SHILLONG, Dec 10 (IANS: Normal life came to a standstill in Meghalaya Tuesday during a 12-hour shutdown called by 13 pressure groups which have demanded the re-introduction of the inner line permit system (ILP) to regulate the entry of outsiders into the state.
Almost all government establishments, including financial and educational institutions, remained closed in all the six district headquarters. Public transport were off the road in eastern part of the state.
"Thin attendance was recorded in all government offices, especially in Shillong (the capital of Meghalaya)," K.S. Kropha, principal secretary in charge of Home, told IANS.
Kropha said there was no report of any untoward incident during the shutdown.
National Highway Nos.40 and 44, the lifelines for landlocked Mizoram, Tripura and parts of Manipur and Assam, were also affected by the shutdown.
Meghalaya is experiencing a series of shutdowns, night road blockades and picketing of offices from Sep 2 after the breakdown of talks between the government and the protesting groups on the ILP issue.
Several cases of arson were reported in East and West Khasi Hill districts and more than 50 pro-ILP activists have been arrested. The state-wide agitation has already claimed the lives of two citizens.
The Meghalaya government has filed a damage suit of over Rs.31 crore against the groups for damages caused by them during the agitation.
The groups include the powerful Khasi Students' Union, the Federation of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP), and the Hynniewtrep National Youth Front.
They have been seeking the re-introduction of the ILP, saying that the number of people entering Meghalaya might get out of control, given the state's proximity to Bangladesh and Assam
The ILP, a British era regulation designed to preserve ethnicity and culture of the northeastern tribals, required all Indian citizens not usually residents of the area to secure a special permit for entering the border states and regions of nothereast.
"We have decided to intensify our agitation due to the adamant attitude of the ruling Congress-led government not to implement the ILP to check the burgeoning influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in the state," FKJGP leader Joe Marwein told IANS.
He said the re-introduction of the ILP would help the tribal population from being "annihilated" in their own land.
"The influx of illegal immigrants into the state is not only alarming in areas bordering Bangladesh and the inter-state border with Assam, but what is also of concern is that the immigrants now outnumber indigenous tribals in certain areas of Shillong," Marwein said.
The ILP is issued under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, by the state governments and is an official travel document issued by the Indian government to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period.
It is obligatory for Indian citizens from outside Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland to obtain the permit for entering the restricted areas.
However, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma has rejected the demand to implement the ILP system in Meghalaya but promised to implement the Tenancy Act to tackle the unabated influx of migrants.
The central government said the imposition of the ILP under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, in Meghalaya will be an ultra vires to Article 19 (d) and 19 (e) of the Indian Constitution.
"ILP system cannot be imposed where it was not in existence when the Constitution came into being or was revoked thereafter. It is an archaic law and it will affect development, besides being unconstitutional," Shambhu Singh, joint secretary (northeast) in the home ministry, said.
However, the pressure groups rubbished Shambhu Singh's statement and said the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873, was still an "existing" regulatory mechanism to check influx in Meghalaya.