Manipur is not alone in land scams. Land-grabbing by the rich and powerful is everywhere. It had become so frequent that the previous government had made it compulsory for any land allotment to go through a Cabinet Sub-Committee. But people always find a way to circumvent the rules and regulations. 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, the government 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 rationalized. 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. As we said before, since times immemorial, many adjoining villages in the valley had their own ‘Uyoks’ or forests reserves and grazing grounds in the nearby hills. These traditional Uyoks have time and again been claimed by tribals particularly the Kukis as their land.
In the recent incident of some valley dwellers being executed by Kuki militants in the Kumbi area, the Kukis had claimed that those Meiteis were cutting trees and stealing firewood from their land. This issue needs to be settled through a law. All it needs is for the state government to draft a bill and present it to the Assembly for consideration and passing.
We earnestly feel that the communities living in the state should be alive to the geo-political reality of ‘Ching-Pat-Turel’ and affinity with hills, lakes and rivers which is very inherent in a shared historical experience through the ages. As we said before, there simply should not be such a thing as ‘ancestral land’ in a composite state like ours and anybody who flags such terms always has an ulterior agenda. They should rather be questioning themselves on what they have done so far for conservation and upkeep of the land or mountains or rivers they are claiming to own.
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. 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 as their ancestral land.
The issue of land reforms in the hills had been made very complicated over the years by some powerful lobbies by spicing it with wrong notions of indigenous land rights, an imagined threat perception of the valley people coming to settle in the hills, and of course flavours of sentiment while all the time side-lining the rights of common people in the hills with regard to individual land ownership.