The Manipur (Village Authority In Hill Areas) Act, 1956

Theme: “Civilization Along with Our Tribal Traditional and Cultural Ethos”

R Sanga newIntroduction:

Before application of any land law in Manipur, the Raja of Manipur claimed absolute ownership of all lands within his territory, i.e. the valley area of Meeiteileipak-Kangleipak from the earliest time and collected land revenue. On the other hand, during the British period, the administration of the entire hill area of Manipur State was under the responsibility of the President of Manipur State Durbar who was a British ICS Officer. The hill areas were separately administered as per a set of rules known as “The Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947.” The hill areas of Manipur known as the Tribal Areas were at no point of time under the administration of the Raja of Manipur. The administration was carried on to the tune of the Tribal Peoples’ aspirations and their age old traditional practices, customary laws, religion and social practices of the village. While such was the considered administration for tribal people, this Regulation has been repealed in part by section 58 of the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956 (80 of 1956) and also a land act was enacted, viz., “The Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reforms Act, 1960” (MLR & LR Act, 1960), which was enacted only for the administration of the surveyed valley lands of Manipur state. And it is naturally not applicable to the tribals and their lands.

The Pre-Independence Scenario:

Before the British came, the tribal communities belonging to Zo people and Naga groups subsisting on shifting cultivation as the dominant mode of production and livelihood lived in small groups. Each group were organized into villages with a defined territory. The mode of living gave rise to strong regulated village governments in the form of Chieftainship and Council of Elders. However the functioning of this institution differs from tribe to tribe. Among the Zo ethnic groups and some tribes among the Nagas like Tangkhuls, Mao and Kabuis, hereditary chief possessed executive, legislature and judicial powers in the village. His decisions were final in all matters. The chief decided both civil and criminal cases according to the customary law of the concerned village. He was the traditional village head having authority to enact laws and at the same time executing these laws at his discretion. The local bodies in the hill areas of Manipur are the village authority and the district council. The village authority was established by the Manipur Village Authority (in Hill Areas) Act, 1956, as a local body of self governance. This Act No. 80 of 1956 was published in the Manipur Gazette Extraordinary No. 6-E-4 dated 11th April 1957.

The Manipur Village Authorities (In Hill Areas) Act, 1956

The Parliament passed the Manipur Village Authority (in Hill Areas) Act, 1956, for the administration of the hill areas in the State of Manipur. The Act, which was implemented in 1957, determined the number of members of a village authority on the basis of the number of tax-paying houses.

Table 01: Number of members of a Village Authority on the basis of the number of tax-paying houses

Sl. No.

Number of Tax-paying Houses

Number of Members in a Village Authority


20 to 60 tax-paying houses



61 to 100 tax-paying houses



101 to 150 tax-paying houses



More than 150 tax-paying houses


The composition of members for the village authority envisage under the different acts accorded due emphasis to tribal customary laws and traditional practices and usages. The Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947 empowered the Chiefs the right to nominate the members of the village authority while the subsequent Act in 1956 tried to impose restrictions on this power by introducing the provision for election of the members, if not to be nominated by the Deputy Commissioner of the District.

The Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956 introduced the controversial provision for election of the members of the village authority on the basis of adult franchise by repealing the Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947. The composition of the village authority was fixed as given chart table No. 01 above. This is therefore opposed, most strongly in the Kuki areas. Earlier, the Chief of the village authority used to nominate members to the village authorities as per the above mentioned hill people’s regulation, 1947.

Section 3 sets a limitation to the numbers of Village Authority in the village. The villagers having less than 20 houses are not payable tax to the state. There are many villages of this category in the hill areas with a Chief having valid patta contrary to this section. The system of Village Authority election in the hill areas is not practicable. Clan wise representatives are more rational, effective and practicable for the impact of the section is domination of large clans over the smaller ones. The election of the Village Authority is conducted in accordance with the rules made by the Chief Commissioner under Section 57 (1) (2) of the Act, which was published in the Manipur Gazette Extraordinary No. 74-E-39 dated 16.12.1957, viz., The Manipur Village Authorities in Hill Areas (Conduct and Election of Members (First Amendment) Rules, 1971.

Under Sub-section (2) of Sec. 3 the Deputy Commissioner (DC) has no authority to declare a village under this Act. The DC has no power to constitute a new village or bifurcate a village, and as such the Government is the only competent authority to declare a village under the Act.

The Manipur (Village Authority in Hill Areas) (Second Amendment Bill No. 4 of 1993 was introduced in the Legislative Assembly in pursuance of Rule 150 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of Manipur Legislative Assembly, Manipur in its sitting held on 23.07 1993; was published in the Manipur Gazette July 29, 1993.

‘Hill Areas’  Section 2(j) MLR & LR Act, 1960 defines the term ‘Hill Areas’ as such areas in the ‘Hill Tracts’ of the State of Manipur as the State Government made by notification in the Official Gazette, declared to be the hill areas, vide notification No. 181/2/61 dated 25.01.1962. However, it may be noted that in the legal term of the phrase, “Hill Areas” may not necessarily be referred to only the ‘hill tracts’ of the State of Manipur to define the term ‘Hill Areas’ but as such areas in the hill tracts including the entire ‘Plain Areas’ that lies within the jurisdiction of Hill Districts of the State of Manipur should also be given for its definition in tune with the geo-political and legal term of the phrase as per Article 371C of the Constitution of India.

‘Hill Areas’ is also defined in the 1st Schedule appended in the order issued by Shri. V.V. Giri, the President of India in exercise of the power conferred by Article 371C of the Constitution which was published in the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) order, 1972.


A total of 725 village authorities were constituted under the Manipur Village Authority (in Hill Areas) Act, 1956, in seven areas of the hills.

Table 02: Number of Village Authorities Under The Manipur Village Authority Act, 1956 (Sub-Division wise)

Sl.No. Name of the Sub-Division/Circle   No. Of Village Authority        No. Of Elected Members


Sadar Hills




Tengnoupal Sub-Division




Tengnoupal Circle























Power to remove any member of Village Authority from his office is vested to the Deputy Commissioner as per Section 8 of the Act. A competent judicial Court is the only Court that can convict a person who committed non-bailable offence. The District Court shall be the Court having jurisdiction to declare insolvents under provincial Insolvency Act, 1920. Provided that the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, invest any Court sub-ordinate to a District Court with jurisdiction in any class of cases, and any Court so invest shall within the local limits of its jurisdiction having concurrent jurisdiction with the District Court under this Act.

The Government of Manipur issued a Notification for village authority, 1971 entrusted to the Village Authorities to identify and select beneficiaries under poverty alleviation schemes. They are also entrusted to review all the developmental works within the village and report to the Block Development Officer. Along with their role in the identification of beneficiaries for development programmes, they are to formulate and supervise village developmental scheme; help governmental agencies in carrying out developmental works in the village, receive grants-in-aid, donation, subsidies from the government or any other agencies; to provide security for due payment of loan by any permanent resident of the village from the government, bank or financial institutions, to lend money from its fund to the deserving villagers; to enter into any, loan agreement with the government, bank or any financial institutions. Another important function of village authority/council is to constitute Village Development Committee (VDC), a statutory body to assist the village authority/council in executing development policy programmes. Through their membership in the Village Development Committee (VDC), they are supposed to oversee the identification and selection of beneficiaries under the various schemes meant for rural development and ensured proper implementation of various programmes of the central and state governments.  

This Act may be regarded as one of the first steps towards the democratisation of hill administration in Manipur. By placing certain restrictions on the powers of the Chief and by introducing adult franchise at the lowest level of administration, i.e., the Village Authority, the common villagers became aware of democratic values and practices.

Evolution Of Self-Governing Institutions In The Hill Areas Of Manipur:

Self-government was much pronounced in the hill areas of Manipur. At some point of time in their historical evolution, the hill people evolved traditional social-political structures the institutions of chieftainship and the village authorities/councils. The specific character and composition of the authority/council varied from tribe to tribe and sometimes even from village to village. The authority/council combined in itself executive, legislative and judicial powers and there is no case which the authority/council cannot decide according to traditional practices and customary laws. The colonial system of indirect rule formally recognised the institution of chieftainship and village authorities/councils and used them as instruments of colonial establishment.

According to the Manipur State Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation, 1947 the hill territory was divided into circles and sub-divisions. In each village of twenty tax-paying houses or above, there was a village authority which replaced the traditional village authority. It consisted of the chief and elders nominated in accordance with the customs of the concerned village. Another notable feature was the constitution of circle authority above the village authority. The circle authority comprised one circle officer and a council of five members elected by the village authorities falling within the circle.

The circle authorities could exercise executive power over law and order, levy assessment or collection of tax on houses, produce of land, lower and upper primary education, construction and maintenance of bridle-paths, public health, personal hygiene, provision of clean water supply, maintenance of land records, etc., etc. Criminal justice was administered by the court of the village authority, the court of the circle authority, the hill bench at Imphal and the chief court of the Manipur state as constituted for the trial of hill cases under the Manipur State Courts Act, 1947. The court of a village authority settled cases like theft, cattle theft, illegal slaughter of animals, simple hurt and assault. The circle bench (court) exercised the powers of a magistrate of the first class and comprised the circle officer and any two members of the circle council. The hill bench of Imphal exercised the powers of session court and comprised a judge of the chief court with two hill men as judges.

The Act also placed limitations on the powers of the Chief. Before the Act was introduced, the Chief along with the village authority functioned as the village court. However, under the Act, the head of state was authorised to appoint two or more members of the village authority to function as the court. If the Chiefs were not members of the court, he could not preside over it. The court selected one of its members as the chairperson of the court.

Language for all proceedings before a village court shall be in Manipuri as per Section 56 of the Act, 1956. In many cases the District Judge has struck down or set aside the decision of the Village Court on the ground of recording the proceeding of the Village Court in their indigenous dialect or English as hit by Section 56 which implied the impracticality of its Section in the hill areas. This particular section gives rise to birth of many appeals.

Where there is a Chief or Khulakpa in a village, he shall be the Ex-officio Chairman of the Village Authority of that village; and where there is no such Chief or Khulakpa in the village, the Chairman of the Village Authority of that village shall be elected by the members of the Village Authority from among themselves. The term of members so elected is fixed for three years from the date appointed for its first meeting. The village court has jurisdiction both in criminal and civil cases as specified in the code of criminal procedure of 1898 and the court of civil procedure, 1908. Whereas the main function of the village authority is to maintain law and order and for that purpose, it could exercise the power and duties generally conferred and imposed on the police by or under the Police Act, 1961. Provided that a Village Authority shall not be deemed to be a police officer within the meaning of the section 25 and 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 or section 162 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.

Maintenance of law and order was conferred upon the Village Authority and the Village Authority was empowered to arrest any offender under the Act without a warrant. Numerous power and functions are discharged by the Village Authority under the Act in respect of their official duties toward the citizens without paying and remuneration. The Government cannot take due advantage of its dominant position, and compel any worker to work on starving condition. Such a classification is violation of Article 14, 21, and 23 of the Constitution of India. It also opposed the spirit of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 which exhorts all states parties to ensure fair wages. There is no specific written procedure to be followed by the Village Court at the time of trial as enshrined in Sec. 48 of the Manipur Village Authority (in Hill Areas) Act, 1956. The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is also not applied as such there is no common procedure to be followed by the Village Court at the time of taking evidence. Observing the spirit of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is also differed from one Village Court to another.    


The Manipur Hill Areas (Acquisition of Chiefs’ Rights) Act, 1967:

The State Legislature passed the Manipur Hill Areas (Acquisition of Chief’s Rights) Act, 1967 on June, 1967 which authorised the government to acquire the rights, title and interest of chiefs in and over land in the hill areas of Manipur. The Chiefs were, however, to be compensated by taking the following points into consideration: (a) the number of land under the chiefs; (b) total number of households within the chiefdom; and (c) whether compensation was to be given in instalments or in a lump sum. The Act, though passed could not be implemented because of the objection from some chiefs and also no assent was given by the Chief Commissioner (Governor). The Chieftainship continues to exist with its rights and privileges.

The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 (MLR & LR Act, 1960):

The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 (MLR & LR Act, 1960) was enacted by the Parliament to consolidate and amend the law relating to land revenue in the State of Manipur and to provide certain measures of land reform. Before the enactment of the State land laws, the Assam Land & Revenue Regulation Act, 1886 was applied to Manipur by a State Durbar Resolution.

The MLR & LR Act, 1960 intends to bring about uniformity in distribution of land throughout the State. However, Section 2 of the Act says, “It extends to the whole of the State of Manipur except the hill areas thereof.” Thus the Act did not apply to the hill areas of the State. Under the Act, hill districts do not automatically mean hill areas. The Act assigned a special meaning to it. According to Section 2(1) of the Act, hill areas means such areas in the hill tracts of the State of Manipur as the State Government by notification in the official Gazette declared to be hill areas as mentioned earlier. The State Government under different notifications Nos. Had notified 1161 villages as hill areas in the 6 (six) Hill Districts for the purpose of this Act.

Though Section 2, of the Act says that it does not apply to the hill areas of the State, it again says, “Provided that the State Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, extend the whole or part or any section of this Act to any hill areas of Manipur also as may be specified in such notification.” The provisions for protection of the tribals had been curtailed off. The State Government under different notification Nos. had extended the provision of the Act to tribal areas. To the tribals, the extension of the Act to their areas is encroachment into their territory. The tussle between the State Government and the tribal Chiefs, Civil Organizations etc., pose a grave situation. So far 89 villages of Churachandpur district and 14 villages each of Tamenglong and Senapati districts had also been covered by the Act (P. Binodini Devi – Tribal Land System of Manipur). There is a special protective provision of the Act on the transfer of land belonging to a tribal to non-tribal.

The fact remains that there is no constitutional protection for the tribals living in Manipur state except that which is provided under Article 371C of the Constitution of India, which provides for the constitution of a “Hill Areas Committee” to look after the special interests of the tribal peoples of Manipur.

In the State of Manipur, tribal population has been enjoying the status of special constitutional safeguards, like exemption from the Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 under Article 371C without the Sixth Schedule. The administration of the hill areas is under the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956. In case of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, they have run their civil affairs under their customary laws without constitutional recognition. Therefore, the State is absolute authority in lands related and other administrative matters. In a similar way, in which the tribal chiefs are absolute authority over their lands. This is what majority wanted at the expenses of the minority. Why not try to safeguard the minority? Constitution offers dual protection of SC/ST for development and protection as enshrined in it. As a result, the Arunachal Pradesh opted for the Panchayati Raj Institution established in 1969 and not the District Councils system as it prevails in most tribal areas of the Northeast (Report of the group – VII, National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad). By the Constitution (27th Amendment) Act, 1971, Article 371C has been inserted whereby the President has been empowered to constitute a Committee of Legislative Assembly for the Hill Areas of the State of Manipur. Further, the Governor is required to make annual report to the President regarding administration of the Hill Areas of the State. It further provides that executive power of the Union extends to giving direction to the State of Manipur in the administration of said areas.

It is pertinent to note that the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution (under the Chairmanship of Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, Former Chief Justice of India) in its report dated 31-3-2002 has recommended that the provisions of Sixth Schedule should be extended to the Hill Districts of the State of Manipur. Unfortunately, the Government of Manipur has not taken up the matter, but instead it has been kept in abeyance and never extended the Sixth Schedule or the Fifth Schedule provisions in the hill areas till date.

The Central Government in consultation with the State Government of Manipur Proposed Draft for Amendments to the existing “Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956” and that of “The Manipur Hill Areas District Councils Act, 1971 & Rules, 1972” in the year 2011. It will not be out of place to mention that seven seminars were conducted by various NGOs like CoPTAM, Tribal Chiefs’ Associations to discuss the proposed amendments to the said Acts at Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Saikul, Saitu-Gamphajawl, Singngat, Motbung, and Imphal in which I too, along with other resource persons, presented the seminar papers and did the presentations. The proposed Drafts of the two Acts are in fact, unprofitable for the entire tribal community of Manipur State as a whole.

The Manipur Government is now trying to meddle with the independent function of the Hill Areas Committee by proposing that the State Election Commission have a share and a say in the functioning of the Hill Areas Committee, by amending Section 3, Sub-section thus: “In Section 3, Sub-section (3), the words “and the State Election Commission” shall be added after the words “Hill Areas Committee” in the proposed draft for the Fourth Amendment to the existing Manipur Hill Areas District Councils Act, 1971 & Rules 1972 produced by the Central Government in consultation with the State Government of Manipur in 2011. Thus Section 3, Sub-section (3) shall read: “No order under Sub-section (2) shall be made by the Administrator except under consultation with the Hill Areas Committee and the State Election Commission.” It was strongly opposed by various NGOs and ADCs as well as Tribal Chiefs’ Associations from every nook and corner.

The Constitution of India in the Fifth Schedule Part B (4) provides that a Tribes Advisory Council be established in every state where Schedule Tribes live to look after the welfare of the tribals in that area and protect them against exploitation.

Major Defects of the Proposed Amendment to “The Manipur Hill Areas

District Councils Act, 1971 & Rules, 1972:

  1. 1.The only constitutional protection that the tribals of Manipur have is provided in the Constitution of India under Article 371C by providing the “Hill Areas Committee.” The tribals of Manipur are benefitted by the constitution of this Committee. Now the Manipur Government with the knowledge of Central Government is attempting to curtail the independent functioning of the Hill Areas Committee by proposing the Election Commission to have a share and a say in the functioning of the Hill Areas Committee as pointed out above.
  2. 2.The Government of Manipur is attempting to convert the tribal local bodies into Municipalities and Urban Local Bodies by incorporating an amendment of clause under Section 29, Sub-section (5): “Nothing in this Act shall prevent the State government from constituting elected or Urban Local Bodies by whatever name called and transfer any of the above functions to such urban elected body.” This refers to the constitution and functioning of Hill Village Authorities.
  3. 3.The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council in Manipur has no foundation in the Constitution of India. It is the creation of the Manipur Government to suit their sweet will and convenience. It has nothing autonomy about it. It is a sham. It exists and functions at the mercy of the State Government.


And the last conducted election to the Autonomous District Council for six hill Districts of Manipur by the Government of Manipur is an eye-wash to placate the plight of the tribals, whose fundamental rights were suppressed for the last twenty or more years. The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils have no constitutional powers for the protection or welfare of the tribals in Manipur. Whereas the proper Autonomous District as provided under the Sixth Schedule, Article 244(2) and 275(1) is for administration of tribal areas, the provisions of this Schedule are never extended to Manipur hill areas...    

The Defects of The Proposed Draft for Amendment To The Existing Manipur

(Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956:

  1. 1.It aims at converting the present Village Authorities into Municipality/Urban Local Bodies as per the proposed amendment Chapter V, 57-C (1) which states: “Nothing in this Act shall prevent the State Government from constituting elected Municipalities or Urban Local Bodies by whatever named called and transfer any of the functions listed under Section 57-A and Section-B above to such urban elected body. [These sections refer to Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971 and the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956]. This is a naked attempt to convert Hill Areas Village Authorities into Municipal and Urban Bodies. Under Article 243(P) & (Q) of the Constitution of India Municipality is for cities, which is incompatible with tribal and rural administration.
  2. 2.The proposed amendments aims at directly abolishing Chiefship of the tribals of Manipur under Section 3(5) and Section 6(3) of the proposed amendments wherein provided are the Chief is to contest the Village Authority Election, and the elected members of the village authority are to elect its chairman. In the Principal Act under Chapter II 3(4) the Chief or Khulakpa is the Ex-Officio Chairman of the Village Authority. However, this proposed amendment aims at automatically abolishing the institution of Chiefship in the Manipur Hill Areas, which institution is vital to the protection and survival of the tribals.
  3. 3.The proposed amendment is a rigorous attempt to extend “The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 (MLR & LR Act, 1960) in the hill areas of Manipur. This Act solely applies to the valley of Manipur. The extension of the Act in the hill areas of Manipur will enable the valley people to settle down and own immovable property in the hill areas. There have been covert and overt attempts by the government of Manipur to extend the provisions of the MLR & LR Act, 1960 to the hill areas of Manipur in the past. The tribal peoples are afraid that this attempt may not be the last one.
  4. 4.It is obvious that MLR & LR Act, 1960 cannot be extended to the hills without serious disruption, not only of title to the land and the land holding systems, but of the social organizations of the concerned peoples. While it is politically hazardous, it violates the provisions of International Labour Organization Convention 107 of 1959, which has the force law as India had ratified it as early as 1959.


The extant local self-governing institutions – Village Authority/Council – of the Zo people and Nagas have evolved from traditional institutions which were primarily geared to maintaining social cohesion, security and spirituality of the community. No notable economic functions were found in the traditional institutions, whereas the Village Authority or Council has very important economic functions besides its normal socio-political functions, though its religious function is no more significant. Village Authority or Council plays an important part in economic planning and implementations of policy programs at the grass-root level.

It may be concluded that with the changing trend from authoritarian to democratic system of administration there is a great change in the power structure of the traditional tribal society. The absolute power of the Chiefship Institution degraded considerably in the hill areas of Manipur. The reason may be lack of education, political consciousness and lack of awareness of individual and legal rights among the tribal people as a whole; even most of the Village Chiefs in the hill areas of Manipur are still left far behind compared to other valley general people in all respects. Therefore, to improve and develop the situation of the grass-root level administration, education should be given to village chiefs and it is necessary to make them aware of their rights and duties relative to democratic system of local self-government. It is also necessary to make amendment to the existing Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956 and modify the customary laws with the recognition of the tribal customary rights of ownership over the land. The customary laws and traditional practices are required to review to suit the changing social environment, traditional and cultural ethos in which they are living in the present civilization of democratic system of India.

In the context of the mushroom growth of tribal movements for separate home-lands in different parts of North-East India, the principle of internal self-determination and the strategy of sustainable self-development or ethno-development would better ensure the beginning of a process of emancipation of the tribal people. Internal self determination for autonomy over their economies, territories, culture and future would be a powerful tool for genuine democracy and federalism. Therefore a separate autonomous administrative unit for the tribals within the state of Manipur as the basis for working out the principle of self-determination and ethno development might just be the answer to look after the interests of the entire hilly tribal peoples in the state.


Paper presented By Dr. R. Sanga, Social Activist during the Manipur Tribal Leaders On Mega Tribal Seminar, 2012 On Tribal Issues In Manipur At TRI Auditorioum, Chingmeirong, Imphal Held on December 7 – 8, 2012


Organised By

The Steering Committee on Mega Manipur Tribal Seminar, 2012



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