The Waithou investigation is indeed an eye-opener as to what had all along been happening in the Revenue and Settlement offices where land records and pattas are made and unmade to suit the whims of greedy land-grabbers.
The survey-cum-investigation launched jointly by the Directorate of Settlement and Land Reforms, the Forest Department and SDO Lilong under strict instructions by Chief Minister N Biren Singh has started yielding results. Two employees, including a retired one, have been arrested for manipulating land records and issuing forged pattas at the protected forest area of Waithou Hills.
Old land records of 1964 and maps were taken out and held under the microscope and evidence of tampering has been found. Further, 43 people who are in possession of forged pattas and 20 people, who encroached into protected areas without holding any patta, have so far been identified.
One recalls a furious chief minister pulling up district officials for turning a blind eye to the said activities and even ordered eviction of the unauthorised structures along with the squatters. Every time we cross Lilong one would see temporary structures coming up on the slopes of the hills adjoining the highway in Waithou area which keeps increasing as the years go by.
Twenty years ago, the hillocks were clean. Now that the highway has been upgraded, new alignments were made. However, the squatters do not lose sleep over it as it was business as usual. How could they do it if not they are backed by powerful elements.
Land-grabbing has always powerful people pulling the strings from the back and the squatters are their pawn. The major culprit in this practice was the Amins or Supervisor Kanungos, who were entrusted with all field activities. They are the ones who are conducting land surveys, land measurement besides entry of new pattadars in land records and also maintenance of the land records.
The word of the Supervisor Kanungo (SK) is final in determining individual ownership of a land or the actual status of the land in question. They are so powerful that it is very difficult to transfer or take action against them when they are at fault or suspected of tampering with land records. As the Revenue Secretary said, many more survey and investigations are going on in other areas.
Earlier, we had suggested that a complete overhauling of the Revenue department along with the Directorate of Settlement and Land Records and also the offices of the Sub-Registrars is needed. The Revenue department has a long history of various land scams in the past involving powerful people. But, 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 the 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 gets a communal tinge. So, Chief Minister N Biren’s initiative for a joint survey by the state Revenue department and Forest and environment department was indeed a welcome step.
We understand that the joint survey is aimed at prevention of encroachments in 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.