Students’ body submitted a memorandum to Najma Heptulla stating that ownership of all lands in valley areas were absolutely claimed by the Raja of Manipur and land revenue was collected upon, whereas the lands in hill areas were regulated by traditional practices and customary laws of the tribal people.
Accusing the state government of crafty attempt to distort the customary land used policy of hill areas of Manipur, All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) on Monday submitted a memorandum to Governor Najma Heptulla seeking her intervention against July 7 office memorandum removing restrictions with regard to registration for sale, purchase and gifting of property/land.
ATSUM also reiterated its demands for effective functioning and absolute implementation of the provisions of Article 371C of Indian Constitution and its subsequent order “The Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) order, dated 20th June 1972 issued by Dr VV Giri, the then President of India.
Claiming that Manipur state is multi-ethnic state sharply divided into hills and valley, ATSUM in the memorandum asserted that the hills and valley were administered differently even before colonial period days. The hill people had their own polity with well-regulated land ownership system, judicial system and other social institutions based on customary laws, it added.
It further claimed that ownership of all lands in valley areas were absolutely claimed by the Raja of Manipur and land revenue was collected upon, whereas the lands in hill areas were regulated by traditional practices and customary laws of the tribal people.
According to the memorandum, with the conquest of Manipur by the British, the administration of the entire hill areas was under the responsibility of the President of Manipur State Durbar who was a British ICS Officer. The British introduced the system of Indirect Rule. This Colonial indirect rule system formally recognised the institution of chieftainship and village authorities/councils and the Chiefs/Headman of the villages were given responsible for the administration of the villages. After independence, the separate administration of hills were still recognised and the Manipur hill people were administered through the Manipur Hill People’s Regulation, 1947 which was a well formulated local government system for the hill areas,
Under this regulation, lands in the hill areas were separately regulated, it added.
In the memorandum, ATSUM asserted that, when Manipur Union Territory was granted Legislative Assembly through Government of Union Territories Act, 1963, a special provision for the Hill Areas of Manipur was guaranteed wherein the Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly of the Manipur Union Territory was constituted consisting of all the members of the Legislative Assembly who for the time being represent the constituencies situated in the hill areas.
The matters relating to the allotment, occupation, or use, or setting apart of land and forest (other than reserved forest) in hill areas were within the purview of the Standing Committee, it added.
With the Manipur Union Territory becoming State under North Eastern State Reorganisation Act, 1971 and introduction of Article 371C in the constitution of India, the Hill Areas Committee in the Manipur Legislative Assembly to monitor the law making and administration of hill areas was constituted through the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) order, 1972 promulgated by Dr VV Giri, the then President of India, it said.
The memorandum further said the HAC was empowered to look into matters relating to allotment, occupation, or use, or setting apart of land in hill areas. No legislation or executive action affecting the Hill Areas with respect to any schedule matters including land can be enacted or formulated without the consent of HAC. Thus, customary landing holding practices continue to regulate the hill areas till today under the protection of article 371C, it asserted.
Despite the fact that the lands in the hill areas are protected by Article 371C of Indian Constitution, ATSUM alleged that successive governments of Manipur state has been persistently trying to dilute the traditional land holding system of the hill areas by extending Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 in the hills.
“The state governments under different notifications had extended the provision of the Act to few pockets of tribal areas. To the tribals, the extension of the Act to their areas is encroachment into their territory. The tussle between the State Government and the tribal Chiefs/Headman, Civil Organizations etc., pose a grave situation,” it claimed.
Further, the ATSUM alleged that a number of policies for regulation of land have been formulated by the state government without consulting the Hill Areas Committee. Such is the case that the Secretariat: Revenue Department, Government of Manipur issued an Office Memorandum No. 16/16/2019-R(SALE DEED) dated 7th July 2021 pertaining to registration of transaction (sale and purchase) of land among permanent residents of the state, it said.
This office Memorandum is anticipated and feared that it will infringe the customary land holding system of the hill areas, if extended, it added.
The ATSUM said the office memorandum is unconstitutional and does not have merit for extension in the hill areas of Manipur as the allotment, occupation, or use, or the setting apart of land (other than any land which is reserved forest) for the purpose of agriculture or grazing or for residential or other non-agricultural purposes or for any other purpose likely to promote the interest of the inhabitants of any village or town situated within the Hill Areas is within the purview of Hill Areas Committee and Autonomous District Councils. As such, a mere Office Memorandum of Revenue department cannot overrule constitutional provision.
Further, Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 under which this OM was issued is superseded by insertion of Article 371C enforced w.e.f 15th February, 1972 in connection with land and forest regulation of hill areas because land and forest are protected by 371C.Latter law will supersede the previous law, said the memorandum.
The ATSUM questioned under what provision of law this Office Memorandum was issued.
ATSUM beseeched the governor office to promptly intervene into the matter and ensure that the rule of law as enshrined in Article 371C of Indian constitution is honoured and effectively implemented by invalidating the extension of the July 7 office memorandum in the hill areas.
The memorandum was signed by ATSUM vice-president Vanlallien Khaute, general secretary SR Andria.