Kishor Kumar Kalita
On 9th December 2019, the Nagaland government through an official notification has extended the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime to the Dimapur district, the commercial hub of the state. This was the only district that was not under the ILP regime, unlike the rest of Nagaland, which came into being in 1963. The notification issued by the chief secretary of the state stated- “In exercise of the powers conferred under Section 2 of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, and in the interest of the public, the Governor of Nagaland is pleased to extend the Inner Line to cover the entire District of Dimapur with immediate effect. The said notification was issued in pursuance of the state cabinet decisions on February 15, 2019 whereby the Cabinet had approved the proposal to extend the ILP to Dimapur.
According to this notification all non-indigenous people who have entered the district after November 21, 1979, would have to obtain an ILP within 90 days from December 9. It said that those settled or entered before November 21, 1979, and had been staying continuously, would be exempted from the ILP regime “along with his/her direct descendants”. However, the notification categorically mentioned that the non-indigenous persons living in Dimapur prior to November 21, 1979, would have to produce documents like entry of name in the electoral roll, land/property documents, house tax, entry of name in the electoral roll of the town committee, school records, trade licenses etc. to the Dimapur deputy commissioner for exemption. Any non-indigenous person passing through the district as a transit passenger and having a valid ticket would not be required to obtain Inner Line Permit, the notification said.
The system of ILP is applicable in a particular area or of a state under the provisions of Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. Section 2 of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, provides that citizens of other states require ILP for visiting these states.
The main objective of the ILP system is to prevent the settlement of other Indian nationals in these states to protect the indigenous population. There are also protections for the locals with regard to land, jobs and other facilities. Besides Nagaland and Manipur, the ILP regime is also applicable to Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. Such an expansion drive of the Inner Line Permit is a result and a counter product of massive widespread protests in the Northeast against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, for which Union Home Minister Amit Shah had announced that C(A)A would not be applicable to ILP regime states and areas governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
After the Cabinet approval of extending the ILP to Dimapur on 15th February,2019, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court of India by BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. The petition sought direction to declare that “all Indian citizens shall have the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, which gives unbridled power to the State to prescribe ILP for Indian citizens, is arbitrary unreasonable and offends Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.” The petition also stated that the colonial era regulation was passed by the then British government to prohibit Indian citizens from moving to select districts to create a monopoly in business and the State Cabinet has taken a decision to extend the operation of the 1873 Regulation in Dimapur. It added, “Therefore, many non-Nagas who have landed properties with commercial shops, godowns, etc. and who are staying in as tenants, and many locals who earn their income by means of collecting house rent from tenants would be adversely affected.” This petition had created widespread controversy in and around the state of Nagaland and amidst these controversies the Supreme Court of India, on July 2, 2019 had reportedly dismissed this PIL
Vehemently criticising the role played by the BJP in regards the ILP issue the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee (NPCC) stated that the constitutional safeguards and other provisions enjoyed by Nagaland were the results of heavy political price paid by the people. The party also asserted that it would not tolerate any demeaning of Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873 or putting Article 371 (A) under judicial review as these were the products of political agreements. It further said that if BJP Nagaland was really concerned about the interest of Nagas and all other bona fide settlers of Nagaland, then it must have tried to ensure withdrawal of PIL filed by one of its party leaders in Supreme Court. But the BJP had never tried it. The congress warned that in the event of any unforeseen situation that went against the interest of indigenous people in Nagaland, the State BJP and the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) would be held fully responsible for their complicity and subservience to BJP high command in Delhi.
The Working Committee of Naga National Political Groups (WC NNPGs) from the very beginning of this controversy had warned that any opposition, either in words or action, in implementing the ILP anywhere in Nagaland would be “taken as an affront to Naga people’s aspiration and their long political struggle”. The group has recently accused the illegal immigrants for organising a protest rally against the government’s recent proposal in regard to ILP at ‘Nagaland gate’ in the month of March, 2020, stating that they would investigate into the matter and identify the ‘ringleaders sitting in Dimapur and surrounding areas who are instigating their colleagues at Lahorijan area to oppose implementation of Inner Line Permit in our land’. It added that they would not hesitate to shut down the business outlets of those found guilty. The press release published by this group stated -“ that the viral video clips of 1st March 2020 at Nagaland gate is a grim reminder that indigenous people in the NE are being pushed to the corner and therefore appropriate response is required.” The press release also mentioned about the historical amenity and closed relations between the different ethnic groups of this region and stated that the Nagas, Dhimasas, Karbis, Kacharis and Ahoms have co-existed for centuries with mutual respect. However, it said, this friendship has been put to test in the recent times following the unabated influx of illegal immigrants into the region and called for “need to strengthen age-old bond among indigenous peoples of NE”.
The ILP extension proposal taken by the Nagaland Government has also created a political debate in the North East Region and as a post effect, many political organisations have been trying their best to rejuvenate their old demand to implement ILP for Assam. Undoubtedly the subject has opened up a new discourse in the political sphere of North East India and many have taken this legal instrument as an opportunity which they think as the only alternative that could save the indigenous people of North East region.