Changes in Land Acquisition in Nagaland
Land is a limited resource and is required for any developmental activity to happen: green field, brown field, retrofitting or extension development works. It is obvious that every time land is acquired for developmental activities, there is change in ownership or land-use, and a certain section of individuals are going to be directly(or indirectly) affected by the outcome, which is likely to last forever. This calls for careful planning and execution of the land acquisition process. The Government of India has given due consideration on the complexity of acquiring land while framing the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR). It may still be a work in progress, however, the name of the Act itself clearly highlights the broad spectrum of issues that it intends to address. Emphasis is given on the livelihood aspect of land and in trying to secure the interests of the land owners as well as other affected individuals through monetary compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement in a fair and transparent manner. In the Act, acquiring tribal land is given special attention with additional clauses in favour of the tribal land owners because, for the tribal people, land is their main resource which is passed on from generation to generation; they inhabit, cultivate, extract various forest resources like fuel, food, raw material for constructions, etc., and in some cases even have religious and customary ties with their ancestral land. Nagaland is a tribal State and also has a special constitutional provision in the form of Article 371(A) which is almost synonymous with all land related issues within the State. The privilege bestowed in the article gives constitutional right to the Nagas that over-rides any Act on land, such as the LARR, passed in the Parliament, unless the Nagaland Legislative Assembly decides to enact it in the State. Presently, the State rely on the Nagaland and(Requisition and Acquisition) Act, 1965 (NLA), which draws huge influence from the Land Acquisition Act 1894 of India present under the colonial era during which the scenario and purpose for enacting such an act was completely different then.
What makes Land Acquisition in Nagaland different from other states in India
Being a Tribal state, there is a unique land holding system where individuals, families and clans are sole owners of the land and land has to be acquired from them every time any project is to be implemented. Therefore having a proper Land Acquisition Act is in dire necessity because the number of projects being implemented in the State is increasing. Owing to the lack of a functional Land Act and the presence of a strong community based society in the State, most of the land acquisition issues are taken up by the community leaders as they tend to play bigger roles in the acquisition process. For Government projects, Tribal Bodies, Village Council(VC) leaders and Government Officials collaborate in carrying out the process of land acquisition; whereas in cases of private bodies acquiring land, there is little or no involvement of Government Officials, and thus eliminating the purview of an already dysfunctional Land Act. Nevertheless, the entire process of land acquisition is made much simpler, compared to the process under conventional Land Acts, through the intervention of Tribal/Village Leaders as intermediary channels between the individual land owners and the authority acquiring the land. The bone in contention is the integrity of the process, the VCs’ follow, which is based fundamentally on the dialectics. Modern day land acquisition issues are much more complicated and therefore, reliance on loosely set up traditional decision-making institutions(and the presence of a diverse calibre of Tribal/Village leadership personalities across the State), is seen to be a perfect ground for corruption, manipulation, exploitation, confusion, and in many cases neglecting the interests of the individual landowners.
How life of people is being affected
The goodwill sentiment of the public in welcoming infrastructure projects by selflessly contributing land is notable in the State. However, because of the ambiguity in land matters, acquisition of land for many developmental projects are usually met with stiff resentment from the public, thereby delaying the projects, escalating costs and virtually impeding development in the State. More often than not, the Article 371(A), which is supposed to be a positive empowerment, is seen in bad light because the public use it as a last resort legal right to defend their precious land. This scenario is common in larger land acquisition cases while in smaller cases, such as within the villages, the plight of the land owners are rendered helpless. With absolute power, the VCs’ decisions are final and individuals are made to swallow the decisions, which are tied with heavy consequences if one tries to go against it. The situation is further worsened by the uncertain compensation scenario. In many cases, the landowners are not properly compensated, some under compensated, some delayed while others never received their fair share of compensation. As per the prevailing situation, for the cause of development and common good, some people are being stripped off their lands and gifted poverty in return.
It is commendable and worth appreciating that the Naga society keeps high regard for unity and common good, however, there needs to be refinement and proper recognition of the existing decision-making processes when it comes to land acquisition. There has to be a practical legal arrangement that ensures all populace security to exist and flourish unconditionally upon their land. A desirable solution can be a comprehensive Land Act, presumably a combination of LARR, NLA, traditional decision-making processes and taking into consideration the provisions of Article 371(A) along with due consideration of the unique land holding system prevalent in the state. The new Land Act should clearly indicate all the traditional customs, powers and duties of tribal/village bodies/individuals that are officially recognised in the legal framework for the land acquisition; also, features such as grievance redressal channel for project affected families/individuals, compensation based on a much more exhaustive criteria in favour of the land owners, assured, transparent and timely compensation, and resettlement and rehabilitation clauses should be the main emphasis in the Land Act.
Note: This article is dedicated to all project affected families of various projects in Nagaland.
Author Bio: Niepukhrie Tepa is a Geographer Planner and has just taken up writing as his passion. His area of interest includes development sector, particularly developmental issues faced by northeastern region of India.