Land Commission critically essential before the extension of Sixth Schedule

LB 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 Scheduled 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 Pangals are restricted by law to buy land from the STs. As a result the Meiteis and the Pangals 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 Pangals 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 was extended to Manipur by a Notification in May 1952 and the Patta system of land holding was introduced in the valley. The MLR & LR Act 1960 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.
Affects 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 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 number 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 belonged 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 Pangals 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 Chiefs in 1948 and the Government of Assam passed the The Assam Lushai Hill District (Acquisition of Chief 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 a 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 rallied 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 '' belong 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 on 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.
The views expressed here are solely that of the writer and do not reflect the views of TSE in any way-Editor

(To be contd)