Has Article 355 been imposed in Manipur or not? No one seems to know

Article 355 of the Constitution states that it is the duty of the union of India to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbance

Violence-hit Manipur (photo courtesy @tanmoyofc/Twitter)
Violence-hit Manipur (photo courtesy @tanmoyofc/Twitter)

NH Digital

In an attempt at obfuscation, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has stated that it has no information on any notification issued by the Centre under Article 355 of the Constitution between January 2023 and 13 June 2023. This is important in the light of the continuing ethnic violence in Manipur since May 3 as it points towards the Home Ministry distancing itself from the reports that Article 355 had been imposed in Manipur.

A recent response sought under the Right to Information Act seeking the copy of all notifications issued by the Ministry under Article 355, the legal officer and CPIO of the Ministry, Shakti Prakash, stated, “it is informed that the undersigned CPIO doesn’t hold any information”, reported The Wire.

Article 355 of the Constitution states that it is the duty of the union of India to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

The information was sought by Karnataka high court advocate Ajay Kumar. This news comes a day after news came about the Union government left out a question in the Lok Sabha on whether Article 355 could be applied in Manipur.

According to Ajay Kumar, this response meant that unlike what has been reported widely by many sections of the media, there was no official notification issued by the Centre to clamp Article 355 on Manipur. He, according to the report in The Wire, had filed the RTI application on 28 June 28 2023, seeking the copy of all notifications issued by the Ministry under Article 355. Kumar reportedly said he received the reply via email on August 1. Does this mean then that the Home Ministry

Kumar reiterated that the categorical reply of the MHA is in contradiction to widespread reporting in the media two days after clashes broke out in Manipur on May 3 that the Centre had invoked Article 355 of the Constitution to bring the situation under control. This would seemingly mean that the government is giving itself plausible deniability in the issue. RTI responses are considered the final word from the corresponding ministry or department.

According to several media reports citing ‘sources’, the Ministry of Home Affairs had made two important appointments to take control of the deteriorating law and order situation in the north-eastern state. While Ashutosh Sinha, additional director general of police (Intelligence), had been appointed by MHA on May 5 night as the overall operational commander of the law and order situation, Kuldip Singh, former DGP (CRPF), had been named as security adviser to Chief Minister N Biren Singh who is also the state’s home minister. Reportedly, the government had also deployed 124 companies of CAPFs and 184 columns of Army and Assam Rifles.

Reportedly, these appointments were seen as a response to the Kuki-Zo community’s demand for the removal of the chief minister from controlling the law and order situation in the state, as they accused

him of acting partisan and in favour of his Meitei community. The 90 days violence so far has claimed 150 lives and displaced more than 60,000 people across the state.

The then head of state police, at a press meet in Imphal then, had also stated that the Centre had imposed Article 355 of the Constitution and based on which Singh had been appointed the security adviser to the chief minister.

The question being asked is that if the government had not imposed Article 355 on Manipur, why was the law and order of the state transferred to an intelligence officer under the MHA? Does this mean that the CPIO has not furnished the correct information or does this mean it simply does not come within the jurisdiction of the CPIO to respond to the query on Article 355? Or does this mean that the MHA has secretly imposed Article 355 on Manipur without informing other branches of the union government?

It is important to note that, as of Wednesday, no formal order has been issued by the Union government to impose Article 355 in Manipur.

However, Article 355 cannot be imposed before the imposition of President’s Rule in a state under Article 356 of the Constitution. It is only then that the law and order in the state comes under the control of the union government.

It leaves a confusing situation where it is neither clear nor evident what the Home Ministry’s action has been. Can they impose Article 355 without President’s rule in a state according to the Constitution? It is important to keep in mind that allowing the Union government to use Article 355 on its own to intervene with the functioning of a state government would be destructive to the federal nature of the Indian Constitution.

On July 31, the union government left out question on application of ‘Article 355 in Manipur’ in its final list of replies to be given in the Lok Sabha on August 1. The home ministry’s tentative list of business mentioned the question on Article 355 initially, but the same was not in the final list, to be tabled before the Parliament on Tuesday.

In late July, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram had said in the Rajya Sabha that “not a single question on the violence in Manipur” had been admitted and answered in the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament.

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