The present case of overlapping boundaries between forest and revenue has been a long-standing issue particularly in the adjoining areas between the valley and the hills. Claims and counter-claims have often led to land disputes between villages of hills and the valley, which many a times led to clashes. This has been a major cause of concern for the government as the clashes always get a communal tinge. So, Chief Minister N Biren’s initiative for a joint survey by the state Revenue department and Forest & environment department was indeed a welcome step.
We understand that the joint survey is aimed at prevention of encroachments on forest areas and reconciliation of forest and revenue boundaries. But, it is not that easy a process as it involves not only reconciliation of forest and revenue boundaries but the question of district boundaries and the issue of administrative convenience also. The present district boundary system as it exists is quite arbitrary and not people friendly and it needs to be rationalised. The lack of land reforms in the hills had always been an obstacle to proper land-use policy and the overall development and welfare of the common people for lack of individual land ownership rights.
Certain vested interest groups have created a wrong notion about land reforms and for that matter, land survey. Land survey does not necessarily mean the surveyed land would be taken over by the government. It is basically about determination of the area of land owned by each individual and recording of the land owners’ names and other details.
Manipur is the only state in India which has more than one land-holding system in practice. Right now, several controversies regarding jurisdiction and territorial rights in the foothill areas are raging and even some militant groups are joining in to assert jurisdiction over certain territories in favour of tribals. This unnecessarily complicates the issue and there is a danger of communal tension flaring up. Same was the case in the land controversy over the National Sports University site.
Violence had erupted two years back when district authorities of Imphal West visited the site for land demarcation, and even bandh blockades were called. Then came the claim of Konsakhul, a Liangmei village as supported by the All Naga Students Union, Manipur (ANSAM). Konsakhul claims that, the NSU site is within their traditional land which they had leased out to the Kukis in the past. While on the other hand, the villagers of Senjam Khunou, Senjam Chirang and Koutruk assert that even the Haraothel area belongs to the three villages and that their forefathers had bought the land from the State Darbar by paying Rs 13. According to Manipur State Darbar records in 1827, Haraothel is shown as the grazing ground for Senjam Chirang and Senjam Khunou villages.
Land and territory is a dear thing for individuals and groups, even in the animal kingdom. Everyone tries to zealously guard their land and territory. But, any claim has to be backed by proper land records and verifiable documents. The geo-political character of our state is based on ‘Ching-Pat-Turel’ and its inhabitants in both the hills and plains, and a lifestyle firmly rooted in interdependence.
Just as the valley people respect the land rights of the people in the hills, the hill people also need to respect the land rights of the valley people, also. It would be considered unwise if the hill dwellers go on claiming every mound and molehill or for that matter foothills and hills contiguous to the valley as their ancestral land. Since time immemorial, many villages in the valley have had their own ‘Uyoks’ or forests reserves and grazing grounds in the nearby hills.
So, we would strongly suggest that, the rights of the forest dwellers along with the rights of the valley people residing in the foothills who depend on the nearby hills for their livelihood be considered in the said process of reconciliation. In the Forest Rights Act, 2006, it is said that the same rights also can be claimed by any member or community who has for at least three generations (75 years) prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in forest land for bona fide livelihood needs.