Kilman Gittim is a quaint little village comprising around 36 households and falls under Selsella Block in West Garo Hills. The village has been in the news over allegations that BSCPL Infrastructure Ltd had short-changed the villagers and breached a contract it had with them over the quarrying of stones.
However, the problems of the villagers did not end there. Unwary villagers alleged that the company did them in after taking a thumb print from the Nokma, Gotjeng Marak, in order to renew their five-year contract, which expired in 2019.
This blank form, however, landed into the hands of another person, identified as Aijonish D Shira, who, after the termination of the original contract with the company, began to get papers made to run the quarry.
“After the company left with all of their machines, we sat down and held a meeting between ourselves on the future course of action as we wanted to use the quarry to run a business. After the decision was made, we started to get all the papers required to get no-objection certificates (NOCs) from various departments,” said Gotjeng Marak.
The villagers, with some help from other people, began the process and landed up at the District Forest Officer’s office in Tura where they were in for a huge surprise. According to the DFO, a mining lease for the same land was allegedly also filed by Aijonish Shira and was almost processed.
Accordingly, the DFO, Sachin Gavade, sought the opinion of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) on the validity of both agreements.
Angered at the matter of their land being usurped by someone else, the villagers ran to council where a case was filed in the matter.
After almost a year and countless visits to the GHADC Court, on July 24, 2020 the Executive Member of Revenue, BR Sangma, passed an order in favour of the villagers on the basis that Aijonish Shira’s document only had the sign of the male Nokma (Gotjeng Marak) and not, as required, the signatures of the ‘chras’, ‘depantes’ or even the woman Nokma.
“As per law, the agreement needed to be signed by everyone in the village but the one that Aijonish had secured only had the thumbprint of Gotjeng. It was invalid and rightly rejected the application,” said Nokma of the village, Arje Ch Marak.
However, the happiness of the villagers was short lived.
Surprisingly, in a complete about turn by the EM of Revenue, BR Sangma, an order was passed validating the agreement of Aijonish Shira whereas the earlier order had clearly mentioned that signatures of the ‘chras’, ‘depantes and the female Nokma were an absolute must.
“No one from the village signed their papers. One person who signed in the document is a Koch and ours is a completely Garo village. The order itself is confusing as it has no base in law. As to how BR Sangma, the EM, gave the order validating the papers in favour of Aijonish is anyone’s guess. The EM has played both sides and given an order that is contrary to law,” added Arje Ch Marak.
Interestingly the woman in question in whose name the lease agreement and mining lease have been made has never once been seen by the villagers.
“We are poor people and the decision to quarry stones from our own village would have helped most of us with a steady income. The connivance of some of these extremely ruthless people is making life extremely difficult for all of us. We are however not giving up,” added Mingsin Sangma.
For the villagers the matter has now become critical as despite what they called valid claims, complaints to various offices, including the Deputy Commissioner and the CEM of GHADC, they have not been able to reverse the order. With the current crop of MDCs on their way out, the situation is far from ideal for them.
“We will approach the court on the matter as we will not allow someone from outside to just come and take away our land. We will fight till our last breath for what is rightly ours,” said the Nokma.
The first part of this featured report can be found in yesterday’s edition of Highland Post.