Shutdown affects normal life in Meghalaya

Shillong, Sep 2 (IANS) Normal life came to a standstill in Meghalaya Monday during a 12-hour shutdown called by 10 organisations demanding the introduction of the inner line permit (ILP) system to regulate the entry of outsiders into the state.

Almost all government establishments, including financial and educational institutions, remained closed in all the 11 district headquarters.

Two government offices were partially burned in the Ri-Bhoi district while two private vehicles were torched in the state capital in the wee hours Monday by miscreants suspected to be members of the outfits sponsoring the shutdown.

On Sunday night, unidentified assailants hurled two petrol bombs at a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Meghalaya's East Khasi Hills, police said. No injuries or damage was reported. Police said 12 people have been arrested in connection with arson cases in Shillong.

National Highways 40 and 44, the lifelines for landlocked Mizoram, Tripura and parts of Manipur and southern Assam, were also affected by the shutdown.

"Thin attendance was recorded in all government offices," principal secretary in-charge (Home) K.S. Kropha told IANS, adding that there was no report of any untoward incident during the shutdown.

The 10 organisations that have called the shutdown include the powerful Khasi Students' Union, the Federation of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo People and the Hynniewtrep National Youth Front. They have been seeking the introduction of the inner line permit - required by Indian citizens to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram - saying that the number of people entering Meghalaya might get out of control, given the state's proximity to Bangladesh and Assam.

"The implementation of the ILP would help protect the tribal population from being "annihilated" in their own land," Joe Marwein, spokesperson of the agitating organisations, said.

"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.

However, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma has rejected the organisations' demand to implement the ILP sysyem. Instead, the government would resort to existing and new laws and mechanisms to tackle the unabated influx of migrants, he said.

"It is our shared objective to check influx and infiltration and we require further engagement and cooperation of NGOs instead of a confrontational attitude," Sangma said.

On the other hand, the two main opposition parties in the state - the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Hill State People's Democratic Party - may not attend the all-party meet convened by the chief minister on Tuesday to discuss the ILP system. The two parties said they have not received any invitation for the meeting.

"If you say that you are calling an all-party meeting, notice should be given in advance so that the party can sit and deliberate before presenting its views at the meeting," UDP chief and Leader of Opposition Donkupar Roy said, hinting that the party may not attend the meeting.

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