The inner line permit was created during the colonial rule of the British in 1873 in order to protect vulnerable tribal communities. It is essentially an official travel document issued by the Government of India to grant Indian citizens permission for inward travel into a protected area for a limited period of time. It is mandatory for Indian citizens residing outside these areas to seek approval prior to entering these regions. However, there might be a different set of rules for long term visitors, though they are not valid for central government employees and security forces.
Despite the fact that parts of the state of Meghalaya – the Khasi and the Jaintia hills – do fall under the jurisdiction of Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, it is the only other tribal majority state in the region beyond the purview of the inner line.
Meghalaya’s debarment was substantially because of its close association with Assam. Shillong, the state’s capital, was once the administrative epicentre of undivided Assam, which comprised large parts of the North East.
This saga of inner regulation remains long debated and disputed regarding the feasibility to stop the influx of immigrants into the state. In August 1998, a working group was constituted by the state government with Mr Paul Lyngdoh as its Secretary and Mr Donkupar Roy as the Chairman to recommend in-depth measures to effectively contain illegal immigration. As a result, the group strongly and unambiguously recommended ILP to be extended to Meghalaya.
The most insistent propulsion for a permit system in Meghalaya came in 2013, after the 2012 riots in Assam’s Bodoland. The violence was primarily directed at Muslim communities settled in the autonomous region of the Bodo Territorial Area Districts. Bodo groups have long claimed these lands as a part of their ethnic homeland.
The anger against “outsiders” spread to its neighbouring state Meghalaya in 2013 which eventually erupted in violent agitations for the Inner Line Permit system, however the centre stood resistant.
And with the tribal groups remaining adamant, the state government composed its own structure to keep a check on the movements happening in the state. It merged into the Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act 2016, which placed entry-exit points along the state’s internal border.
On the 1st of November 2019, the Meghalaya government passed an ordinance making registration on entry mandatory for visitors who wish to spend more than twenty-four hours in the state. The ordinance will eventually become an amendment to the Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act, 2016, which was previously applicable only to tenants from outside the state. Under the act, “entry-exit points” would be set up along the border with Assam.
On the 5th of November 2019, a clarification was issued by the government stating: “As of now, the registration process has not begun, when it would, it would be simple: There will be no need to stand or wait in queues as you enter the state. Finally adding, Meghalaya welcomes all domestic and international travellers”.
At a press briefing Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong announced the ordinance, he further added that non-tribals who are permanent residents of the state, as well as central and state government employees, will not fall under the purview of this act.
Latterly, pressure groups have raised the stakes again, after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which seeks to grant citizenship to undocumented non-Muslim migrants, has re-enkindled an old fear among tribal communities in the North East regarding the invasion of “outsiders” flooding tribal lands and threatening their existence. Political observers of the state say that the recent ordinance has been passed to mollify an increasingly tense civil society in Meghalaya. Pressure groups insist that the demand for an Inner Line Permit regime in Meghalaya will continue. According to them mere registration is not enough, although the specifics of ordinance are yet to be worked out, it does not lay down a time limit for visitors entering the state. Temporary Inner Line Permits, issued to tourists, are granted for a maximum of 15 days to 30 days, depending on the state they are applying to regular Inner Line Permits may be granted for up to six months, provided there is a sponsor who is a “bona fide indigenous resident” of the state to which the visitor desires entry. The latest ordinance amount to little more than making those entry-exit points operational – they are still in the construction stage.
The Meghalaya Assembly on the 19th of December passed a unanimous resolution for implementing the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime in the state amid demands and protests from the local groups. It will impose restrictions on the entry and movement of ‘outsiders’ in the hill state.
Thanking all the legislators from ruling and the opposition bench for their concordance and articulation and for understanding the needs and interest of the people of the State, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said that the Government will urge upon the centre to include Meghalaya in the preamble of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873. “It is important to note that this (resolution on ILP) is nobody’s victory or nobody’s loss, we are all in it together for the interest of the people,” Sangma said.
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