Whose New Shillong Township Is It?

The acquisition of land for the construction of the New Shillong Township came about during the preparation of the Second Shillong Masterplan (1991-2011). It was observed that the holding capacity of the existing city had almost reached saturation level. The establishment of a new township became a necessity in order to make room for two lakh additional future citizens and prevent undesirable developments in the already-congested city limits. The Masterplan envisaged setting up of the New Shillong Township near Mawdiangdiang, covering an area of 20.3 square km within the Greater Shillong Masterplan area, the government had stated. The lands allotted from 2003 onwards to various entities are located in areas like Mawdiangdiang, Diengiong, Umsawli Mawpat, Mawtari and Mawkasiang all of which lie north of the main city of Shillong.

Old Shillong

The acquisition of land for development has given rise to intense contestation among different stake holders. The acquisition was done by bypassing the authority of the Syiem and by persuading villagers to sell off their land for educational and developmental agenda. Agnes Kharshiing, President of the Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO) and Shillong’s leading civil rights activist offers a very different take on the urban development process in the New Shillong Township. She states that

the government became a land agent by buying off land from many dubious landowners and displacing indigenous farmers and residents, then parceling out the land to IAS officers, both tribals and non tribals.
Now in its ‘smart’ avatar, the Meghalaya government has opened a floodgate for tribal land alienation.

The Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act, (1971), the first ever law made by the state of Meghalaya, which ‘prevents the sale of Tribal land to Non Tribals has no meaning in New Shillong Township.’ In a series of letters, which she uncovered with the aid of Right to Information (RTI) she unravels the extent of corruption which has burgeoned with the growth of the New Shillong Township. To begin with, land was acquired from the tribal villagers at Rs. 3 and allotted to the IAS officers at Re 1. The original owners, John Kharkongor and Phron Kharkongor have claimed that the 28 acres of land at Mawier-Mawtari were owned by them. The two are also against the move of the MUDA to handover the land to the NEEPCO (North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited) recently. According to John and Phron, the land was registered under the office of the Deputy Commissioner (DC) since 1983. However, the RTI filed by them found that the same land was again registered under the same office in the year 1992 in the name of Unikey Kharkongor. She states that

the original Gazette of the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act 1971 is no longer available and has been tampered with by the state officials. This has given them free rein to abuse the Sixth Schedule.
The following table provides the details of the applicants of land at the New Shillong Township (Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR) 2015):

Category No. of Applicants
Government Organization 60
Private Companies / Organization (Non-Tribal) 23
Non-Tribal Individuals 38
Tribal Individuals 24
Total 145

(Source:Raiot, September 2015.)

Agnes revealed via the RTI files that governmental entities seeking land in NST are security agencies like Army, CRPF, Police and BSF. The New Shillong Township has nothing to do with decongesting the city but is a gated haven for real estate developers and property speculators.

This is further complicated by the fact that a large proportion of the applicants are Non-Tribals, as show in this table, which categorizes the applicants according to the Land Transfer Act, 1971:

Category No. of Applicants (in percentage)
Government Entities 41.4
Non-Tribal according to Land Transfer Act 42.1
Tribal according to Land Transfer Act 16.5

(Source:Raiot, September 2015)

Here we see that 42 per cent of the applicants for the land are Non-Tribals which is a direct violation of the Sixth Schedule clause and the Land Transfer Act, 1971.

Some of the displaced families who are mostly farmers, narrate stories of their houses being demolished 3 times – in 2007, in 2009 and in 2013. The government cut off the electricity supply to the village in 2013. They never got the compensation for the lost land and a case registered in the early 1990’s by the village collective, is still going on in the Courts. When they questioned the urban authorities about the irregularity in the purchase of land at the New Shillong Township, they were told that it is only the office of the DC which is the concerned authority, to verify to whom the land originally belonged to. This is so as the 28 acres of land has already been registered before it was sold to the government. They added that they would also request the DC to put on hold on the proposed handing over of this particular land to the different government departments until the matter is resolved.

Additionally, MUDA was in the process of allotting lands in the New Shillong Township to the various departments for the project to take off at the earliest and the allotment of lands had been done by the Land Allotment Committee as per the Land Transfer Act of the state. While inquiring about the allegation of forging the land documents, it was revealed that the office of the Deputy Commissioner is the concerned authority to look into the matter. Further, with regards to the allegations on the eviction drives conducted without prior notice, the authorities defended the move, saying, they have conducted an inquiry and found that the MUDA does not have to inform these households as these are the same families which have been evicted from the place since 2006 after the government has won a case on the land. Most of them are living off rent from their ancestral property. They ask me,

It is difficult to raise money for your family when you do not have a proper job. How do we feed them? Why does the state not understand this?
New Shillong

It is discussed that land and the relations that emanate from lands, such as the relations between public authorities and citizens, are fundamentally political. Furthermore, it is revealed that their forefathers migrated over time, to this area from other parts of the Khasi hills. It is specifically mentioned that sacred rituals are still performed to connect their new homes with their original home at Lum-Shyllong. The message of these rituals is to underline the immense importance of nature in the Khasi cosmology and traditional belief system.

As a community, we need to reflect on how to preserve our traditional beliefs. This is what will eventually bring peace and prosperity back to us.

In case of New Shillong Township, the state presents the case as a possible way out for congestion, which it says is a consequence of population rise, migration and the lack of space in the city. However, the plan of the state is not oriented towards meeting these required objectives. Rather, the plan of the state is to allot the land so acquired to a class of people who work for the state such as bureaucrats, government officials and the army. This is an open violation of the Sixth Schedule provisions that aim at protecting and safeguarding the interest and welfare of the tribal people. The people are not opposed to urban development but at the manner in which it is being executed. In the case of New Shillong, there has been a severe misuse of the law and power in favour of the state and private forces and players. There is a deep divide between the state’s manner of executing urban development and the people’s aspirations and their expectations from the state. Policies aimed at safeguarding the Sixth Schedule Areas need to be framed and enacted in a manner that the fundamental rights of the indigenous/tribal community are protected while planning for urban development. It is in this sense that I argue that development cannot be a state-led enterprise alone. There is a critical need to listen to and incorporate the people’s voices and aspirations into the development policy.

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Aashish Khakha Written by:

Aashish Khakha is a PhD research scholar with the School of Development Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai. His PhD research is on the urban development of Ranchi and Shillong. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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