Home » The Manipur Land Laws and Contest over Tribal Land

The Manipur Land Laws and Contest over Tribal Land

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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The history of land laws in Manipur such as Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform Act (MLR&LR) dates back to pre-inde- pendence period. With the absorp- tion of Manipur under the hands of the British Empire in 1891, the colonialist introduced a new land system in the region. However, this new land system was limited to the valley areas only. With the passing of the Indian Independence Act in 1947, Manipur became independent along with the other princely states of India (Kshetri 2006: 6). Subse- quently, the Assam Land and Rev- enue Regulation (AL&RR) 1886 was introduced in 1947 as the Manipur State Hill People’s Regulation (MSHPR), Act 1947. The MSHPR was subsequently replaced by the MLR&LR Act, 1960, which extends to the whole of Manipur ‘except the hill areas thereof’ (Shimray 2008: 92).The Manipur Hill Peoples (Ad- ministration) Regulation Act, 1947, reduced many tribal chiefs of smaller villages, with less than 20 taxpaying houses to unrecognised chiefs. Sub- sequent to this, under the Manipur (Village Authority in Hill Areas) Act, 1956, attempts were made to reduce the chief to an ex-officio chairman of the village authority. The subdivisional magistrate exercises control over the village authorities, but ultimate control is with the com- missioner. While the act indirectly recognised the role of the traditional village administration, it is silent on financial powers of the village au- thorities and the village courts (Haokip 2009: 313). Yet again, the Manipur Hill Areas (Acquisition of Chiefs’ Rights) Act, 1967, introduced in the Manipur Legislative Assembly in 1966 also attempted to acquire the rights and privileges of the chiefs (Haokip 2009: 314). As a result, Vil- lage Authority (VA) was formed in each village having 20 or more tax- paying houses usually nominated the members of the village council in accordance with the traditional and customary laws. However, the final authority in appointment and constitution was vested in the subdivisional officer (Ray 1990: 89). The MLR&LR Act, 1960, was applied throughout the Imphal Val- ley and in some parts of the hill ar- eas where a land survey was con- ducted (Gangte and Singh 2010: 132). As per the provision of this act, all lands including forests, mines and minerals are state property. The MLR&LR Act, 1960, was an Act to consolidate and amend the law re- lating to land revenue in the then Union Territory of Manipur and to provide certain measures of land re- forms. Though this Act was for the whole of the Union Territory of Manipur, the Hill areas were exempted from the purview of this Act. Section 1(2) of the MLR&LR, 1960, categori- cally stated: ‘it extends to the whole of the Union Territory of Manipur except the hill areas thereof’. The original provision of the Act was not only defective; it also allowed the prevailing land ownership system in the hill areas unchanged. Quite natu- rally, in the hill areas there was no impact of the land reform measures as such. Rather this Act provided a major impetus to perpetuate their present land ownership system with all its 118 N. Kipgen maladies. It was only in 1975 that an amendment was made in this Act in line with the changing socio-economic scenario of the country. Section 1(3) of the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Amendment)Act, 1975, em- powered the State Government to extend, by notification in the official gazette, the whole or any part of this Act to any of the hill areas of Manipur as also might be specified in such notification.

According to Section 2(1) of the MLR&LR Act, ‘hill area’ means such areas in the hill tracts of the state of Manipur as State Govern- ment may by notification in the Of- ficial Gazette. In spite of this legal enactment, the Act has not been implemented in the hill areas of Manipur. What can be drawn from here is that the hill areas in the present-day State of Manipur were administered separately from colo- nial times. For protecting tribal lands, various sections were inserted in the law so as to protect and safeguard them. Some of them are Section 2 under the Act which says ‘it extends to the whole of the State except the hill areas thereof’, and Section 158 which restricts the transfer of land from tribal to non-tribal. However, with the repeated amendments made over the years, these protective clauses are swipe off and so are the protections of tribals curtailed. Thus, the bone of contention comes with the Sixth and Seventh Amend- ment Bill coming into force. The Sixth Amendment Bill intends to re- move the word ‘except hill areas thereof’ which implies that the Act will be made absolute for the whole of Manipur including the hill areas and the Seventh Amendment Bill 1992 seeking to remove the restric- tion ‘provision of land transfer from tribal to non-tribal and control of jhum cultivation in hill areas’. An- other attempt was also made to re- strict new settlement in tribal areas even by the tribals themselves un- der Section 158C of the Act. How- ever, the law has been implemented in some parts of the hill areas. This was possible because according to the definition of the state, the hill districts do not automatically be- come the hill areas. Thus, villages lying in the foothills are fit to be under the law and thus MLR&LR Act has been extended by declaring such villages as plain areas (within the hill district) by notification in the official Gazette (Devi 2006: 87). For instance, the act is extended to 89 villages of Churachandpur district in 1962, vide notification no.142/12/ 60, dated 22-2-1962; 14 villages in Sadar Hills of Senapati district, vide notification no. 138/4/64, dated 25- 2-1965; and 14 villages in Khoupum Valley of Tamenglong district, vide notification no. 3/12/83, dated 14-11- 1987 (Devi 2006: 87; Dena 2009: 2).

Similarly, in the Churachandpur sub-division, 225 villages were recognised as hill areas while in the remaining       89     villages       of Churachandpur, the act was ex- tended vide notification 142/12/60- M, 22 February 1962 (Das 1989: 30). In recent years, the deputy com- missioners of the hill districts have pointed out that due to non-exten- sion of the Act in the hill areas, they are unable to take up survey work there. They also faced resistance from the village chiefs (Das 1989: 30). Currently, the Manipur state is in a dire motivation to implement the leg- islation in the entire hill areas or across the state. Following this, it is pertinent to note the massive support the state receives for the imple- mentation of the legislation particu- larly from the valley people. For in- stance, the Manipur Land Reforms and Land Revenue Act (MLR&LR) Demand 9 Land Laws, Ownership and Tribal Identity: The Manipur Ex- perience 119 Committee was set up solely for putting pressure on the state for the implementation of the law. On its public meeting organised bythe committee on 22 October 2011, various valley-based intellectuals, government servants, bureaucrats and civil society groups such as the United Committee Manipur (UCM) have vociferously pushed to imple- ment the law. In the meeting itself, RK. Ranendrajit is quoted saying that ‘a civil war may break out in Manipurif the MLR&LRAct is not enforced   uniformly   all   over Manipur’. Thus, with the strong backing it received, the Manipur state government is quite confident that it will be able to pass and enforce the legislation in the coming years. J.N. Das points out the negative implica- tions of this Act to a village named Saikot in Churachandpur district. The Chief and the villagers who have en- joyed full rights over land and other natural resources since the colonial days are now turned into illegal ‘en- croachers’ as per Section 14 and 15 of the said Act which states that ‘a person in a tribal village can be treated as trespasser or encroacher if he does not apply for allotment of the land which he possessed or oc- cupied for generations without any hitch’ (1989: 53–59).

Thus, all the occupants, even those whose families had come when the village was being established were regarded as possessors of vacant government land. Villages under the MLR&LR Act were sub- jected to dual taxation. They had to pay both the Hill house Tax as well as the land revenue, meant for the valley population. What is most in- teresting is the fact that the chief of the village equally has to pay pre- mium for obtaining allotment of the land which he had customarily owned and cultivated for years to- gether failing which the chief would himself become an encroacher. Even the chief had to pay a premium for land allotment. The tribes who had been living even before the framing of land laws and who owned land on the basis of the traditional and customary laws are now turned into ‘encroachers’ and deprived of their land. Thus the laws are considered anti-tribal and against the traditional tribal land use. Apart from this, there are cases of illegal maintenance of land records of tribal villages. The hill district land records are being maintained and its revenue collected by the neighbouring valley district while those villages are regularly paying Hill house Tax to their con- cern hill district. This in fact is the reason for the problem of overlap- ping of 2011 census along with the distortion of District Boundary. Fur- thermore, the forcible inclusion of 15 villages of hill districts in the Zilla Parishad and Gram Panchayat con- stituencies was another means by which the state Government in- trudes into the hill areas. All these factors have widened the already hill-valley divide and intensified the already bitter relations between the valley and hill populace.

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