Who owns Meghalaya?

The demand by the Meghalaya Land and Forest Owners’ Association (MLFOA) that the State Government should assert its authority and seek a Presidential decree to exempt Meghalaya from central mining laws etc., because Meghalaya is a Sixth Schedule state, reeks of a selfish attempt to bring in from the backdoor the practice of unsustainable mining yet again. In the first place, has the above Organisation consulted every tribal in Meghalaya before claiming to be the rightful owners of land and forests in Meghalaya? After having displayed such callousness for so many decades by mining coal to a point where rivers and the soil have turned toxic and never lifting a finger to reclaim the abandoned mines and rejuvenate the rivers, how does this group dare to assert its rights over all of Meghalaya? This appropriation of tribal rights by a few greedy men ought to be exposed. On the pretext of strengthening the Sixth Schedule from whose ambit mining has now been taken away, the MLFOA now wants to ensure that the coal mining process will revert to the dark old days of sending young boys to their death inside the rat holes.

Surprisingly this same group was completely silent during the mine tragedy that took the lives of 15 or more miners in December 2018 and many others before that. Only now has this mercenary group raised its ugly head. Time and again the Instrument of Accession is cited to buttress the right of tribals over their land in Meghalaya. The point is that after the signing of the Instrument of Accession all the powers vested with the chieftains are now transferred to the Indian state. It’s a different matter that some people who are fixated on this matter have done much to spin their own narratives around the Instrument of Accession. When arguments such as “land belongs to the people” are loudly flagged, the claimants to such narratives ought to be asked (1) Who are those people they represent? (2) Does the MLFOA include every Khasi, Jaintia and Garo or only a few who have converted community land into private land through a venal process and by depriving impoverished fellow tribals who have had to sell their land under duress because of poverty?

For too long some groups with vested interests and with connection to powerful forces within the political system have used the argument of “the people” to lay claim over resources that belong to the community? The Khasi community never envisaged that a forest surrounding a catchment area should belong to one person. There is such a thing as Common Property Resources (CPR) which are to be held in a sacred trust by custodians of customary practices and tradition. Do we still have that today? Have the District Councils been able to address landlessness? An Institution that has failed to protect the interests of people but is rather sold out to a clique of the tribal elite does not deserve to be further empowered.

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