Controlled land-transfer, the Meghalaya way
Shillong, July 1: The June 22 clash between anti-eviction picketers and police in Dispur would not have happened at all had the Assam government learnt from the traditional land tenure customs followed by its neighbour Meghalaya.
Assam, too, had its share of nature’s bounties in the form of dense forests, undulating hills and fertile river plains, abundant rainfall and one of the biggest river systems in the world, but sadly, the lack of knowledge, foresight and, to a certain extent, political will to preserve this richness had culminated in extremities like the Dispur incident.
Had the Assam government shown more foresight and controlled land usage patterns in the hills of the state, especially those surrounding its central city, Guwahati, the picture today would certainly have been a lot rosier.
Meghalaya controls its land usage and transfer processes through the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act, 1971, which regulates transfer of land from a tribal to a non-tribal. This act has been the sole armour of the indigenous people of the state against alienation of tribal land.
Moreover, in April this year, the government formally issued an order to put all land-transfer proposals to non-tribal entities in the state on hold.
The land transfer mechanism in the state is designed to protect indigenous customs and preserve nature while incorporating modern transfer procedures followed all over the country.
Land transfer within the Khasi community does not require any clearance from the administration, but government clearance is required for transfer of land from a Khasi to a non-Khasi (recognised Scheduled Tribes only).
Relevant village durbars have to approve the transfer and sale deeds stating the terms and conditions need to be signed.
The act, however, does not apply to the areas falling under the European Ward in and around Shillong, where even non-tribals are allowed to buy property, including land, if a competent authority allows the transfer.
Local customs also prohibit people from buying or selling Ri Lyngdoh and Ri Shnong plots, and also Ri Raid, ’Law Kyntang and ’Law Adong. The last two categories of land/forests have been put in place to preserve the rich forest cover of the state.
The chairman of Meghalaya’s grand council of chiefs, John F. Kharshiing said till this day, the indigenous people show reverence to the more than 90 sacred forests dotted across the Khasi-Jaintia Hills. “It is amazing that sacred forests are being preserved without any support from the government,” he said.
“Probably, it would help Assam if it can do some research and find out how people here are conserving forest areas. Here, the religious, customary and social sense is very strong, which deter people from ruthlessly destroying forests,” Kharshiing added.
But despite having an intricate land tenure system, the forest cover, especially in West Khasi Hills, is steadily dwindling because of largescale deforestation.
The burgeoning rise in ferroalloy industries in the state, which extensively use charcoal as a major raw material, has catalysed rapid depletion of the state’s forest cover. And added to that is the rapid rise in the number of cement factories in Jaintia Hills which has hit the environment hard.
For several years now, the contention against uranium mining in West Khasi Hills and South Garo Hills has been prominent.
Social organisations have been vehemently protesting against the move to mine uranium in West Khasi Hills under the proposed Kylleng Pyndensohiong Mawthabah (KPM) project.
Organisations in Garo Hills, too, have asked the Centre to stay away from the proposed uranium-mining project in Balpakram National Park, as the Garos believe that the spirits of their ancestors reside in the forest.
According to the State of the Environment Report 2005, the forest areas in Meghalaya has reduced from 69.06 per cent to 63.06 per cent over a period of 15 years.
On the other hand, the 2009 Forest Survey of India of the Union ministry of environment and forests had declared that based on satellite data between October 2006 and March 2007, Meghalaya’s forest cover was 17,321 square km or 77.23 per cent of the state’s geographical area.
Last year, the government approved the Meghalaya Biodiversity Rules, 2010, paving the way for preservation of the state’s rich biodiversity.