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SC notice on chieftains’ claim

New Delhi, Jan. 24: The Supreme Court today sought response of the Centre and the Mizoram government on a PIL filed by 310 chieftains of the erstwhile Lushai Hills, who claimed to have been deprived of their land illegally by the Union government.

A bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and M.Y. Eqbal issued notices to the Union ministries of home and defence and the Mizoram government on the PIL filed by Mizo Chiefs’ Council in Mizoram, through its president L. Chinzah.

According to the petition filed through counsel D.N. Goburdhan, about 309 other chieftains of the erstwhile Lushai Hills are now living in a state of penury and drudgery. Earlier, the land in question was under the state of Assam but in 1986 Mizoram was carved out as a new state.

The petition submitted that the chief minister of Mizoram, as late as in 2012, wrote to the Prime Minister and to the Union of India, to immediately restore their land and pay compensation but the government has not taken any action till date.

The petition says the possession of the land is still with the government, the security forces and the paramilitary forces. It says there has been a “grave miscarriage of justice and deprivation of fundamental, constitutional and human rights” wherein the 310 chieftains have been denied/deprived of their livelihood, properties and legitimate dues, making Articles 14, (right to equality) 19 (right to freedom of expressions and speech) and 21 (right to liberty) of the Constitution redundant for them.

The petitioners said till Britishers left the country, the chieftains were ruling the villages under them like separate kingdoms. After Independence, they were promised compensation for their land on merger but never got it.

The petition says that the petitioner and other chieftains, belonging to the most backward tribe in the Northeast, have been treated with utmost disdain, worse than chattels. No compensation has been paid to them ever.

“It is evident that the act of the mighty Union of India amounts to encroachment, in exercise of absolute power which in common parlance is also called abuse of power or use of muscle power. It is crystal clear that the authorities have treated the chieftains as a subject of medieval India, and never as a citizen under our Constitution,” the petition says.

Prior to the state’s bifurcation, the petition says, the undivided Assam government passed Assam-Lushai Hills (Acquisition of Chief’s Rights) Act, 1954, according to which the land of the chieftains were to vest with the government. However, no provision regarding compensation was provided.

Realising the error, the state government, in 1955, passed an Amendment Act, according to which only the chieftains’ “rights over land” and not the land would be taken away. But even after that no step was taken to provide compensation to the chieftains, the petition says, seeking an interim compensation of Rs 30 lakh to each of them until the matter is finally resolved by the court.