IMPHAL: Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday said a judicial probe headed by a retired high court chief justice to inquire into clashes which erupted in the north-eastern state of Manipur, will soon be announced. He also announced at a press conference held at the end of a four day tour of the strife torn state, that a peace committee under the Governor of Manipur Anusuiya Uikey with representatives of all political parties, the warring Kuki and Meitei communities and social organisations will be set up.
“Dialogue is the only solution to the ongoing crisis in Manipur,” Shah said. “We will soon announce a judicial probe headed by a retired high court chief justice and set up a peace committee,” he said. The Home Minister also announced a CBI probe to investigate FIRs alleging five criminal conspiracies and one general conspiracy behind the violence in Manipur.
Soon after the press conference, a senior IPS officer Rajiv Singh, belonging to the neighbouring Tripura cadre, was formally appointed as the new director general of police of Manipur for a period of three years “as a special case in public interest”, an official order said. Singh, a 1993 batch IPS officer serving as the inspector general of operations at the CRPF headquarters in Delhi, replaces P Doungel, a 1987 batch IPS officer from Manipur, for whom a post of Officer on Special Duty (Home) has been created. He is due to retire at the end of the month.
This is expected to be the first of a major overhaul in the state administration. He, however, also said, “Violence is a temporary phase, misunderstandings will go away … The situation will soon be normal.” Officials separately said the situation remained calm on Thursday after overnight reports of firing by militants.
Shah said the leaders of both Meitei and Kuki communities, as well as other civil society representatives who have met him, have assured him that they would work to assuage hurt feelings and remove misunderstandings. The home minister said an Inter-Agency Unified Command will also be formed for “better coordination” among all security agencies in Manipur as multiple forces are working on the ground.
Currently some 10,000 army and Assam rifles personnel have been brought into the state to keep the peace. Besides, as central police forces and state police is also functioning on the ground, it was felt that an unified command was necessary to avoid confusion. Shah also told newspersons that he felt for a permanent solution to the Indo-Myanmar border issue, the fencing on the border between the two countries will have to be completed.
There are apprehensions that the porous border is being used for drug smuggling and for movement of militants. He said biometrics of people coming from neighbouring countries are also being collected. A large number of refugees from the violence in Myanmar have also sheltered in the border state and the central government has been trying to keep track of this floating population.
Talking about the origin of the clashes which rocked Manipur, he said ethnic rioting began after the Manipur High Court on April 29 “hurriedly” sought the views of the state government on granting Scheduled Tribe status to a community. Asked about the Kuki community’s demand for a separate administrative unit, the Union Minister said: “The Central government had cleared its stand on Manipur’s territorial integrity earlier. I don’t want to make any statement to sensationalise the issue and make headlines.”
He claimed that since BJP came to power in Manipur around six years ago, the north-eastern state had remained free of bandhs, curfews and blockades, and reached the “peak” of peace and development. He said a relief and rehabilitation package for families who have lost members to the violence or suffered injury or damage to property will soon be announced by the government, and the money will be transferred directly to the bank accounts of the victims and their kin.
Shah also promised to expedite supplies of essential commodities to cool down prices in the land-locked state. “We will set up a temporary railway station at Khongsang within a week. This will help movement of people and transportation of goods to a large extent,” he added. He also said the government “will start temporary helicopter services to connect the Imphal airport with the hill districts. Tickets will be offered at Rs 2,000 per passenger and the gap will be borne by the state and central governments.”
Appealing to citizens not to pay heed to rumours, the Home Minister said special telephone lines will be set up where people can ring and check the veracity of rumours being circulated. Speaking of militant groups, he said: “Any deviation from the Suspension of Operations agreement (pacts brokering ceasefire) will be considered as violation of the pacts they have signed. Strict action will be taken against the violators.”
A number of Kuki militant groups have signed such deals and currently stay in camps under the watchful eyes of the Assam Rifles. This statement comes in the backdrop of reports of militants taking up arms and acting as vigilantes during the rioting. The army and police forces are conducting state-wide search operations for hidden arms caches. This combing operation is expected to intensify as the new poice chief takes over and a unified command is set up.
Surveillance by drones and deployment of security forces will also continue, said officials. Ethnic clashes broke out in the state nearly a month ago after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. After a relative lull for over a fortnight, the state witnessed a spurt in clashes and gunfights between militants and security forces on Sunday. So far, over 80 people have been killed in the violence, according to officials.