It is widely feared that the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act 1971 (MTLRA) provides only paper protection and is no real bar to the transfer of land to non-tribals in the state.
Two cases in North Garo Hills illustrate how the law can be so easily flouted, with the publicly-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) securing two long-term leases after the provisions of the Land Transfer Act were thrown to the wind.
In the first case, two sisters – GK Sangma and RK Sangma – transferred their land in Dilma Soksan to one Lakhaya Hira Medhi of Assam through whom the property was leased out to IOC for 31 years. The agreement, dated October 2014, was signed in the court of the first class magistrate/notary in North Garo Hills.
Legal sources consulted by Highland Post said that, on the face of it, there is nothing wrong with the deed except that, according to Section 2 (d) of the Act, no tribal land can even be leased out to a non-tribal and, therefore, such a deed is clearly in violation of the act.
The magistrate who nodded through the deed has also apparently gone beyond his jurisdiction, said legal experts. A move to transfer tribal land to non-tribals requires the concurrence of the ‘competent authority’ but it appears that none was sought for in this case.
The lawyers involved should have understood the nuances of the Act and may perhaps would have been if they had been from Meghalaya, but in this case a Guwahati-based lawyer was instrumental in handing over the land of the Sangma sisters to Medhi and then on to the IOC in January 2016.
To top this, the non-encumbrance certificate, dated November 2015, was issued by the district’s Deputy Commissioner when the land was already encumbered under the lease agreement signed in October of the previous year.
The second case is even more perplexing for defenders of the land transfer act, as here the DC in charge of revenue of North Garo hills, set aside the Act to issue a no-objection certificate (NOC) for tribal land to be handed to another company.
In the NOC, dated January 2021, the DC notes that he does not have the approval of the competent authority but also claims that he has the powers to do so “under the capacity of the Deputy Commissioner, North Garo Hills, exercising the power conferred on me”, which gives him the permission to proceed with the sub-lease authorisation.
Those spoken to by this reporter have no doubt that the real people behind these illegal transfers of land are politicians or those hand in glove with them, as no civil servant would risk sticking their necks out without political say-so.
“Cases such as these have destroyed the aims and objectives of the Land Transfer Act, which is to stop land alienation (of the tribal people). If the government feels that it needs to be changed to suit the times, they should bring in amendments and not pretend to be protectors of tribal land,” said a local source.