Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Case of the landless tribal

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The issue of land evokes different emotions in different people. For the affluent land is an investment and a surety for the future. They gift land to their off-springs who in turn will acquire more land for their children. And this practice continues and has continued for as long as we can remember.The Khasi-Jaintia community has never given any thought to the possibility that land as a finite resource would one day create an angst and would be the cause of a divide between those owning hectares of land and the growing number of landless who today live in rented accommodation despite being indigenous to the state.The sense of community has given way to crass individualism.
One of the few statesmen that Meghalaya has seen was BB Lyngdoh, who during his chief ministership had proposed a cadastral survey that would bring all land under the modern revenue system. Above all, a cadastral survey would inform as to who owned how much land and possibly lead to land reforms that would ensure a land ceiling beyond which a person would not be able to buy more land. This might have brought in an ecosystem of justice and equity in a tribal community where a large number of families no longer have access to community land because those have, over time, been converted to private land. It is instructive that the VPP MLA, Ardent Basaiawmoit should raise this issue now. He could have raised it when he was an MDC. Frankly the ADCs have a greater onus of curtailing the land greed of a few and ensuring equitable distribution of land amongst the community members. But alienation of land has happened under the watch of the Councils which raises the question as to whether they are fulfilling their constitutional duties of safeguarding the land rights of the tribal community, especially the poor who should have access to community land. Over decades the refrain trotted when it comes to acquiring land for any institution or for roads and highways is that land belongs to the ‘people.’ Who those people are is not known. Land-owning people today are the affluent among tribals. About 76% of the indigenous tribals of Meghalaya are landless.
Unfortunately the concerns raised by many today is a one-point agenda of land alienation to non-tribal entities. What the rich tribal is taking away from his/her fellow tribal seems to be of no concern. Why does the VPP not demand a cadastral survey now and stick to their guns until that goal is met? That would be the greatest favour they can do for the poor who they claim to represent.

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