India’s north-eastern states’ response to Supreme Court direction to restore common village land, speedily evict encroachers

commonsThe Supreme Court issued an important direction in 2011 in the Jagpal Singh & Ors vs State of Punjab & Ors to all state governments in the country that they should “prepare schemes for eviction of illegal/unauthorized occupants of Gram Sabha/ Gram Panchayat/ Poramboke/ Shamlat land and these must be restored to the Gram Sabha/Gram Panchayat for the common use of villagers of the village.” All chief secretaries of state governments/union territories in India were told that the schemes should “provide for the speedy eviction of such illegal occupant, after giving him a show cause notice and a brief hearing”.

Researchers Shalini Bhutani and Kanchi Kohli, and research associate Vikal Samdariya, examine how ‘commons’ issue was approached in the North East Region  in the bimonthly e-publication ‘The Case for the Commons’ (October 2014). Excerpts from an enquiry they made in some of the eight states in northeast India, — Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura:

ASSAM: In compliance of Supreme Court (SC) order dated 28 January 2011 under Civil Appeal No. 1132 of 2011 @ SLP (Civil) No. 3109 of 2011, Extra Assistant Commissioner, Government of Assam filed a three-page affidavit in July 2011 before the SC. The State Government submitted that it has directed all Deputy Commissioners (DCs) and Principal Secretaries of Autonomous Councils to comply with the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The court was informed that the State Government has issued specific instructions to the DCs to form District Level Committees (DLCs) to identify the encroached Gram Sabha/Gram Panchayat/Parmboke/Shamlat land.

The DLCs were to comprise of Deputy Commissioners as chairperson and representatives of Panchayati Raj institutions and the concerned Revenue Officers as members. The State in its submission was hopeful that the above actions would enable the Government to prepare a scheme for speedy eviction of illegal occupants after giving a show cause notice and a brief hearing. The affidavit mentioned that the Government was constantly following up the matter with DCs and Principal Secretaries of Autonomous Councils to ensure compliance of the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court. The DLCs of some districts had identified encroached areas along with nature of encroachment over Panchayat/Gram Sabha land. Lastly, the State Government also submitted that it proposed to shortly convene a meeting of all DCs and Principal Secretaries of Autonomous Councils to review the specific actions taken by each DC and Principal Secretary of Autonomous Councils in this regard to comply with directions of the Supreme Court in this case.

MIZORAM: In compliance with the 3 May 2011 order of the SC in the ‘commons case’, the Mizoram State Government filed an affidavit dated 1 July 2011. It was filed by the Deputy Secretary of the Law and Judicial Department following a meeting held in the state on 8 June 2011. This meeting was called for by the Commissioner and Secretary, Revenue Department, to take necessary steps for implementing the SC’s directions. As stated in the affidavit, on thorough deliberations of various departments at the abovementioned meeting it was resolved that instead of framing new Act and Rules for eviction of illegal encroachments from the community land, it is more practical to suitably amend the Mizoram (Prevention of Government Land Encroachment) Act, 2001 (Act No. 7 of 2001) to include specific provisions related to community lands in the state.

It was felt that by adopting this strategy, a seamless continuity can be maintained in the enforcement and the desire objectives can be achieved expeditiously. Following the resolution the Revenue Department drafted the proposed Amendment Bill for changes in the Mizoram (Prevention of Government Land Encroachment) (PGLE) Act, 2001 and the same was to be placed before the State Legislative Assembly in session following July 2011.

Before the Legislative Assembly could pass the new law, executive action was taken in making Rules under the existing PGLE Act. The Rules of 2011 are mentioned in the reply to the RTI request, as one of the ‘list of action’ taken in compliance of the order of the SC. So it can be said that as a direct result of the SC order and to facilitate administrative action for its compliance, the Revenue Department in exercise of its executive powers under section 14(1) of the Act made these rules of procedures.

MANIPUR: In compliance with the Supreme Court Order dated 28 January 2011 and subsequent order dated 3 May 2011 the State of Manipur filed an affidavit on 22 July 2011 through its Commissioner, (Revenue) before the Court. It was submitted that the state has an existing law, namely the Manipur Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1978. This Act deals with the eviction of unauthorised occupants on Government’s Khas land. Sub-Section 2 of Section 1 states that the Act extends to areas across the state. It was further highlighted through this affidavit that the abovementioned Act was amended in 1985.

Through the amendment – The Manipur Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) (Amendment) Act, 1985, the following proviso to sub-section 2 of section 1 was added: “provide(d) that it shall apply at the first instance to the local areas within Imphal Municipality but the Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, apply all or any of the provisions of this Act to such Municipality, small town or local body as may be specified in the notification.” It was stated that section 2 of the amended Act “Local Authority” includes Planning & Development Authority, Municipal Board, District Council, Block Samiti, Town Committee, Gram Panchayats, etc. The amendment dates back to 26 February 1985.

From the affidavit it also comes to light that on receiving a copy of the SC order, the Revenue Department had sought the advice of the Law Department of the State. The latter had advised:

  1. the Act of 1978 would not be enough, as the SC had asked for a separate scheme to be framed
  2. fact-finding would also be needed through the Deputy Commissioners of the concerned districts

All the Deputy Commissioners had been asked to furnish reports of whether the types of encroachment cases as mentioned in the SC order had taken place. The affidavit made clear the intent of the State to initiate action on receipt of reports of the Deputy Commissioners or concerned authorities on unauthorised occupation or encroachment in the areas coming under the Panchayati Raj Institutions. Though the Department shared with the Court that Deputy Commissioners of the districts had not submitted any reports till the date of filing of the said affidavit.

SIKKIM: According to the Office Report of the Assistant Registrar of the Supreme Court of India dated 26 July 2011, the Government of Sikkim (GoS) sent a reply to the Court’s orders of 28 January 2011 and 3 May 2011 through KD Rechung, the then Deputy Secretary of the Home Department, GoS. The reply to the court was in the form of a letter dated 7 June 2011, wherein it was stated that there has been no case of unlawful occupation of Gram Sabha/Gram Panchayat properties in the State of Sikkim, occasion for eviction of illegal occupation has not arisen.

The inputs of the senior officials of the Rural Management and Development Department of the GoS help to put the brief court submission of the state in perspective. As explained in personal communication with the editors dated 27 October 2014, in Sikkim the land is classified based on ownership as forest land (82%) or private land. There is no community-owned land in that sense. The forest land is further classified as reserve forests, khasmal and goucharan. The khasmal and goucharan forests have been set aside to meet the bonafide needs of the local community like firewood, fodder, etc. and in that sense have a community use though government-owned.

The Rural Department officials of GoS further explain that private lands are further classified as panikhet (irrigated), sukhabari (dry field), alainchi bari (large cardamom) and banjo (barren). The reserve forests are being conserved for meeting non-consumptive use like ecotourism, recreation and providing ecosystem services and ecological functions. The quality of these reserve forests has shown visible improvement over the last decade with a ban in timber harvesting, grazing ban and restrictions on other commercial activities. In their view, there is a need to further strengthen the community-based, sustainable management of the khasmal and goucharan forests by deepening forest decentralisation.

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