Ownership and protection of tribal land in Manipur : A review

Kachui Timothy Zimik, IRS
Contd from previous issue
Considering the fact that, in hill areas of Manipur, the tribal people own the entire lands including the forests, the implementation of this Act or any other such forest acts in Manipur will not be in the interest of these tribal people.
Article 371C of the Constitution of India and Hill Areas Committee  : Article 371C of the Constitution of India provides a special provision for the Constitution and functions of Hill Areas Committee (HAC) of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Manipur for the modifications to be made in the rules of business of the Government and in the rules of procedure of the Legislative Assembly of the State and for any special responsibility of the Governor. As per Article 371C (2), the Governor is entrusted with the special responsibility to secure the proper functioning of the HAC. This Article envisages the HAC to play a vital role relating to the legislation, the administration and development of the hill areas of Manipur. This Article mandates the HAC to play such key role to protect and safeguard the rights and the interests of the hill people of Manipur. The main legislative functions of the HAC are: (1) All Bills except Money Bill in respect of scheduled matters shall be referred to the HAC and (2) The HAC has the power to discuss the annual State budget/financial statements in so far as they relate to the hill areas and to recommend Bills to the Assembly for passing them for the development of hill areas.
The Second Schedule of the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972 lists 13 Scheduled Matters. The HAC is entrusted to exercise its power over these scheduled matters. The list 3 of scheduled matters relates to ‘Allotment, Occupation or use or settling a part of land…’. The list 2 itself gives the HAC the jurisdiction over the District Councils in the Hill Areas. The District Councils have similar functions relating to land (as the HAC) in their respective jurisdictions. The study of the function of the HAC and Scheduled Matters provided by the Article 371C of the Constitution shows that the HAC is a powerful body capable of protecting the rights and the interests of the people of the hill areas of Manipur. If judged by the past performances of the HAC and its Chairpersons, for various reasons, the HAC has been a complete failure to say the least. No one is to be blamed for this miserable failure, but the weakness of the hill people only.
The Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015 (PMP Bill) : The PMP Bill was unanimously passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly on 31/08/2015 ostensibly ‘to provide protection, maintenance of socio-economic and cultural balance of the Manipur people and for maintenance of peace and public order in the State of Manipur and regulation of entry into and exit from Manipur for Non-Manipur persons…’. In Clause (b) of Section 2 of the Bill, “Manipur People” has been defined as ‘persons of Manipur whose name are in the National Register of Citizens, 1951, Census Report 1951 and Village Directory of 1951 and their descendants who have contributed to the collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur’. If the language used in this definition is strictly interpreted, no single person in Manipur will qualify to be ‘Manipur People’. To qualify to be Manipur people, the person’s name must be registered in all the above three records/registers. And the descendants of such Manipur people would qualify to be Manipur people only if they have contributed to the collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur. By this very definition, all the children of certain age of such Manipur people would be automatically disqualified because, at this young age, these children could not have contributed to the collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur. Above all, who will be the authority to certify in each case regarding the contribution made to the collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur for qualification to be Manipur people ? Even if we apply the above three registers to the Imphal valley people and the hill people separately, most of the hill people will be automatically excluded from being considered as Manipur people because the Census Report 1951/Village Directory of 1951 had not recorded the entire population of the hill areas. When the HAC and the people’s representatives (MLAs) failed to protect the interests of the hill people, the people of hill areas resisted the Bill.
The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment) BILL, 2015 : The Manipur Legislative Assembly had also unanimously passed ‘The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment) Bill, 2015 on 31/08/2015. This Bill seeks to insert new sections 14A and 14B after section 14 of the Principal MLR and LR Act of 1960. The new section 14A (1) reads as follows: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, Non-Manipur persons, firms, institutions or any other similar entities who intend to purchase any land in the State of Manipur shall submit an application to the Deputy Commissioner of the district concerned where the land to be purchased is situated for obtaining the prior approval of the State Government before such purchase is made by him.” A simple reading of this new section shows that this section will be applicable to the entire State of Manipur, whereas the Principal MLR and LR Act, 1960 does not extend to the hill areas.
But the term ‘notwithstanding anything contained in this Act’ means that this new section 14A over-rides other provisions of the Act and as such, it extends to the whole State of Manipur. Thus, the legal protection of not permitting the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal people provided in Paragraph 158 of the MLR and LR Act will be taken away in this manner. This new section 14A is apparently intended to be the tool for the acquisition of tribal lands particularly for exploiting minerals deposited therein. Thus, this new section 14A extending to the hill areas will seriously affect the tribal lands. Therefore, the hill people have rejected this Bill also. The writer is the Principal Commissioner of Income Tax. The views expressed in this article are his personal views, and not the Government of India.