Land Commission Critically Essential before the Extension of Sixth Schedule

L B Singh *

The ethnic conflicts among the Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis mainly stemmed from the land and identity issues. In most of the states in India, the people from the majority community live in the vast area, whereas the Schedule Tribes (STs) live in a limited area. However, in Manipur it is the opposite. The total area of the hill districts inhabited by the STs is about nine times the area of the valley inhabited by the majority and the other communities. The STs constitute only 41% of the population.

In addition, the Nagas and the Kukis being STs can buy and own land in the valley area also, whereas Meiteis and Panghals are restricted by law to buy land from the STs. As a result the Meiteis and the Panghals are heading to a precarious situation due to the limited land area in the valley.

The Nagas and the Kukis are not unaware of the limited geographical areas and the impending land crisis in the valley due to ever increasing population. However, they want to keep the entire land in the hill districts for themselves; and keep away the Meiteis and the Pangals from the hills. The status of ST gives them the right to demand for the protection of their land from the non-STs.

Many writers assumed that the socio-economic status of the Meiteis and the Panghals are similar to that of the non-ST of other states of India. However, extension of Inner Line Permit (ILP) in December 2019 to the State indicated that the majority community, Meitei, is comparable to the tribes of Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh; and required to be protected.

The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform Act (MLR & LR Act) 1960.

The Assam Land and Revenue Regulation 1886 were extended to Manipur by a Notification in May 1952 and the Patta system of land holding was introduced into the valley. The MLR & LR Act 19 60 was enacted in the Parliament to provide a uniform system for land revenue and land reform in the state of Manipur.

The Act is supposed to be applied to the entire State, except in the "hill areas" which as per the Act means such areas in the hill tracts of the State of Manipur as the State Government may, by notification in the Gazette, declare to be hill areas. The Government of Manipur has so far notified about 1478 villages as "hill areas".

Therefore, excluding the above 1478 Villages in the hill districts, the remaining land in the hill districts should be the property of various departments of the Government. However, in the absence of the proper land records the tribals claim the entire land of the hill districts. The dominant tribe in the area intimidates and prevents the other ethnic groups from settling there. Further, there are also overlapping territorial claims between the Nagas and the Kukis.

Both the Meiteis and the tribals felt that the MLR & LR Act 60 is discriminatory. The tribals feel that the entire hill district should be declared as tribal areas and they are the victims of various Amendments to the Act by the State Government.

The Meiteis on the other hand feel that the Act is discriminatory as Section 158 of the Act restricts the transfer of land from ST to non-ST. Further, traditionally, the villagers from the valley depended on the forest produce of the nearby hills to meet their essential requirements.

It is essential for the peace and prosperity of everyone that an independent "Land Commission" should examine the existing land holding systems of the various ethnic groups, the MLR & LR Act 1960 and various Amendments, laws related to the use of forest, the existing land problems, various methods of cultivations etc. and recommend measures for improving the quality of life for all the ethnic groups.

The Commission may also recommend Amendment to the MLR & LR Act 1960 to fulfil the aspirations of all the ethnic groups; and to facilitate preservation of the unique culture of all the tribes and communities.

Affeects of the Naga and the Kuki Movements.

The Naga movement for the integration of Naga inhabited contiguous areas of adjoining states to establish "Greater Nagaland" or "Nagalim" or "South Nagalim" acted as a catalytic in the land problems in Manipur. The Nagas claim that all the hill districts, except for Churachandpur and Pherzawl belong to them and the Kukis are recent immigrants.

They demanded for land tax from Kukis and it led to the Naga-Kuki conflict of 1993-97; and more than one thousand precious lives were lost. The Kukis termed it as "Ethnic Cleansing" for the formation of "Greater Nagaland". The Kukis then augmented their militant outfits and demanded for a separate "Kukiland" or "Zalengam" or "Zogam".

A large numbers of tribes in Manipur wanted the world to believe that they were independent till the kingdom came under the British in 1891 AD and all the land in the hill district belong to them. It is essential for justifying their demand for "Greater Nagaland" or "Nagalim" or "South Nagalim" or "Zalengam" or "Zogam".

These movements have brought extreme miseries to the people and the progress of the State has been severely affected. It has also created hatred among the various ethnic groups and a deep divide between the hill and the valley. However, it succeeded in keeping the Meiteis and the Panghals away from the hill districts.

The Manipur Hill Areas (Acquisition of Chiefs's Right) Act 1967.

The Chin Hills of Burma (Myanmar) already did away with the institute of Chief's in 1948 and the government of Assam passed the "The Assam Lushai Hill District (Acquisition of Chief's Right) Bill 1954; and abolished the institute of Mizo and the Pawi-Lakhar Chiefs. The Mizo Union was created to check the exploitation of the villagers by the Chiefs in Mizoram and the institute of Chiefs was abolished.

The Manipur state legislature passed the Manipur Hill Areas (Acquisition of Chief's Right) Act 1967. However, in Manipur the Thadou Kuki Chiefs are dominant, very intelligent and highly qualified elite group; and wield tremendous power. Some Chiefs/leaders successfully created the fear psychosis of land alienation among their tribes and as a result the ordinary Kukis rally behind them. A very large number of Kukis live under the poverty line while their Chiefs/leaders continue to enjoy a monopoly of power and resources.

The Naga Chiefs do not claim the ownership of the village land. In the case of Tangkhul and Mao Nagas only the "Common Public Land" belongs to the community and all the other land belong to the individuals. Whereas, in the case of Kabui only the "homestead" land is managed by the community; and the "woodland" and the "Jhumland" are controlled by the elders of the clan or Rampaos.

Only an independent "Land Commission" can recommend the procedure for allotting the land in the hill district with necessary documents to the actual tiller of the land, ordinary Kukis or Nagas; and the compensation amount required to be paid to the Chiefs or Rampaos or any other person.

To Whom the Land Belong?

All the tribal villages in Manipur came under the Meitei king during the reign of Garibniwaza Maharaja (1709 - 1748 AD). However, the Maharaja did not impose the land administrative system of the valley to the hill areas; all the tribes were allowed to be administered according to their customs and traditions with minimum interference.

Loiyamba Shilyen prescribed the tribute to be rendered by the respective tribes, mostly some nominal forest products or agricultural produces. The Lalllup service was imposed to the tribal villages.

The Nagas and the Kukis want to project that the administration of the hill districts was always under the Political Agents during the British rule. However, the administration of the hill districts was under the Rajah of Manipur except for 25 years (1891 to 1915 AD).

In 1916 AD, a British ICS officer became the (President of Manipur State Durbar) PMSD and he administered the hill areas in the name of the Maharaja of Manipur. The Rajah was given the revisionary powers over the Durbar proceeding subject to the approval of the Political Agent. The PMSD was to consult the Rajah on all important matters concerning the hill tribes

The book "Statistical account of Manipur and the hill territory under its rule" 1873 by Dr. R Brown, clearly stated that the hill territory was under the rule of Maharaja of Manipur even before 1891 AD. Both the Nagas and the Kukis would quote paragraphs from the above book to prove the other was the subject of Meitei King.

The boundary was demarcated in the name of the Kingdom and additional territory was allotted in the name of the Maharaja. For example, in1933, the Governor General communicated to Gambhir Singh "with regards to the two ranges of hills,.. We will give up all claims on the part of the Honourable Company thereunto, and we will make these hills over in possession to the Rajah, and give him the line of Jeeree and the Western bank of Barak as a boundary, provided that the Rajah agrees to the whole of what is written to this paper".

In 1905, the boundary papers of the tribal villages were issued by the Political Agent, J Shakespeare in the name of the Maharaja of Manipur which indicated that the land belonged to the Kingdom. The normal procedure of setting up villages in the hill districts with the permission of the Maharaja or the Political Agent also confirmed that the land belonged to the Kingdom/ State. The villages which were set up without any permission may not be aware of the procedure or didn't want to make any effort for it.

Since, the permission had been given by the State to set up the villages; the villagers are now the owners of all the land occupied by the villages and the land under various methods of cultivation, including the village forest.

On the other hand, all the vacant lands not occupied by the villages and not the property of anyone should be the property of the State Government. However, the tribals claim that all the land belongs to them and there is no vacant or Khas land in the hill districts.

Therefore, in order to ensure the preservation of the unique culture and traditions of all ethnic communities and prevent any violence, it would be prudent for an independent "Land Commission" to examine in totality the following:

o The land area, including forest area required in the hill districts for the long term sustenance of livelihood of the STs. The process of the survey of land, preparation of land record, allotment of land to the actual tiller, the land ceiling etc.

o The Government land in the hill districts occupied by the existing infrastructures, offices, hospitals, schools, various types of forest, wildlife sanctuary etc. and the land required for the future expansion of the above infrastructures.

o Vacant Government land available in the hill districts for allotment to the other non- STs indigenous people of the State for setting up residential areas, industries, commercial areas, private educational institutes and health facilities, hospitality industry, tourism etc.

o Any other vacant land, including non-arable and barren areas in the hill districts which can be used by the non-ST indigenous people for the above facilities.

Autonomous District Council (ADC) and Inclusion in the Sixth Schedule.

The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act was passed by the Parliament in 1971; and amended by the State in 2000, 2006 and 2008. The ADCs of Manipur don't have the legislative and judicial powers like the councils under the Sixth Schedule. The ADCs are not authorized to raise resources on its own. No separate budget has been allotted to the ADC and completely dependent on the State Government for their survival.

The Hill Area Committee (HAC) of Manipur passed a resolution in 1974 recommending the replacement of the District Council by the Sixth Schedule and re-affirmed its resolution in 1983, 1990 and 2002. The State cabinet recommended to the Central Government in 1991, 1992 and 2001. The Government of India has notified the Manipur State Government to furnish details of the "local adjustments" and "amendments" required for inclusion in the Sixth Schedule.

Local adjustments and amendments are essential for the survival and the preservation of cultural identities all the ethnic groups in Manipur; and it would be impossible if 90% of the geographical areas of the State are placed under the administrative control of the Sixth Schedule without any local adjustments.

It would be na´ve to expect that the tribals would accept any "local adjustments" and "amendments" recommended by the State Government in view of the claim for the entire hill districts. In order to resolve highly intricate, important and urgent issue, it would be prudent for an impartial "Land Commission" to examine the "local adjustments" and "amendments" before the extension of the Sixth Schedule. Conclusion.

It is critically essential that an independent "Land Commission" headed by a retired Supreme/High Court judge with experts in the various fields such as tribal land rights, various methods of cultivation, environment and forest, planning, members of all ethnic communities of Manipur etc. is constituted to examine in totality all the above aspects of the land problem and recommend remedial measures before the extension of the Sixth Schedule or formation of any exclusive administrative areas in the State.

All the ethnic communities should get the land as per their legitimate right irrespective of the might of their underground outfits without any violence. All indigenous tribes and communities in the state should also get the best opportunity to preserve their unique cultural identities.

Once the ordinary Nagas and Kukis have the individual land documents; they will get freedom from exploitation. It would also empower the STs to think without the fear of land alienation about accelerating development, gender equality, selecting the best form of self-governance at the village level, traditional or the modern democracy at the grass root level, the Sixth Schedule or the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 or PESA etc.

* L B Singh wrote this article for
The writer is a retired Captain, NM, Indian Navy and can be reached at bimollaishram(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 20 2020.

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