The role of FKJGP for protection of tribal interest in Meghalaya

Wellbirth Rani, President, FKJGP

The Federation of Khasi-Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP) was formed in Shillong way back in 1989 by a group of youth who wanted to work for the welfare, safeguard and protection of the rights of indigenous people of Meghalaya. From a small beginning, the FKJGP grew by leaps and bounds and became the largest state-wide organization with units all over the State.

Immediately after it was formed, the FKJGP took up the issue of protecting the economic welfare of indigenous people of Meghalaya comprising of three tribes – Khasis, Jaintias and Garos. In Meghalaya, there are three autonomous district councils established under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Under the Sixth Schedule, the autonomous district councils of Meghalaya are empowered to regulate trade and commercial activities by non-tribals under the Trading By Non-Tribals (Regulation) Act, 1954. Under this act, non-tribals have to obtain trade license from the autonomous district councils before carrying out any trade or commercial activities in the areas under the jurisdiction of the respective autonomous district councils.

Due to laxity on the part of the autonomous district councils, the Trading By Non-Tribals (Regulation) Act, 1954 was not fully enforced thus giving rise to non-tribals setting up shops and business establishments, commercial activities etc without obtaining the mandatory trade license. This has left indigenous tribals in grave threat as most of the business in the State was captured by non-tribals.

Seeing this as a clear and present danger, the FKJGP launched a movement to highlight on the need for protection of the economic rights of indigenous people of Meghalaya. The organization also conducted inspections of business establishments set up by non-tribals and closed down those which have no trading license. As a result of this, the autonomous district councils were forced to act and implement the Trading By Non-Tribals (Regulation) Act, 1954 in letter and spirit. Stringent action was taken by the councils against non-tribal businessmen which possessed no trading license.

In 2010, the FKJGP along with nine local organisations constituted an umbrella body known as Social Organisations of Meghalaya Against Land Alienation (SOMALA) to oppose alienation of tribal land to companies and non-tribal entities.

As we all know, Meghalaya has a law known as Meghalaya Land Transfer Act, 1972 to regulate transfer of land in Meghalaya for the protection of the interest of the Scheduled Tribes. However, the State government took a decision to delete Sections 4(1)e and 4(1)f that were inserted in the Meghalaya Land Transfer Act, 1972  by an amendment in 1991.

These sections inserted by the government infringe upon the customs, traditions and usage of the indigenous people protected by the Sixth Schedule and opened the door for non-tribals to purchase land in Meghalaya, which was a departure from the inherent character of the Meghalaya Land Transfer Act. These sections also did not permit the indigenous communities or the village chieftains to have any say in the transfer of land, resulting in the government having the liberty to permit alienation of land under these sections.

Although this issue remains unresolved, the FKJGP along with other organizations under the umbrella of SOMALA are still firm in their stand not to allow any kind of alienation of tribal land in Meghalaya. We are also firm in our commitment that Meghalaya Land Transfer Act, 1972 should not be weakened through any kind of amendment detrimental to the interest of indigenous people of the State.

Another threat to Meghalaya is unabated influx. To counter this threat, the FKJGP together with twelve other organizations of the State launched a four-month long agitation to pressurize the State government to enact appropriate mechanisms to restrict the entry of outsiders in the State.

Following the agitation, the Meghalaya government agreed to implement “comprehensive mechanisms” to check influx into the State including setting up of entry and exit points at 41 locations across the State for which different departments, including labour and home departments, would be involved. The government has entrusted the Meghalaya Institute of Governance with carrying out social impact assessment (SIA) for setting up of the entry and exit points. The Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act, 2016 was also passed by the State Assembly wherein stringent provisions were made to regulate the entry, movement and stay of migrants in the State.

Although the process in setting up of the entry and exit points was slow due to various factors like land acquisition, funding etc, but the fact that the process has started especially at vulnerable locations has raised hope that the efforts by the FKJGP and other organizations did not go in vain.

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