Who owns the land?

  • 30/05/1992

Arunachal Pradesh's tribals believe they have an absolute right over the state's land and forests. The state takes a different view of the matter.

The entire area lying between the McMohan Line and the Inner Line is technically owned by the state. In actual practice, government land constitutes only 26.16 per cent of this territory. About 73.56 per cent of the total forest area is marked as unclassed state forest where customary laws prevail and the state cannot intervene without prior consultation with village authorities. To date no land settlement has been conducted in the state, nor have ownership pattas been issued to any tribal.

The Jhum Land Regulation of 1947, which gives sanctity to the customary right to jhum land in favour of a village or a community, provides the legal basis for land administration. Local customs and traditions are respected and take precedence over the regulation.

The administration finds it extremely difficult to acquire land for development purposes even under the Land Acquisition Act of 1984. Earlier, land could be acquired through persuasion and was donated by the villagers. But now the villagers, aware of the value of land, don't part with it unless suitably compensated.

All this has served to aggravate the problem of ownership claims. Traditionally, individual and community rights over land were established on the basis of mutual understanding. But these have not been recorded officially and, therefore, a curious situation exists today. A tribal may own vast areas of land, but to take up a development scheme as a beneficiary, he has to get his land demarcated and registered in his name. Development schemes are usually targeted to benefit an individual beneficiary, but not a single settlement deed exists to establish individual ownership.

There is now a growing tendency on the part of the educated urban elite to privatise large areas of land by registering it in their name. This could lead to a certain section of society acquiring land at the cost of the community by manipulating the measurement of the area in connivance with the local gaon bura (village head).

Over the years, the land around towns and in the foothills has become more valuable. For instance, Pasighat is a much sought after area. Obang Moyong, a farmer from Mirbuk village near Pasighat, feels that tribals are beginning to value modern facilities and, therefore, wish to live closer to towns and roadside villages. Mobility of this kind has created complex problems manifest in the disputes which regularly break out between the migratory and settled tribes.

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