Meghalaya govt. defends notice to Punjabi residents

The Shillong Municipal Board. Photo:  

The Meghalaya government has defended the Shillong Municipal Board’s (SMB) notices asking Dalit Sikh residents of a “disputed” locality to provide documents establishing them as owners of the land or the structure there. The notices, with a month’s deadline to respond, were served on some 300 households on Friday, almost a year after the locality in the Meghalaya capital was rocked by communal violence.

On Monday, Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong ruled out any dispute since the land of the locality called Punjabi Lane — also, Sweepers’ Lane or Them ïew Mawlong — belonged to the SMB since an agreement in 1954 with the local tribal chieftain. This gave the SMB the right to seek documents from those living on its land.

Mr. Tynsong’s reaction followed the decision of the Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC) of the Punjabi Lane to serve a legal notice on the SMB demanding withdrawal of the notices. It also threatened to file a contempt case if the notices were not withdrawn.

Mr. Tynsong heads the High-Level Committee (HLC) the government had formed for relocating the residents. The locality derived the name from the Punjab-origin Dalit Sikhs the British had brought in the mid-1800s to work as scavengers. Many of their descendants are engaged as sanitation workers with various government departments.

The HLC had in May decided to give the residents a month’s time to prove they were legal residents. It instructed the SMB to create “an inventory of properties” belonging to the residents who foiled an attempt to conduct the survey, leading to the notice.

Last year, the residents approached the Meghalaya High Court to prevent the government from relocating them. Hearing the case on February 15, the court directed the “government and all other agencies not to disturb” the residents in any manner, asking them to go to the civil court if they wanted eviction.

“We have not considered filing a civil case since the land belongs to the SMB and the question of any dispute does not arise,” Mr. Tynsong said.

Members of the HLC insist that the notices were not to drive the residents away. “We want to know how many people with government service stay there,” a member said.

“All of us are residents. We cannot let some of us be evicted,” Gurjeet Singh, HPC secretary and president of the locality Gurdwara Committee, said.

Many in Shillong want the residents to be relocated since the locality is a part of Iewduh or Bara Bazaar, the city’s largest commercial centre. The residents feel some builders are behind the move to evict them for a multi-storeyed shopping complex.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 2:01:28 AM |

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