AMID demands for a Session of the Manipur Assembly by the Meitei side and apprehensions regarding the same by the Kukis, the House did not convene on August 21, a date recommended by the state Cabinet earlier this month. The required summons by the Governor did not materialise, with the Congress calling it a “breakdown of constitutional machinery” in the state.
The last Session of the Manipur Assembly was held from February 21 to March 3. Article 174 of the Constitution states that “six months shall not intervene between its [state legislature] last sitting in one Session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next Session”.
The first sitting of the next Session hence can’t be later than September 2. However, this does not look likely as the summons has to go out from the Governor to the members of the Assembly at least 15 days before the House convenes, as per Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the Assembly.
On August 4, amidst the continuing crisis in Manipur, with the Meitei and Kuki areas completely inaccessible to each other, the N Biren Singh-led BJP government recommended to Governor Anusuiya Uikey that the fourth session of the 12th Manipur Assembly be convened on August 21.
No such summons had come till Monday.
Significantly, the 10 Kuki-Zomi members of the 60-member House had said that they would be unable to attend a Session if held, as the Assembly is located in Meitei-dominated Imphal valley.
While government spokesperson Sapam Ranjan Singh could not be reached Monday, a Cabinet minister said the matter is “very sensitive” and that they were trying to decide their next step.
Criticising what had happened, Congress Manipur president and Waikhem MLA Keisham Meghachandra Singh said: “It is really unfortunate that this double engine government is not summoning an Assembly session… the period of six months will lapse… Representatives of the people are being deprived the chance to discuss matters of public importance.”
The Congress leader added that the situation continued to be bad. “Just a few days ago, there was heavy firing, there are thousands of displaced people, students are suffering, mobile Internet is banned, highways are blocked… It is unpardonable that the Assembly has not been convened.”
Congress general secretary in-charge of communication Jairam Ramesh posted on X (formerly Twitter): “This is further evidence that the constitutional machinery has simply broken down in Manipur. The PM is preoccupied with refurbishing his self-styled Vishwaguru rule and the HM is busy electioneering.”
Earlier, there had been pressure on the government from Meitei civil society groups to convene a special Session of the Assembly before the end of the Monsoon Session of Parliament, with the specific demand that a resolution to “protect the state’s territorial integrity” be passed and forwarded to Parliament. This was to counter the Kuki demand that the hill areas where the tribals dominate be governed as a separate administrative unit.
After the Assembly was not convened during the Parliament Session, COCOMI – an umbrella body of Meitei civil society groups – had announced a “boycott of the state government”. “The demand for a special Session had been ignored and now even a normal Session is not being held… The people are very upset. There has to be a mechanism to create a solution to the current situation, but how will that happen without an Assembly session?” COCOMI coordinator Jeetendra Ningngoba had said.
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In a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, the Kuki-Zomi MLAs had referred to Imphal, where the Assembly is located, as “a valley of death and destruction for the Kuki-Zo people”, and that “not even members of the State Legislative Assembly were spared” by the mob in the city.
The Governor’s role in calling an Assembly session has come under question numerous times, but the Supreme Court has settled the position in numerous rulings that the Governor cannot refuse the request of a government that enjoys a majority in the House to convene the same, unless it is patently unconstitutional.
In its 2016 judgment on the Nabam Rebia case arising from a constitutional crisis in Arunachal Pradesh, the Court had stated: “In ordinary circumstances during the period when the Chief Minister and his council of ministers enjoy the confidence of the majority of the House, the power vested with the Governor under Article 174 to summon, prorogue and dissolve the house(s) must be exercised in consonance with the aid and advice of the chief minister and his council of ministers. In the above situation, he is precluded [from taking] an individual call on the issue at his own will, or in his own discretion.”