Land Rights of Tribal and State Land Laws : Manipur
- Part 1
D P Panmei *
The State of Manipur is divided into two regions viz. the hills and valley. Its physical area measures 22, 327 sq. km. of which the valley portion covers 2,248 sq. km. whereas hill areas cover 20,089 sq. km. The valley area is surrounded by hill and this central plain portion covers about 10% of the total geographical area of the State. The remaining 90% area is under hill regions. Different tribal communities occupy this hill region (P. Binodini Devi – Tribal Land System of Manipur). The central region of the State is inhabited by the general people Meiteis including Muslims and some tribals.
There are about 37 tribal communities, out of which 33 had been specified as Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India. These different tribal communities occupy the hill region of the State and the region is divided into five revenue districts and the plain region has 4 (four) districts. The tribals' representation to the State population, according to 2001 census is 38.43%. This figure does not include the population of three TD Blocks because of some controversy in enumeration.
The State Legislative Assembly has a strength of 60 M.L.A.s. 40 M.L.A.s represent 4 (four) valley districts of Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal and Bishnupur, where as 5 (five) hill districts of Churachandpur, Chandel, Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong districts are represented by 20 M.L.A.s of which one is dereserved seat.
Land holding pattern in tribal areas
The tribals have their own system of land holding based on customary and traditional practices. The founder of the village took all risk and responsibility to establish a village and as such he earned the title 'Founder'. Later on he became the chief of the village and the first owner of the entire village territory in respect of the Naga tribals. He had parceled out the territory from the vast area after proper or due rites performance and appeased the spirits of evil world in and around the area.
They got and occupied the land from the powers of unseen forces as they believed. They claimed absolute authority over their land. Tribals considered that the land they possessed and occupied are out of their merit. Interference to their land is therefore, opposed with tooth and nail. They are the first settler of the land. Every tribal village was independent republic without outside interference.
Tribals claimed absolute ownership over their land. The one who established the village is the first owner in Naga society. There was two to three tier system of ownership among some Naga tribes. The first owner i.e. the founder of the village had to dole out some portion of land to any of his villagers in exchange of animals like dog, pig, mithun, rice-beer, for use in his ritual performance. The one who could offer his domesticated animals, food and other goods against a piece of land etc. become the owner of that portion of land. That person becomes the second owner.
There were some chiefs who liberally shared the land on clan basis. The third owner was the one who claimed the cultivating plots within the portion of land given to the second owner by the chief or founder. He may get it by paying a price or by barter. In this way the existence of the third owner came into Naga society. There may be some minor variations in the system even among the Naga tribals. Those villages whose cultivation is of jhuming or shifting practice do have second and third ownership system. Even in the village where settled or terrace cultivation is practiced, the same system exist. So Naga society has at least two tier system of land ownership, the first being the founder of chief and the second owner is that of cultivating plot.
As regard to Kuki system of land ownership, the chief is all in all. He is the supreme authority in the village affairs. He owns the entire land within his jurisdiction. There is neither clan land nor individual. It is unlikely of the Naga system. He distributes land for cultivation and plot for dwelling house construction. The Kuki chief has the authority to expel any villager from the village. Villagers live at the pleasure of the chief. The Kuki administration is autocratic and the chief is the autocrat.
The tribals as a whole have their own time tested land holding system based on traditional practices by which they are governed. They consider that the lands they possess are acquired from the nature. As such the tribals do not have any land laws except that of traditional and customary base practices.
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 from the earliest time and collect 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 Hill Peoples' Regulation Act. The hill 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 Hill Peoples' aspirations and their age old traditional practices. While such was the considered administration for hill/tribal people, a land act was enacted in 1960, which had rather frightened the tribals with the land being alienated from them.
The Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reform Act, 1960 (MLR & LR Act, 1960)
The Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reform 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. They Act assigned a special meaning to it. According to Section 2(1) of the Act, hill area 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. The State Government under different notifications Nos. had notified 1161 villages as hill areas in the 5 (five) Hill Districts for the purpose of this Act.
Though Section 2, of the Act says that if 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. possess 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. Section 158 says, "No transfer of land by a person who is a member of Scheduled tribes shall be valid unless –
The transfer is to another member of Schedule tribes; or
Where the transfer is to another person who is not a member of any such tribes, it is made with the previous permission in writing of Deputy Commissioner provided that the Deputy Commissioner shall not give such permission unless he has secured the consent thereto of the District Council within whose jurisdiction the land lies; or
The transfer is by way of mortgage to a co-operative society.
The State Government had made an exceptional provision of the Act to the restriction of land transfer. This is the fear of the tribal population i.e. if the transfer is made by way of mortgage to a co-operative society, the consent of the District Council and written permission of the Deputy Commissioner is not required. This provision is a grave threat to the innocent tribals.
To be continued...
* D P Panmei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a Retd. Joint Director of Tribal Research Institute, Govt of Manipur
This article was webcasted on January 10, 2010.
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