Wearing just a thin navy blue jacket against the 8-degree-Celsius cold, his feet in a pair of open sandals, Govindbhai Laxmanbhai Zala, 50, hangs around restless at the ‘Mao Gate’ in Senapati district of Manipur, which marks the entry to the state from Nagaland.
He sits on a bench near the gate, located along National Highway 102, shifts after a few minutes, before strolling down to a nearby vegetable market.
A resident of Taiyabpura, in Gujarat’s Kapadvanj district, Zala, a welder, arrived at the gate with three co-workers. The others proceeded to Imphal after getting an Inner Line Permit (ILP) within 30 minutes, but Zala was stopped as he didn’t have the required documents to prove his identity.
First introduced under the Bengal Frontier Regulation Act, 1873, the ILP system was extended to Manipur on December 11 to provide the state relief from the purview of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Since it officially came into force from January 1, outsiders who are not permanent residents of Manipur have to get this permit to enter the state.
The government has set up seven ILP counters in border areas of Manipur, including the Imphal airport. They issue four types of permits — special category, regular, temporary and labour.
The counter at the Mao Gate, located on the premises of the Mao Police Station, issues only temporary permits, valid for 15 days, against payment of Rs 100 and submission of identity proof. The counter functions round the clock, like other ILP counters.
Zala only has a photocopy of a ‘resident certificate’, issued by the sarpanch of his village, with his photo on it. As he approaches the ILP counter, Head Constable Mohamad Ali says, “This won’t do. Don’t you have other ID cards? Aadhaar, voter card?”
His voice shaking, Zala says he has lost his Aadhaar and voter cards.
Ali asks Zala if he can ask his family members to WhatsApp their IDs, so as to verify his identity. Zala shakes his head again. “Sir, my wife’s Aadhaar and voter cards are also lost and my phone battery is dead.”
A little exasperated, Ali tells him, “How did you reach Manipur without an ID card? Pradhan Mantri ke rajya ke ho phir bhi aisi laparwahi kyoon (You belong to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own state, why such carelessness)?”
The counter has been handling around 180 applications a day, and officials say most people who come have valid Aadhaar or voter cards. They have issued nearly 3,000 permits so far and sent back only one person, who claimed to be from Assam and born and brought up in Nagaland.
Ali, who has been posted in Mao since 2016 and did mostly clerical work at the police station before he was assigned to the ILP counter, says, “Despite how hectic things are, we do our best to ensure visitors are not harassed.”
The counter, which can accommodate around eight people at a time, is run by four policemen under the supervision of an assistant sub-inspector or sub-inspector. During rush hour, 8 to 11 am, it is set up in the open. Drivers of inter-state buses from Guwahati, Shillong or Dimapur mostly crowd the counter at this time, apart from taxis, as Nagaland does not allow heavy vehicles to enter Kohima between 11 am and 3 pm to regulate the mounting traffic problems in the capital. Two volunteers from the District Legal Authority Services have set up a help desk, and offer their services from morning till evening.
Zala urges Ali to let him through, pleading he is going only for a few days. Ali explains that it is not possible, that even if he allows Zala through Mao Gate, he would be stopped and sent back from the checkpost down the road. He might even be arrested for travelling without a permit, Ali says.
Taxi driver Depesh Chhettri is among those in the queue, seeking ILP for his four passengers, all labourers from Bihar. Says Chhettri, “Passengers get angry. They have to sometimes wait nearly an hour.” Now, locals have started refusing to share vehicles with outsiders, hitting business, he adds.
The policemen say they do their best to speed up matters, but it still takes at least seven minutes to prepare a permit. They fill in the application form, prepare a receipt and verify ID cards before issuing a permit. One of the policemen at the counter, Md Hafizzudin, adds, “We have to answer endless queries in the midst of all this. Some visitors even ask why police are charging money. We have to also update the number of permits issued with the headquarters or the superintendent of police.”
A Home Department official said they were yet to compile the total number of permits issued.
Around noon, four passengers from Assam, including two women, approach the counter. As Ali asks the women to come forward, one of the drivers standing in the queue loses his cool. The Head Constable explains that they have instructions from above to prioritise women and senior citizens.
Around 5.30 pm, after he has been waiting nearly nine hours, there is relief for Zala. One of his fellow workers who had gone on to Imphal earlier has WhatsApped documentary proof regarding his younger brother to a police officer. His papers checked, Zala is finally handed his ILP.
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