The issue of land is sensitive and emotional. More so, in the context of Nagaland, where different layers of ownership, as well as protection, exist given the historical circumstances that resulted in the statehood of Nagaland and political undercurrent thereafter.
It is against this background that the allegation of “some violation of Nagaland Land Revenue Regulation (Amendment Act) 1978,” made by the Chakhroma Public Organisation (CPO) on September 9 must be viewed and dealt with.
The Organisation wrote to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) Dimapur claiming that “some non-indigenous inhabitants of Nagaland in violation of the aforesaid Act have been “been illegally acquiring landed property through sale and purchase in the districts of Dimapur.”
Before considering the merit of CPO’s assertion, it is pertinent to ascertain what the 1978 Act exactly stipulated.
The Nagaland Land Revenue Regulation (Amendment Act) 1978 published in the Nagaland Gazette on November 15, 1978, amended the erstwhile Assam Land and Revenue Regulation, 1886 (Regulation of 1886) and extends to the “whole of State”
One of the section reads: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any law, usage, contract or agreement no person other than the indigenous inhabitants of Nagaland shall acquire or possess by transfer, exchange, lease agreement or settlement of any land in any area or areas constituted into belts or blocks in contravention of sub-section 1.”
From and after the commencement of Act, it added, “no document evidencing any transaction for acquisition or possession of any kind by way of transfer, exchange, lease, (Act XVl of 1908) agreement or settlement shall -be registered under the India Registration Act, 1908 if it appears to the Registering Authority that the transaction has been effected in contravention of the provisions of sub-section (2)".
Adding to this is the encroachment of government land or public land, a recurring issue in Nagaland. At face value, it could be attributed to government’s negligence to do due diligence while entering into a contract for land "belonging to, taken on lease by, or requisitioned by or on behalf of, the State Government.”
It can also be construed as a failure of government agencies, particularly the monitoring and implementing offices, to apply the existing law.
The Nagaland Eviction of Persons in Unauthorised Occupation of Public Land Act, 1971 defined ‘Public Land’ as ‘any land belonging to, or taken on lease by the State Government, a local authority, a Government company or a corporation owned or controlled by the c 71 (local authority) State Government and includes any land requisitioned by or on behalf of the State Government.’
"Unauthorized occupation" concerning any public land, means “the use or occupation by any person of the public land without, authority, in writing, of the appropriate Officer,” and includes continuance of occupation of public land after the expiry of the lease or other mode of transfer and the occupation of any public land un ostensible payment of land revenue or rent, not authorised by appropriate Officer.”
Alleged violations are aplenty. For instance, in August 2018 after agitation by the All Nagaland College Students Union (ANCSU) on land encroachment at a premier government college, the Nagaland government has asked all the deputy commissioners of the State to submit a status report “within three months on any case of encroachment of land belonging to government colleges or institutions.” The report, if any, never made it to the public domain. '
Interestingly, a colony in Dimapur named after the Government Department it houses, has transformed dramatically in recent years. Now it mostly houses private properties and goes by a different name.
“There is no end to the list of government estates becoming disputed property with private individuals producing ‘pattas’ (land deeds) issued by the Revenue office to challenge the government’s claim,” this newspaper reported in October 2018, after a reported land encroachment inside Dimapur District Hospital. Among others, the Nagaland Zoological Park (NZP) at Ranghapahar, Dimapur continues to be plagued by land encroachment, a local daily reported in May 2019.
In September 2019, Deputy Commissioner of Kohima issued a public notice cautioning against “encroachment, sale and/or purchase of government land” and reportedly after receiving "several complaints and reports relating to rampant selling and encroachment of government land.” This year, the issue of public land encroachment in Wokha district was widely reported in local media.
So if the laws are clear on both issues, where are the “violations” occurring and how ‘public lands’ are being converted into private lands. Is it occurring – at the private or governmental level, or both? The former should be investigated thoroughly by the State government contextualising the historical realities; while the statuses must be reaffirmed and put in the public domain for the latter, to ensure transparency and subvert future violations.