Land Tenure System

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But the forests of the District Council, village

communities and private ownership in different States of the North-East have different

status and management.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the indigenous people, living traditionally acquire their rights over

as much land and forests as they inherit. Shifting cultivation is practiced on hill slopes on

land owned by the villagers. Traditionally the village is a unit of administration by itself

and the boundaries of the lands belonging to the villagers are very clearly known to the

village elders and these are respected by the neighbouring villages. The Village Council

divides the cultivated lands and distributes them amongst the clans living within the

village, who in turn subdivide them amongst the members of each clan. The right of the

persons engaged in shifting cultivation cannot be transferred to others outside the village

community. Within the same village, the land transfer can take place only with the

consent of the village clan. In case of land that is developed permanently, customary law

demands that the rights can be transferred to any one belonging to another clan or subtribe

or tribal group, with the consent of the village clan to which the land belonged. No

land can be sold to non-tribal people.

In Assam, the areas permanently dedicated to forestry have been notified as reserved

forests or proposed reserved forests under the Assam Forest Regulation and District

Council Forest Act. All reserved and proposed reserved forests are well surveyed, well

demarcated and duly notified. The reserved forests constituted under the Assam Forest

Regulation before coming into effect of the District Council Forest Act, are not included

in the 6th schedule of the Constitution. However, these reserved forests in hill districts,

since couple of years back, have been allowed to be managed by the District Council

under scientific Management Plans prepared under the State authority. Generally, no

rights are allowed in reserved forests.

However, there are many encroachments in reserved forest and their magnitude is not less

than 3000 sq km. While legally all such people should be evicted, these encroachments

are continuing due to various reasons.

In Manipur, over 60% of the total forest area is still unclassified. The Manipur Land

Revenue and Land Reforms (MLR & LR) Act 1960, declares that all lands including

forests, mines and minerals, which are not the property of any person are the property of

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the State. The landowners in their individual lands have permanent and heritable

transferable rights over the land and its use. Land ceiling has been imposed wherein a

maximum of five ha of irrigated land can be owned by a family of five members and for

each additional member of the family 1/2 ha may be owned. The ceiling is 10 ha, in case

of non-irrigated land. This Act also prohibits transfer of tribal land to a non-tribal and

land rights are thus acquired by (1) inheritance (2) transfer (3) allotment of new land by

Government. Transfer of land owned by tribal to a non-tribal may be possible only after

permission from the Deputy Commissioner and consent of the District council. However,

M.L.R. & L.R. Act, 1960 does not apply to hill areas where 70% of the forests are

located. The land tenure system in these hill villages is governed by the customs and

traditions of the tribes that inhabit such areas and these are basically of two broad types

viz. Naga and Kuki. However, there is one common factor, that the rights over land can

be acquired by clearing jungles, in addition to acquisition through inheritance and

transfer.

In Meghalaya, 72.98% of the land of the State falls under community ownership. This

also includes clan land and “rikynti” land, which are not strictly community land. The

rest consist of land acquired by the Government for its establishment and land assessed

for land revenue, which includes towns, bazaar land, homestead land, basti or paddy

lands, etc. The land tenure system is different from district to district and each of the predominant

tribal community follows its own traditional system. In the Khasi Hills, one

category of land belongs to the community, and even if a member has a right to occupy a

portion of the land, he has no transferable right. In the second category, land is set apart

exclusively for certain clans, specially the original founders of villages. Such clans enjoy

absolute right of occupancy of the land as well as heritable and transferable rights. In the

Jantia hills, the Government did not recognise private ownership of high lands, but

allowed anyone to cultivate them.

In the Garo hills, there are two types of land tenure systems. In one category i.e. “akhing”

land, the individual families have only temporary right for cultivation. In the other

category, which are basically lands in the plains, permanent cultivation is allowed. All

these lands are assessed for land revenue, the rate of which is fixed either permanently or

temporarily for a period.

In Mizoram, about 51% of the forests are unclassified and 11% of the forest area is

controlled by the District Council. Most of the unclassified forests are owned by the

Village Councils. Parts of these forests are kept as village safety and supply reserves and

in rest of the areas of forests, Jhuming is extensively practised. No systematic survey and

demarcation has so far been carried out in Mizoram. By and large almost the entire forest

areas have been affected in the past by Jhuming; resulting in clearance of primary tree

cover and .leading to degradation of land, except in the southeastern part of the Lunglei

district and southern parts of Chhimtuipui district. Land rights accrue on permanent

occupancy of either agricultural or residential areas, especially in wet rice cultivation,

terraced rice cultivation and fruit plantation in permanent plots. The Jhumias do not have

such rights. The jhum lands being property of village community, the ownership of such

land is shared amongst the community. The ownership during the period of cultivation is

decided by a lottery once in a year.

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In Nagaland, about 93% of the total forest areas is still unclassified. In most of the tribal

groups immovable landed properties are recognised in four categories. (1) private land

(2) clan land (3) morung land, and (4) common village land. Most of the unclassified

forests belong to any of these categories. The jhum land does not belong to individuals. It

is the property of entire community and the people living in the village. The Naga Jhum

Land Regulation Act 1946, gave the original inhabitants absolute right over their jhum

land and recognised their eligibility for the practice of shifting cultivation, grazing of

cattle, etc. Naga Forest Act, 1968 gives the Government absolute right to carve out forest

reserves and acquire any plot of land for its purpose.

In Tripura, about 29% of the Forest area is still unclassified. In 1960, the Tripura Land

Revenue and Land Reforms Act was passed, which declares that all lands which are not

the property of any person are the property of the State. This Act abolished the

intermediary rights bringing the raiyats into direct contact with the State. The raiyats are

entitled to construct buildings, wells, tanks, etc., and improve the land for better

cultivation. Under this Act, there is also land ceiling based on family size. For a family of

one person the ceiling is 2 ha If a family consists of 5 members the limit is 4 ha In case of

more members in the family, for each additional member 0.6 ha is granted, subject to a

ceiling of 7.2 ha Transfer of land by a tribal to non-tribal is not valid unless the

transaction has the written consent of the Collector.

The rights and concessions in the North-East region also go mostly by tradition and

precedence. There has been little codification of such rights and concessions being

enjoyed by the people of the region, particularly the tribals. There exists a distinct

undercurrent of opinion within the individuals, communities and District Councils to

interpret any order banning the use of land, extraction of forest produce as aimed, at not

only the livelihood security but the ethnic identity and aspiration of the population. Often,

they refer to the Article 371 and Article 244 (VI Schedule) of the Constitution as a

support to their absolute ownership and right to use the land. However, the relevant

clauses in 6th schedule give the local people the right to manage the land and forest

produce and most people in the North-East have been noted to manage the forest

resources in a sustainable manner.

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