MLFOA submit Memorandum to the CEM of the KHADC on the Draft Indian Forest Act 2019

Shillong, August 13: The Meghalaya Land & Forest Owners Association (MLFOA) today submitted Memorandum to the Chief Executive member of the KHADC Mr Teinwell Dkhar in connection with the Draft Indian Forest Act 2019.

In the memorandum MLFOA has mention that  there is an urgent need to call for all State Committee to seek resolution to exemptions from Central Legislation in Conflict with various Customary and Social Land Laws prevailing in Meghalaya through an official Assembly Resolutions for exemptions /modifications of Central Laws under para 12A(b) of Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India vis-à-vis para 2 (2) of Annexed Agreement of Instrument of Accession 17 August 1948.

MLFOA has refer to the    Draft Indian Forest Act 2019, the long pending Meghalaya Assembly Resolution of 13 April 2000 for exemption of Forest Conservation Act 1980 and subsequent Assembly Resolution on rights of ownership of Land and Mineral Resources and other State legislation and Policies on Forest, Biodiversity, Mining, Quarry Permits etc. Recent July 3, 2019 Supreme Court Rulings on Customary and Social Land Laws in Meghalaya

The Meghalaya Land & Forest Owners Association (MLFOA) would like to thank the CEM for constituting this very important committee to study indept the proposed draft India Forest Act 2019. In this context the MLFOA while appreciating the objectives of the proposed draft Indian Forest Act 2019, after in-depth deliberations find that this proposed draft like many previous central legislation has been framed based on the Land Tenure system prevailing in other parts of the Country unlike in Meghalaya.

From the organization would like to draw the attention of the Khasi Hills District Council to jointly initiate with the State Government necessary steps to resolve the many conflicts prevailing on the ground due to the lack of clarity within the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution vis-a-vis the customary land land laws including provisions of the Annexed Agreement of the Instrument of Accession which was accepted and signed by the Government of India on 17 August 1948.

The conflict with para 2 of Annexed Agreement of the IOA  states exceptions of the following subjects Judical, Excise, Forest, Land and Water Rights, Revenue derived therefrom, while all the remaining administrative functions would be common with the Central or Provincial Government under the terms of the Standstill Agreement outlined in paragraph 1, until new or modified arrangements have been arrived at between the respective authorities (i.e, GOI, State Govt and the Federation of Khasi States), further para 4. Khasi Territory in the Province and para 5. Legislation – under the Annexed Agreement is many a times overlooked while framing Central Legislation and which results in having to seek interpretation from the Hon’ble Courts of the Country.

Further, Para 3 sub clause (b) of Sixth Schedule  defines role of ADC in “the Management of any Forest not being a reserved forest”  while – Para 2 sub clause (2) of Annexed Agreement states “2. Forest – the chief conservator forest would act in an advisory capacity to the Federation in regard to the Management and control of Forest.

In this context we would like to state that because of the delay in resolution of such legislative conflicts the Land, Forest, Mine, Quarry owners, are presently in total confusion and seek urgent resolution to this uncertainty. An example of the contradictions prevailing in the State can be observed from the huge domestic activities of local consumption for minerals such as timber, boulders, stone chips, and sand which are required domestically for construction.

In rural housing there is on an average a minimum of 10 new wooden houses constructed every year in one large village due to increase of family, population and requiring a minimum of 150 cubic feet of wood per house every year, there is requirement for house repair, wooden slab support for RCC buildings, huge requirement for furniture, coffin, a large number of villages depend on wood as fuel, and based on a conservative number of 500 villages under Khasi & Jaintia Hills the houses being constructed per year would indicate a minimum requirement of at least 7.5 lakh cubic Feet of timber consumed domestically a year in Khasi & Jaintia Hills alone, in addition to this there is the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY).

There is also huge requirement of boulders and stone chips the budgetary allocation of Rs 1045 crores in Meghalaya Budget for MGNREGA and Rs 590 Crore for the Roads and Bridges sector in Meghalaya alone indicate requirement of thousands of Metric Tons of boulders and stone chips per year, and all this wood, boulder mining, stone chips, sand based activity is definitely not happening within the isolated and few distant Industrial Areas, or legalised Mining quarries of Meghalaya but being resolved locally in the rural areas through indigenous ingenuity of the Tribes who now find themselves in illegality due to the prevailing laws continuously being framed based on land laws prevailing in the rest of the Country which is different from Meghalaya.

While there is need for regulation, there needs to be urgent follow up to right the wrong where the many forest based activities /schemes of the KHADC and the state government are framed in such a manner which are contrary to the ground realities, the guidelines framed by the SC appointed High Powered Committee, for having wood based industries only in the government industrial areas is totally flawed and not practical as again the guidelines have being framed in the context of the Land holding system of the Country.

All this activity under the radar is causing huge losses in revenue, during 2008 the then Chief Minister, Dr Donkupar Roy, constituted a committee which included the stakeholders to address this issue, the forest committee submitted a detailed report indicating that even with stringent regulation there was  annual loss of INR 18 crores approximately to Land Owners the ADC’s and State Government during 1997-98 due to lack of clarity and practicality of Laws, however till date nothing much has happened due to instability both at the State and District Councils.

Similarly in the same context of conflict with central laws a large number of Indigenous Land Owners have seen assurances come and go by a number of authorities in the past to resolve controversial central laws and State polices on various issues such as the Mines and Minerals Development Regulation Act 1957, which resulted in the framing of the Meghalaya Minor Minerals Concession Rules 2016, which mandates applicants to apply for a “LEASE” for Mining a stone quarry.

The Meghalaya Protection of Catchment Areas Act 1990, The Assam Forest Regulation Act 1891, The Meghalaya Forest Regulation (application and amendment) Act 1973, Meghalaya Forest –Based Industries (Establishment & Regulation ) Rules 1998, Forest Conservation Act 1980, Meghalaya Forest (Removal of Timber) (Regulation) Act, 1981, Meghalaya Forest (Removal of Timber) (Regulation) Rules, 1982, Forest Conservation Act 1980, The Biological Diversity Act 2002, Constitution of National Biodiversity Authority, State Biodiversity Board, Forest Conservation Rules 2003.

The Meghalaya Tree Felling (Non-Forest areas) Rules 2006, Meghalaya Biological Diversity Rules, 2010, The contradictions within the Meghalaya Mines and Minerals Policy 2012,  the Indian Registration Act 1908, etc., The pertinent question here is what constitutional mechanism does the KHADC invoke to ensure its relevance in approving such Central and State Legislation given the limited powers within the Sixth Schedule to advise the people on the legality of the “Forms” of application as it contradicts customary private /clan / community land holding laws as upheld by the Hon’ble Courts in Meghalaya.

Another issue yet to be addressed is the The Biological Diversity Act 2002, Meghalaya Biological Diversity Rules, 2010, given the customary & social land laws of the Khasi(s) Jaintia and Garo people which mandates the local bodies Hima/Elaka of the States to prepare People’s Register of Biodiversity Registers, which are considered to be the basic records of a region’s biological resources such as plants, animals and the traditional knowledge of the local people. In the absence of the PBRs, when the Act is not implemented, whatever environmental clearances are given for various projects without recording the real state of biodiversity, results in the environment impact assessment reports becoming illogical and invalid.

The Customary and Social practice of the indigenous people are also in conflict with The Wild Life Protection Act 1972 especially with the customary religious practices such as the ancient religious Shad Khla ceremony conducted in some of the Sacred Forest of Khasi & Jaintia Hills. It may be noted that the recent United Nations report for the first time sighted strong land rights for indigenous peoples and local communities as a solution to the climate crisis, due to their indigenous wisdom, the very fact that their exist over 100 sacred clan/community/private forest in Meghalaya is an indicator of the ancestral wisdom to address climate crises.

In view of all the issues listed above we request that this Committee recommend for an All Party State Committee on Central Legislation at the State Level to seek constitutional remedies to resolve the  exemptions from Central Legislation in Conflict with various Customary and Social Land Laws prevailing in Meghalaya through an official Assembly Resolutions for time bound exemptions/modifications of Central Laws under para 12A(b) of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India vis-à-vis para 2 (2) of Annexed Agreement of Instrument of Accession 17 August 1948.



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