THE Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the Union Government and the Manipur Government on a petition challenging the system of Inner Line Permit (ILP) in the state. ILP is a system, which gives unbridled and unqualified powers to the government to restrict and monitor the entry and exit of citizens from across the country into the states under its purview. A division bench of Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari issued the notices.
The system bars entry into the area beyond the Inner Line without a pass, and purchase of land there. It aims to protect the indigenous tribal population residing in the hill areas.
The plea argues that the extension of the BEFR, 1873 to Manipur by way of the 1950 and 2019 orders is in violation of the fundamental rights of citizens as guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution insofar as they provide unbridled and unqualified power to the State for restricting the entry and exit of the non-indigenous persons or those who are not permanent residents of the state of Manipur.
“The draconian ILP System is fundamentally opposed to the policies of social integration, development and technological advancement in the areas beyond the Inner Line, apart from hampering tourism within the State, which is a major source of revenue generation for these areas”, the plea reads.
It states that the ILP system as imposed in Manipur, by way of extending the draconian BEFR, 1873 is an outdated and isolationist law, having no significance in the present-day situation, giving unbridled and unqualified powers to the government to restrict and monitor entry and exit of citizens from across the country into the states having an ILP system.
“It is an old legislation enacted during the colonial times by the then colonial regime to create its monopoly over the newly discovered tea plantations in the North-eastern areas and to protect its commercial interest by restricting the movement of the British Subjects now Indian Citizens from the frequent turbulences in the Hill areas”, the plea states.
It argues that the reasoning that the implementation of the ILP system in Manipur would help solve the problems of illegal migrants, and would safeguard their cultural identities and traditional values is nothing but a mere façade that has nothing to do with the problem of immigrants inasmuch as most of the north-eastern states are facing an influx of migrants from the neighbouring countries of Myanmar and Bangladesh, rather than from any other part of the country.
“However, the Inner line permit seeks to create a divide between the country itself restricting the free movement of the citizens within the territorial boundaries which has no reasonable nexus with the objective sought to be achieved. The system of inner line permit is bound to create an impasse between the north-east states with the mainland India, having no direct contact for carrying out trade and occupation leading to isolation of the Hill tribes which are in anyway lacking behind the rest of the country in terms of the technological advancements”, the petition states.
Besides, it contends that the BEFR, 1873 is arbitrary and unreasonable, and it goes to the root to dilute the concept of citizenship and the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution
It is a divisive policy, the plea states, which creates a divide not just within the country but also within the states by fostering differences amongst the communities.
“The impugned legislation creates a quasi-visa system within the country, whereby any citizen not being an indigenous person or permanent resident of the State of Manipur is entitled to obtain a pass for entry into the State, which is a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution of India providing right to freedom of movement and freedom of trade”, the petitioner submits.
The BEFR, 1873 was promulgated with the assent of the then Governor-General of Bengal, prescribing the northern, eastern and western limits where ordinary laws would directly come into effect and beyond, where they would not. It also included the limits where tea gardens would be permitted to be grown and the limits beyond which no land could be acquired either by planter, from the government or from the chiefs of the tribes. Post-independence, the President, in 1950, in exercise of the powers conferred under Article 372 of the Constitution, promulgated the Adaptation of Laws Order, 1950, in order to adapt the BEFR, 1873. In the third schedule of the Adaptation of Laws Order, 1950, the phrase “British subject” was replaced with “Indian citizens” and “excluded areas” became “Protected Areas”.
The petition contends that while the rights granted by Article 19 may be curbed by imposition of reasonable restrictions, the ILP system fails to satisfy the test, as no justification could be given for such an isolationist policy, resulting in the lack of confidence of the people beyond the inner line with the rest of the country.
The petition has been filed through Advocate Fuzail Ahmed Ayyubi.