The Mirror of Manipur || Fast, Factual and Fearless.

Formalizing Land Rights is Safety Nets for Local Communities: Study


At this point of time, it has become pertinent to re-look at the land rights issues in Manipur, specifically in the uplands, from the perspective of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

By Salam Rajesh

“Indigenous and community lands, crucial for rural livelihoods, are typically held under informal customary tenure arrangements. This can leave the land vulnerable to outside commercial interests, so communities may seek to formalize their land rights in a government registry and obtain an official land document”, writes author Laura Notess and others on Land Use Policy in the science journal Elsevier (2021).

This ground-rooted observation comes from a field intensive study on land rights issues in 15 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America where for decades there has been numerous cases of conflicts on land rights issues, particularly where Governments, and the rich and powerful companies, seek inroad into territories originally held by Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the pursuit for minerals, oil and gas, expansion of commercial plantations, and other extractive industries.

The World Bank (2017) notes that ‘as global demand for foods, fuels, minerals, fibers, and other natural resources grows, land acquisitions are on the rise around the world. Companies and investors are increasingly seeking to acquire land for long periods of time’.

Author Laura and others in their study opines that “As this competition intensifies, land that communities, including Indigenous Peoples hold under customary tenure arrangements is vulnerable to acquisition by powerful political and economic elites, particularly if the land rights are not entered in a government registry and the government has not issued the community an official document, such as a land certificate or title”.

The assertion is that while customary tenure systems historically provided communities with tenure security, the growing threats are leading to new insecurity. Many communities across Africa, Latin America and Asia are applying for formal land rights to integrate their customary rights into official legal systems and to protect their lands, the authors observed.

“The stakes are high, given that more than 50 percent of the world’s land is community land and as many as 2.5 billion people depend heavily on these lands for their livelihood. Even where formalization is not needed for legal recognition, communities are registering their land to ‘double-lock’ their rights”.

While formalization is not a guarantee of tenure security and can bring challenges (for example, property taxes), for many communities facing growing threats to their customary land, the benefits now outweigh the costs, the study authors say.

Land rights issue is an emerging conflicting process in many of the Northeastern States in India, as is quite evident in several other States like Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and even in Kashmir.

In Manipur, the issue was always there, whereas, it suddenly has assumed a certain proposition of concern recently with the State intending to update the Protected Area Network status in all of the districts in the State, more specifically in the uplands which for generations have community ownership of the land and control over the resources.

Citing cases from Africa and Latin America, the study authors are of the opinion that “Tenure security creates incentives for community members to make land-related investments by providing them with high expectations of rights over the returns. Coupled with other measures (e.g., payments for ecosystem services), tenure security can promote long-term investments by communities in land stewardship that generate positive environment and development outcomes”.

This discussion brings back the generative idea that protecting forest ecosystem by local communities can lead to gains from carbon pricing and other ecosystem services provided by the ‘protected’ forests. In India, there are already cited examples, as in the case of Khonoma village in Nagaland or Phayeng village in Manipur, where local communities have benefitted from gains by their proactive forest ecosystem conservation. Gaining the tag “Green Village” or “Carbon Positive Village” is certainly working positively for communities whose zeal for greening their surroundings is now paying off.

Community’s assertion on their rights to their “Territories of Life” is finding conflicting views with Government’s agenda on expanding the commercial exploitation of natural resources on various so-said ‘developmental’ projects. The suggested idea for local communities, as is being referred to in the study, is protection of their lands through a legalized structure using the existing legal systems.

The conflicting issue, of course, is the expressed concern of the local communities on their hold to their land as and when their lands are entered into the legal system. The questions “What will happen to our Rights?” or “What will be the status of our lands once it come under the PA system?” are the first questions that pop up in such discussions. Questions which are not easy to answer outrightly.

At this point of time, it has become pertinent to re-look at the land rights issues in Manipur, specifically in the uplands, from the perspective of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

For instance, Section 3 of the Act talks about ‘rights which secure individual or community tenure or both’ as by article 3(a) the ‘right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or self-cultivation for livelihood by a member or members of a forest dwelling scheduled tribe or other traditional forest dwellers’.

Further, article 3(c) specifies the ‘right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries’.

Quite significant for village communities that are currently working for the conservation of forest lands under their traditional jurisdiction, article 3(j) species the ‘right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use’.

On the issue of displacement of local communities by a developmental scheme, article 3(m) states that the ‘right to in-situ rehabilitation including alternate land in cases where the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers have been illegally evicted or displaced from forest land of any description without receiving their legal entitlement to rehabilitation prior to 2005’.

In summing up, it has become a priority for local communities to re-think on the dire necessity of formalizing their land rights – specifically their rights to ownership and control of the forest lands traditionally managed and governed by them since ages – as safety net in terms of the possibilities of conflicting issues on their land rights due to intervention by influential external factors who may easily over-shadow their hold onto their ancient lands – their ‘territories of life’.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be reached at [email protected])

You might also like
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.