TODAY -

Land Rights of Tribal and State Land Laws : Manipur
- Part 2

D P Panmei *



The co-operative society to whom the land is to be transferred is not clearly identified. It is understood that the society would certainly be of general class/people. Taking advantage of this exceptional provision, some valley based co-operative societies had lured tribals with a fat dividend to mortgage their land. They had easily fallen prey to the societies approach.

One such example is that the Chairman of the Tharon Village Authority in Tamenglong hill district had been lured to offer some areas of land to non-tribal individuals and co-operative farming societies on contractual farming.

The agreement goes like this : The non-tribal Co-operative Farming Societies, taking advantage of the provision of the Section 158C of MLR & LR Act, 1960 had encroached on the land of innocent and ignorant tribals living in far flung remote villages with a sweet promise of sharing the dividend. It is the fear of the tribals that their land would be alienated in the long run. The above cited agreement for contractual farming in the abandoned jhum plots will certainly create problems and caused disputes, for the abandoned jhum areas will be cultivated again after 6/7 years according to its cycle. They use of the term 'community land'.

This term cannot apply to every village. There are villages which do not have community land. Every piece of land is owned by individuals. Selling out or mortgaging of areas of land may not be in the knowledge of the villagers. The village, Tharon who had doled out lands for contractual farming with the outsiders does not have community land. There is no khas land in hill areas. Every inch of land is owned by individual or clan. Abandonment of jhum plot is just 6/7 years period left for retention of manure for next cycle of cultivation.

Attempts to remove Restriction on Transfer of Land

The State Government had made a number of attempts to remove restriction on transfer of land belonging to a member of scheduled tribes to non-tribals through the amendments of the Act. The State Legislative Assembly in one of its sittings had voted to amend Section 2 of the Principal Act of 1960 so as to extend the entire provision of the Act to the whole State of Manipur including hill areas. The Hill Area Committee which is a Constitutional body under Article 371C and other civil societies had strongly opposed to the amendment proposal. The State Governor had other dignitaries were urged not to give assent to the Bill passed by the State Assembly.

Another attempt was also made to restrict new settlement in tribal areas even by the tribals themselves under Section 158C of the Act. The amendment proposal sought that there shall be no new settlement of formation of hamlet (machete) in the hill areas without the permission of the State Government and no such permission for new settlement of formation of any machete is allowed unless the proposed formation has 75-50 families. The said proposal also attempted to amend Section 158B that no land shall be transferred in favour of any person unless he has been ordinarily resident in the State.

The Deputy Commissioner may permit transfer of land in favor of a person who has not been ordinarily resident in the State, if he has been resident for not less than 30 years. If these amendments come into effect, all the restrictions given by Section 158 of the Principal Act shall be removed and the provisions of restriction shall have been diluted. A person who had been residing in the State for more than 30 years can easily obtain residential certificate from the Deputy Commissioner.

The attempts to remove restriction on transfer of land to another member of non-tribals came in the disguise of bringing development for tribals in the form of bank land facilities and others. The tribals being underprivileged section of the society are easily tempted to mortgage their land. The question of land alienation among the tribals and be related to the incidents of indebtness. They had to borrow money for their children education, consumption and other unforeseen expenses.

To get the required amount, they have to mortgage their land which is the only available resource at their disposal. During the mortgaged period, the mortgagee has the right to cultivate the land. Naturally, the income of the mortgager declines if he does not have any other compensatory resources. As his income goes on declining year after year, he would not be able to recover his mortgaged land and at last he has to part with his land. This is the fate of the poor tribals in the wake of the extension of MLR & LR Act, 1960.

Effects of the extension of MLR & LR Act, 1960

The hill tribals have been pushed into a peculiar situation by the extension of MLR & LR Act, 1960. We may examine the position of the affected villages and people as below

Saikot village

The village, Saikot in Churachandpur district was established in 1920 (as per record available) by the great grand father of the present chief. Before the independence, the villagers got settled in the village with the permission of the chief. The chief is the owner of the entire village land and allotted land to his subjects. Now with the extension of the Act, even the chief had to pay premium for obtaining allotment of the land which he had customarily owned and cultivated for years together. If he had not done so, he should have been treated as encroacher in his own land.

A development project had been taken up in Khuga Dam (multi-purpose project). In the construction of the Dam, many villages and households had been affected and displaced. The people, who had been allotted land under the provision of the MLR & LR Act 1960, are made genuine land owners. Such people only got land compensation. The tribals who had been living there even before the framing of the land laws and owned the land on the basis of the traditional and customary laws are made encroachers in their own land. The extension of the Act had deprived the people of ownership of land based on traditional and customary practices.

No Khas Land in Hill Areas

The landmark ruling of the Hon'ble Guwahati High Court in Imphal permanent Bench under Civil Rule No. 132/90/91, between the North-East Council, Shillong, the State of Manipur and the Deputy Commissioner, Ukhrul versus the Hundung Victims of Development Project, the judgment was in favor of the petitioners whose land had been acquisitioned by the North-East Council through the Government of Manipur. The acquisition of land was meant for (i) Construction of Mini Cement Factory with an approach road, (ii) Construction of Imphal-Ukhrul road and (iii) Construction of Nungshangkhong Mini-Hydro Electricity Power Project. In the judgment order as noted at Sl. No. 25 says—

"We are here concerned with Hill areas of Ukhrul…that there is no Government Khas Land in the hill areas of Ukhrul. The ownership of land situated in the hill villages of Manipur vests in the villagers. They do not hold the land under the pleasure of the Government."

There is no khas land not only in Ukhrul district but in all the hill areas of Manipur. Without realizing the ground reality and proper acquisition of land, the State Government occasionally had instructed the district administration in the hill districts to allot land to any Government Department or individual in accordance with the provision of the Act, whereas the Act has not yet been extended to hill areas except to some plain pockets. This had also caused the issue more complicated.

Observation of the Law Research Institute of Guwahati High Court

The Law Research Institute of Guwahati High Court observed that the extension of the Act to the selected hill villages had created many problems (Das, J.N. cf. 1089: 144). It says
"The extension of MLR & LR Act, 1960 to the villages inhabited by the Kuki tribes has created many problems besides that of annual pat-tadars…but the customs relating to the land system of these villages are different… The villagers were his tenants and they use to pay regular rents in kinds besides their presents… Without abolishing the ownership rights of the chiefs, how could these be brought direct into contact with state Government? Yet, this was done wrongly in our view…"

The State Government does not attempt to bring about amicable solution to the land issues of tribal population. Instead they attempt to extend the provisions of the Act slowly in planned manner. The tribals have their own system of regulating the land holding based on tradition and customs. This conventional system is still effectively found in tribal societies. Extension of the Act to the tribal areas without rectification of the existing traditional and customary practices will certainly bring misunderstanding between tribal and non-tribal communities.

Fear of Tribals for Land Alienation

The crux of the whole problem is the question, whether the extension of MLR & LR Act, 1960 to the hill areas and the land situated therein automatically becomes Government land. According to the Kuki customs, the chiefs are the owners of the entire land within their jurisdiction. As stated above, under Naga system of land ownership, the chief of the founder of the village is the first owner and there is second and third owners. There is no khas land in the hill areas of the State of Manipur. While such is the situation in hill areas, extension of the Act will certainly dislocate the whole system.

The one who had owned and cultivated the land for years together under their customs and tradition would be made encroachers on their land. The peculiar situation in the Saikot village was the result of the extension of the MLR & LR Act, 1960 to the hill district villages. Similar situation would be created as it goes on extending to hill villages.

Many lands would be alienated from their original owners as the State Government had a policy of extension of the Act slowly in planned manner. The growing consciousness amo-ng the different tribals of Manipur is that the members of their communities have been dispossessed off from their land by non-tribals as in the case of Tripura. This may lead to an ugly situation of clashes between tribal and non-tribal communities.

Suggestions

It is a high time for the State Authority to review the situation and feel the pulse of the tribals and see for the best solution to the un-resolved issues of land holding in the State in general and tribal areas in particular. The existing customary and traditional practices of land holding system is not free from defects. It needs a re-look in the system. The following points may be suggested for the improvement to the aged old system of land holding in the tribal society.

Land Laws for the tribals : A committee to study land holding system and practices of different tribal communities may be constituted and a separate Land Laws for tribals be framed. The committee may comprise representatives from two major tribal groups ie Nagas and Kuki-Chin-Mizo and experts in the subject from the State/Central Government.

The State Government should not encroach upon the lands lying within the hill districts except on unavoidable or exceptional cases of acquisition.

The customary rights of ownership over the land should be recognized.

The customary and traditional practices are required to review to suit the changing social environment in which they are living in.

Land holding under the traditional laws should be properly recorded and the laws/practices itself need to be modified for codification.

Concluded...


* 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 13, 2010.



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