Tribal groups in Manipur have slammed Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh for allegedly saying “land belongs to Mother Nature and not to any particular community”.
Five organisations, including Tangkhul Naga Long, the apex body of the Tangkhul community, reminded the Chief Minister that the identity of the tribal people had a “sacred” connection with their land, the only legacy passed down by their forefathers.
“We are indigenous to our land and thus, the sole owners of our land. The British, having understood this right from the early days, created laws to honour the tribals’ relationship with their land. This birth right must be respected,” the organisations said in a statement issued on June 12.
They pointed out that Clause (B) of Section 2 of the Protection of Manipur People Bill passed by the 60-member Manipur Assembly in August 2015 defines the ‘Manipur people’ as ‘persons of Manipur whose name are in the National Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951, Census Report 1951 and Village Directory of 1951 and their descendants who have contributed to the collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur’.
By this definition, they said, many residents of the hills would not qualify for inclusion in the NRC. Proper census was not maintained in the hills, least of all in 1951, they added.
“Also, Sections 14A (1)… states notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, non-Manipur persons, firms, institutions or any other similar entities who intend to purchase any land in the State of Manipur shall submit an application to the Deputy Commissioner of the district concerned where the land to be purchased is situated for obtaining the prior approval of the State government before such purchase is made by him,” the organisations said.
They explained it meant anyone — whether from ‘mainland India’ or the hills of Manipur — could buy land in the (Imphal) Valley since the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960, did not extend to the hills and hence, did not apply to the hills.
The Imphal Valley is dominated by the non-tribal Meitei community. Many in the valley resent the inability of the non-tribal people to buy land in the hills while the hill dwellers are allowed to buy land in the valley.
“The hills of Manipur… do not permit any non-indigenous person to buy/acquire land – be they from the valley, ‘mainland India’ or tribals from other States of India. Article 371C guarantees us this right. The 2nd Schedule of the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972, expressly puts land and land use of the hills under the exclusive purview of the Hill Areas Committee,” the organisations said.
They said these measures have been put in place from the colonial times through to the Union of India in order not to alienate the hill tribes from their land.
This is not for greed or material requirements but to preserve a relationship which is hallowed, the organisations said and asked the Chief Minister to withdraw his “unacceptable” remark immediately.