Advocate General were reproduced and one and a half pages were reproduction of the figures presented by the Police and Labour Departments before the Committee. If the legal advice tendered by the Advocate General on the repealing Act of 1897 and the figures made available by the Government Departments were not found to be credible by the Committee, then why dedicate 7 pages for these useless pieces of information?

Now, referring to the 5the Term of Reference, please tell us Mr Lanong how comprehensive can one get in a six-lines recommendation? Is it not a fact that you were simply throwing back the ball into the court of the Government without doing anything in accordance with the terms of reference? There were written suggestions on record with queries as to whether there should be a single Inner Line or two Inner Lines or many Inner Lines in consideration of the fact that two or three major National Highways are passing through the State, but these details were not discussed at all. Bah A.H Scott Lyngdoh had also made written suggestions based on his long years of experience in public service as a former Deputy Commissioner in Kohima, Development Commissioner in Arunachal Pradesh and as former Chief Secretary of Mizoram, all States where ILP is implemented. Did the High Level Committee avail of this voluntary service? This valuable contribution failed to even find mention in the minutes of the meetings of the Committee, let alone being discussed. The way I understand it, the High Level Committee had failed completely in doing its assigned job and, quite naturally, any Government worth its salt should just let this labyrinthine folly of a record rest respectfully.

I appeal to the Government to place the report and recommendation in the public domain for all to see and analyze critically and draw their own conclusions. Many questions have been asked about why the Government is so adamant and why it has not accepted the report and recommendation of the High Level Committee on Influx?. Having dwelt at length on some of the contents of the report and the recommendation, the answer is obvious.

Mr Lanong further went on to say that “at least three Ministers in the committee gave tacit support from their body language when none opposed the ILP proposal inside the Committee sessions”. I wonder where he got the head-count from? My records obtained through RTI indicate that only two Ministers attended the Committee sessions viz: (1) Prof R C Laloo, Minister i/c Revenue on 28.09.2012 & 15.10.2012 and (2) Dr M. Ampareen Lyngdoh, Minister i/c Urban Affairs on 15.10.2012 & 30.10.2012 and these Ministers attended only the first two and the second and third meetings respectively. No minister was present in the 4th meeting and the 5th, which was also the last meeting when the crucial decision was made by the Committee. So, body language accounts for three but factual indices indicate otherwise. It is also amusing for a senior lawyer, considered by a few as a legal eagle, to speak about having had a cursory glance at what he calls the “Landlord and Tenants Bill, 2013”. My point is very simple, Mr Lanong, and that is, if you have had only a cursory glance at a draft Bill whose very nomenclature, in the first instance, has been incorrectly quoted, where is your authority to conclude that the draft Bill “provides a gloomy insight, as the proposed law suffers from many constitutional and legal intricacies, which no amount of amendments will serve the purpose”? At least, here is a proposed draft legislation thrown open into the public domain for public consultations. At the end of the day, it will be the opinion of the majority which will hold the field and not the opinion of one individual who has only had a “cursory” glance and dismissed it as a no-good. However, it is also hats off to Mr Lanong when he admitted in his article that the ILP regulation “is obsolete and old fashioned no doubt, but it is still in force, status quo-ante, in the three ILP states”. Why then create all this mayhem just to thrust an obsolete and old fashioned ILP into the throats of the people of this State much against their will? Don’t the people deserve better?

I appeal to members of the public not to be swayed by misleading statements which are not corroborated by the records. In this day and age of the RTI and advanced technical and electronic solutions, please do not join the bandwagon of the gullible. Search and ye shall find out the truth about untruths and half-truths.

(The writer is a teacher in a private college)

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