CBSE had cancelled affiliation of 25 schools in Manipur's Churachandpur and Kangpokpi
Three senior Manipur education department officers who were suspended on January 12 have apologised to the government in writing for giving no-objection certificates (NOCs) - without following due process - for schools in two districts to apply for CBSE affiliation, amid the disruption caused by the ethnic violence.
The three officers in the apology letters to the Manipur government said they were "compelled" to sign the NOCs under "duress" and "pressure" from "elected representatives, CSOs (civil society organisations), and student bodies to issue the NOCs".
Four MLAs in Churachandpur district, and two in Kangpokpi district had written to two zonal education officers (ZEOs) and one deputy inspector of school, requesting them to issue the NOCs, documents enclosed in the letters by the education officers show.
NDTV has seen copies of the letters by the three education department officers and the six MLAs.
The six MLAs are among the 10 Kuki-Zo MLAs who are leading the call for a separate administration carved out from Manipur, a BJP-ruled state with 60 seats in the assembly.
Manipur is still not back to normalcy nine months since ethnic violence broke out
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) on December 20, 2023 cancelled the affiliation of 25 schools in Manipur's Churachandpur and Kangpokpi districts, after the state government alerted it had not given NOCs to the schools to apply for affiliation in the first place.
The CBSE bylaws make it a legal requirement for state board schools to get NOCs from the state government before applying for central board affiliation.
Following the CBSE action, the Manipur government on January 12 suspended Churachandpur ZEO Jangkhohao Haokip, Kangpokpi ZEO Lhingtinneng Singsit, and deputy inspector of school L Taithul of Churachandpur's Samulamlan block.
The change of the education board from state to central in the two "hill districts" was seen as a soft attempt at formalising a new arrangement, since clashes between the hill-majority Kuki-Zo tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis began on May 3, 2023.
In the letters, the three officers said they were aware they would be violating procedures, but were not able to push back against outside pressure due to the ethnic conflict, which had disrupted government services including education, and departmental communications protocol.
"Hid At Home": Churachandpur ZEO
"I would like to state the following few lines in my favour for your kind consideration and sympathetic action that due to the prevailing crisis in Manipur, schools under ZEO Churachandpur who have applied for CBSE affiliation came for signature to me," Jangkhohao Haokip, the ZEO of the hill district 65 km from the state capital Imphal, said in the letter to the government dated December 29, 2023.
"At first I deny them, hiding at home stating that I am not the competent authority to issue NOC for affiliation to CBSE. But after appointed as i/c (in-charge) ZEO for Churachandpur. I have to attend office and carried out all office responsibilities," Jangkhohao Haokip said.
"Then, out of pressure from different angles such as from parents, joint student bodies, CSOs, and even elected representatives, I cannot deny any longer. It's a do or die situation after receiving duress. Then, I am compelled and forced to issue my signature to two schools i.e. Salt Brook School, and Soikholal High School. Therefore, it is my earnest prayer and request to understand my situation and seek apology and consideration from your end phase. I will ensure that no such issue will happen again in future," Jangkhohao Haokip said.
The Churachandpur ZEO enclosed letters written by four Kuki-Zo MLAs - Letzamang Haokip, Paolienlal Haokip, Chinlunthang, and LM Khaute - asking him to issue NOCs to schools from their constituencies that have approached him. The four MLAs wrote the letters on the same day - July 11, 2023.
Buffer zones have been set up between the hills and the valley in Manipur
"Being Compelled...": Kangpokpi ZEO
Lhingtinneng Singsit, the Kangpokpi ZEO, in her letter to the government explaining why she issued the NOC said the Kuki-Zo group Committee on Tribal Unity, Kuki Students' Organisation (SH), parents, and the "local minister" directed her to clear the CBSE affiliation paperwork at the district level.
She said the Sadar Hills Private Schools Association approached her for the NOC, but she told them to go to the competent authority, which in this case was the education department.
"... I advised them to approach the competent authority and to forward their application by this office, and instead they insisted me citing that the DEO/ZEO can also do the same at the district level," Lhingtinneng Singsit said in her letter to the Manipur government dated December 29, 2023.
"... I am being compelled to proceed on at the district level. However, I further advised them to obtain the same through proper channel from the competent authority," Lhingtinneng Singsit said in the letter, clearly stating the proper route for the NOC application process.
She enclosed letters by two Kuki-Zo MLAs - Nemcha Kipgen and Kimneo Hangshing - requesting her to issue the NOCs. Kimneo Hangshing wrote the letter on May 30, 2023, and Nemcha Kipgen wrote it on July 7, 2023.
The ethnic violence has killed over 180 in Manipur
"Carried Out Duty To Fullest": Churachandpur Deputy Inspector Of School
L Taithul, the deputy inspector of school of Churachandpur's Samulamlan block, in his letter to the government - also dated December 29, 2023 - said he too was "under pressure" from MLAs, CSOs, and student groups to issue NOCs on behalf of the Churachandpur ZEO, who could not work due to the crisis.
"... We, his (Churachandpur ZEO's) subordinate staff carried out our duties to the fullest. That, I was requested to issue the NOC for CBSE affiliation for some schools, which I denied as I had no authority. But I was under pressure from the elected representatives, CSOs, student bodies... Unable to stand against the pressure, I issued the NOC on behalf of the ZEO, which I greatly regret," L Taithul said in the letter. "I request you to forgive me for this act and I promise to work carefully in the future and would not repeat such actions," he said.
The four Kuki-Zo MLAs who requested the deputy inspector of school to issue the NOC are Letzamang Haokip, Paolienlal Haokip, Chinlunthang, and LM Khaute. Paolienlal Haokip wrote to the deputy inspector of school on May 15, Chinlunthang on May 16, Letzamang Haokip on May 18, and LM Khaute on May 28, 2023.
Government sources today said the letters by the three education officers clearly show they were under immense pressure amid the violence, and so ended up breaching serious departmental procedures, as giving NOCs is not a small task.
Imphal Inaccessible For Hill District Officials
The 10 MLAs had written to Home Minister Amit Shah on January 16 to cancel the suspension of the three education officers, highlighting they acted in the best interests of students and schools amid the crisis. The students lost precious months of the academic year, the MLAs had said, adding the CBSE should re-affiliate the 26 schools and the three suspended officers should be called back to duty.
The MLAs in their letters to the education officers pointed at the complete breakdown of governance due to the violence, and how it had become impossible for officials to go to the education department's headquarters in Meitei-dominated Imphal, where 77 people of the Kuki-Zo tribes were killed and their homes set on fire in the first week of the violence, before the casualties rose.
Kuki-Zo students in the hill districts faced severe difficulties as the learning infrastructure crumbled due to apparent lack of assistance from the education department. This was aggravated by the long internet ban that prevented online classes.
Students in the urban setting of Imphal valley, however, attended classes for a much higher number of days owing to better infrastructure, with the relevant officials living in the same city.
Kuki-Zo Groups Protest Over Suspension
Kuki-Zo CSOs have been protesting over their suspension, and demanding the action be scrapped. With clarity on the matter now, the government is likely to reinstate the three education officers in the interest of students, who are affected by the violence-linked disruptions in Manipur, sources have said.
The state government was clear that action would be taken against schools including withdrawing their affiliation if any of them was again found not following due process. "... No one said NOC won't be given. All of us work for students. Questionable and unethical decisions by some school administrations can't be allowed to harm the future of students," a senior officer in the education department who was among a small team that looked into the initial investigation in the CBSE affiliation matter had told NDTV on December 20, 2023.
Some 60,000 personnel of the central security forces have been deployed in Manipur.
After the three officers were suspended on January 12, Kuki-Zo civil society groups had alleged the government's move was an attempt to harass them. "The three officials have been suspended for performing their duty, which really is unfortunate as they have committed no mistakes worthy of suspension... The partisan action of the Manipur government not only disturbs the efficient functioning of public services, but also raise questions about due process and fair treatment," the Churachandpur-based Kuki Students' Organisation had said.
The Kangpokpi school principals in December 2023 criticised what they called the authorities' "obtuse focus" on procedures when all that the students needed amid the ethnic clashes and other cataclysmic disruptions was academic continuity, whether CBSE or state board.
"The situation in Manipur after May 3 was such that functioning under the state board was becoming impossible. We have to go to Imphal for exam coordination and other state board work. How would that be possible?" the principal of a Kangpokpi school had told NDTV on December 20, requesting anonymity.
Other school principals in the hill district cited difficulty in coordinating with the education department at a time when battle lines have been clearly drawn on the basis of ethnicity and deep mistrust.
The ethnic violence in Manipur has killed over 170 and displaced thousands from their homes, both in the valley and the hills.