Shillong, Nov. 14: The F.A. Khonglam government has again touched a raw nerve by announcing that the Meghalaya Land Transfer Act would be amended to include more tribal communities in the “indigenous” category.
The Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) today challenged the government’s decision, joining the long list of organisations and parties opposed to the move. The BJP and the newly-floated Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement were among the first to take a stand against the government’s decision.
KSU president Samuel Jyrwa said his organisation would “fight tooth and nail” against the government if it attempted to impose decisions on the people. The union will tomorrow submit a memorandum on the issue to the chief minister and his deputy.
“Except for the Khasis, Pnars (Jaintias) and Garos, no tribe can be considered indigenous communities of this state. The other tribes that the state government seeks to categorise as ‘indigenous’ are from outside,” Jyrwa said.
The ruling People’s Forum of Meghalaya (PFM) announced recently that the official list of indigenous tribes would be expanded to include the Karbi, Hmar, Baitei, Koch, Bodo, Rabha and Hajong communities of the state. At present, only the Khasis, Syntengs, Pnars, Wars, Bhois, Lyngams and Garos enjoy this status.
If the government sticks to its decision, people from several tribes can buy and sell land in Meghalaya.
The KSU chief termed the government’s decision “a ploy to win over the non-indigenous electorate now that elections are near”. He said the students’ union would, however, ensure that the interests of the state’s original tribal population was protected.
Jyrwa said it was imperative to abolish the provision by which ownership of land could be transferred through power of attorney. “A tribal without land is as good as dead. Therefore, the question of accommodating other people does not arise,” he added.
A former KSU president who is now a leader of the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement said the government’s decision would cause chaos in the state. “Several communities will now clamour for the status of a Scheduled Tribe. The term ‘indigenous tribals’ means only natives and not all tribes. Some people of the Bodo community settled in Meghalaya long back, but they are not natives in the real sense of the word,” he said.
The former student leader said the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos were not considered “indigenous people” of any state other than Meghalaya. “So why should people from outside our state get that status here'” he questioned.
The Federation of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Peoples, too, criticised the government for deciding to amend the Act.
Another storm appears to be brewing over the Centre’s decision to shift the Central excise office from here to Guwahati. Employees unions and other organisations are planning an agitation against the move.