Pitfalls on land acquisition for Mapithel Dam project

Jajo Themson *

Protest against Mapithel Dam by Chadong villagers  with various civil societies :: 20 June 2015
Protest against Mapithel Dam by Chadong villagers on 20 June 2015 :: Pix - Ibomcha Yumnam

Introduction: Land acquisition is a cardinal aspectin the process of any developmental activities like urbanization, industrial set up, infrastructural works like Railway &Highways constructions, building of dams and hydropower plants etc. Acquisition of land is an area that intertwines with various tussles especially of legality that induces potential threats to the rights of the land owners.

This matter seems to be a hidden portionin most cases of land, forest, rivers and other assets acquisition for big projects in India, which in fact implicates much as far as legitimacy is concerned.By convention, neither project work implementation nor other activities precedeland acquisition process.

Until the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 came into enforced since 1 January 2014, acquisition of land were normally governed by the Land Acquisition Act, (LAA) 1894all over India except Jammu & Kashmir.

The LAA, 1894, an aggressive law was introduced by the British Colonial Rule in India in order to serve their colonial interest. Howeveron the other side, it was provided that this Act cannot be applied in the scheduled areas as special protection given to the tribal communities under the Article 371 (C) of the Indian constitution.

In some cases, Cash compensations are paid in lieu of land being acquired and in some cases, alternative land areas are arranged proportionate to the required land area under land for land deed.

Most of the acquisitions of land in the state of Manipur are done in a peculiar way that usually associates with lot of infirmitiesas far as legal perspective is concerned.

This article intends to a discourse of the pitfalls on land acquisition forthe Mapithel dam of Thoubal Multipurpose Project with a view to elucidatethe nature of one hidden danger that is compressed upon the affected land owners and community people at large due to land acquisition. It is hoped that readers will notmisconstrue this write up but envisage in the optimistic angle.

Direct purchase of land

In the process of land acquisition for Mapithel dam of Thoubal Multipurpose Project, neither the LAA, 1894 was applied nor provisions of tribal customary land laws are maintainedand allegiance to the provisions under Article 371 (C) of the Indian constitution.

Land, forest, river and resources belonging to the tribal villages in Ukhrul and Senapati district were acquiredunder “Direct Purchasedeed”for this project way back in 1990’s.

It is pertinent that this mode of direct purchase or transfer of landagainst the existing laws is almost left oblivion like in many other projects in Manipur where flagrant violation of series Govt. orders, protective Land Laws, Legislations, Court’s Orders & Judgments have been perpetrated time and again in the pretext of national or state welfare. This literally contravened the protective laws of nation which were enacted in the interest of the backward scheduled tribe areas.

1993 Pact and Sale Deed

None can deny that no tribal villages in the Mapithel Valley thought of, planned or had willingness to transfer their land, forest and river being their most precious asset they were handed down through their forefathers.Besides their unwillingness, they were prohibited undertribal customary land laws and Indian protective laws that do not allow transfer of theirland to non tribe or non-local people. Even selling or buying of land in the inter-villages is also not permitted as per their customary land laws.

While the original land owners were bounded by the abovementioned laws, the arbitrary push of Mapithel dam project brought a compellingcircumstancewhen it was conceived in 1980’s. The affected villagers raised strong protest culminating to even violent actions.

Consequent upon to that, state Govt. opened a door for negotiation in early 90’s which ultimately led to signing of the Memorandum of Agreed Terms and Conditions (MoATC) on 19/06/1993 between the affected villages and the state Govt. of Manipur for purchase/transfer of land.

This was followed by entering a pact of sale deed in March 1996 in the mode of Direct Purchase Deed. Furthermore, the very saledeed has underlying implications of land and forest being transferred directly or indirectly includes forest reservation/protection under Catchment Area Treatment (CAT) plan and the areas where the Compensatory Afforestation (CA) are being maintained even though the accord of 1993 and the sale deed did not cover them.

Now the arising impediments are,the question of legality on purchase/transfer of land pertaining to scheduled tribe areas and the conditions contained in the sale deed at one side and literal implications of land areas beingpurchased from whom under what lawprovision,constituteyet another aspect of underlying infractions in the said deed.

As per the terms of the sale deed between the Executive Engineer, Thoubal Project Division No.1, IFC Department, Manipur representing the Govt. of Manipur dated 8/3/1996, absolute ownership of the land given in the accord schedules were dully identified/ verified bythe DC, Ukhrul/his authorized representative and the concerned Headman/Chief.

The manner of ascertaining land owner in the Mapithel valley happened to be a kind of mysteryto public as no definite legally permissible laws could be ruled out. As far as onecan understand, there are no land records or related documents to prove the real land ownership. This even invokes another question of irrationality of the said land agreement.

Conclusion: A close observation on the land acquisition for the Mapithel dam project in the light of the above discussion, it is undeniable that the project is associated with legal infirmities. It neitheradhere to the LAA, 1894 nor the traditional land laws of the tribal communities.

Moreover, the direct purchase/transfer of land without definite laws, virtually contravened the provisions of the Art, 371 (C) of the Indian constitution. Then themain concern here is,where and how is the state Govt. rectifying the pertinent legal issues on land acquisition like the case of Mapithel dam projectwhere such serious violations are mostly concealedwhich in fact makesa suicidal and detrimentalfactor to the very existence of the tribal communities which magnifiedtheir vulnerability.

Finally, it is worth asserting that, it is high time on the part of the project developers to take up corrective measures over the past and current acts of illegality on land acquisition process for implementing developmental programsso that supremacy of laws and development justice can be prevailed in the state in the future.

* Jajo Themson wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted at thmsontezonge(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on 29 June , 2018 .

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