The question is, will the NIA dig up enough material to not only nail the NSCN (I-M) but also elected representatives and public servants, who divert public funds meant for development works to the coffers of the NSCN (I-M).
By Yambem Laba
Manipur’s Senapati district is the unofficial headquarters of the Naga insurgency and its frontal organisations, namely the United Naga Council (UNC), Manipur. All talks among various Naga groups, the Governments of India and Manipur are always held there. But in Senapati now, political ambitions apart, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or the NSCN (I-M) appears to have made the mauling of four Right to Information (RTI) activists its agenda. They had sought replies on the usage of developmental funds for the district running into crones of rupees.
It all began on November 5, 2019 when one Kh Inoch of Phaibung village submitted RTI application to the state public information officer, the chief executive officer of the Autonomous District Council of Senapati. His query asked for certain information under the RTI Act regarding details of developmental works and funds meant for tribal areas in the 17-Phaibung constituency of the ADC. When he failed to get a response from the SPIO, he filed a second petition before the Manipur Information Commission (case number 18 of 2020).
After a series of hearings, the MIC issued a show cause notice to the SPIO. Instead of responding, the latter moved the Manipur High Court challenging the Right to information Act, 2005 and questioning the authority of the MIC to issue such a notice. Undeterred by the move in the High Court, the MIC levied a fine of Rs 25,000 on the SPIO, and also asked him to provide the requisite information.
On 28 September 2019, P Johnson of Taphou Phyamai village had also filed an application under the RTI Act to the SPIO of Senapati ADC seeking information relating to funds sanctioned and execution of different works in the 16-Phurba constituency from 2015 to 2019. There was no response to that either.
Then Johnson moved the MIC, which again issued a show cause notice to the SPIO, but who approached the Manipur High Court again seeking shelter instead of replying to the notice. The MIC imposed a fine of Rs. 25,000 on the SPIO, with a further directive to provide the requisite information by July 21, 2020.
On the other hand, on October 24, 2019, SP Benjamin approached the deputy commissioner of Senapati district. He wanted to know the various developmental works implemented under awards of the 13th and 14th Finance Commission in the 16-Phurba area of the ADC from 2015 till the filing or the application. The DC, an Indian Administrative Service officer like the CEO of the ADC, did not bother to respond and instead went to the Manipur High Court for shelter. The MIC also served him Rs 25,000/- fine plus a further directive to furnish the requisite information.
Similarly, PR Amose of Khaibung Khunou filed an application before the SPIO of the ADC but also met a similar fate and the matter went to the High Court. Now, all four cases are pending before the Manipur High Court.
As things kept getting stalled in court, the four activists, namely Inoch, Johnson, Benjamin and Amose, approached the Manipur Lokayukta seeking its intervention to unearth the truth behind the developmental funds. That was on December 14, 2020.
Understandably jolted, the SPIO and DC did the obvious in the meantime- Paying scant respect to the Constitutional body they had approached for shelter from penalty, namely the Manipur High Court, they knocked on the door of the ultimate beneficiary of the missing development funds – the NSCN (I-M). The group not only runs a parallel administration in the area but is also immune from actions of the Indian Army as a de facto ceasefire exists between the two sides in Manipur.
The NSCN (I-M) then dropped its bombshell on the activists. On March 16 this year, it issued an order signed by one “self-styled” Captain (retired) Rickson, “central administrative officer” of the Shepoumaramth region (the area covering Senapad district) of the “Government of the Peoples Republic of Nagalim”. The order read, “As per the directive of the Kilo Kilonser (minister) GPRN, no individual/group will be allowed to file RTI to the Indian Government in any matter. Whereas any issue/dispute within the jurisdiction of Nagalim shall be resolved through Naga Customary Law (Court). It is therefore to withdraw all the RM submitted to the Manipur Government on or before Mach 18, 2020 and submit it to the Region Office. Failing to comply shall invite stern action as per the Government Ahza (sic)”.
It is common knowledge that much of the funds for development in the Naga-inhabited hill areas are siphoned off en bloc to the coffers of the NSCN (I -M). They have even murdered officials who stood up against their diktats. In this case, it might have turned out to be extremely embarrassing for the NSCN (I-M) if details were to be exposed. Such information might officially be used against them by the ceasefire monitoring cell and find reflection in the ongoing talks. The NSCN (1-M) then started cracking down on the four activists.
First, Inoch was abducted, tortured and confined under “house arrest” in his village. The three others, Johnson, Benjamin and Amrose, fled from their respective villages and are now hiding somewhere in Imphal. They were told to withdraw their RTI applications or else meet death. Oinam Sunil, the Chief Information Commissioner of Manipur, then wrote to the director general of police Manipur asking him to provide measures to ensure the safety and security of the lives of the four FM activism, But it was wishful thinking since police have no jurisdiction over NSCN (I-M) cadres as they are covered by the ceasefire agreement with the Government of India.
Acting on behalf of the four activists, well-known human rights defender and RTI activist of Manipur, Wahengbam Joykumar shot off a letter to the National Investigation Agency. He contended that there was no way the NSCN (I-M) would have come to know of the four activists and their queries unless they had been briefed by the CEO/SPIO of the ADC Senapati district. The NIA has responded favourably till now and interacted with Joykumar to assure him that a case will be filed after getting clearance from their head office in New Delhi, The request was for a probe into possible “terror funding” by authorities of the ADC and the office of the DC Senapati district by siphoning off cash without doing any work on the ground for various developmental projects. This happened on May 9, 2021.
Joykumar has also written to the Inspector General of Police of Assam Rifles (South), covering the Manipur sector, briefing him about the predicament being faced by the RTI activists at the hands of the NSCN (I-M). There has been no response from the Assam Rifles yet.
Meanwhile, a meeting was also supposed to have taken place at Camp Hebron, the NSCN (I -M)’s headquarters in Nagaland, in which top functionaries, four elected representatives and the CEO of the ADC were present, Apparently, it was decided there to put pressure on Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh through a Naga minister in his Cabinet and make the NIA take it easy on the case. It warrants mention here that the NSCN (I-M)’s “town commander” of Imphal has already given alleged orders to shoot the three activists at sight.
The question is, will the NIA dig up enough material to not only nail the NSCN (I-M) but also elected representatives and public servants, who divert public funds meant for development works to the coffers of the NSCN (I-M), ostensibly as “terror funding”. The fate of the four activists, however, hangs in the balance as the state seems to be in no position to provide them protection or shelter.
(The Writer is the Imphal-based Special Representative of The Statesman. Facts and views presented here his own)