Increasingly worried over conflicts and delays over compensation for land chosen as sites of various infrastructure projects, the Mizoram government has circulated among top officials a recent High Court judgement nullifying a widely-issued land ownership document from being used to claim or allot compensation.
The Aizawl Bench of the Gauhati High Court had towards the end of June passed a judgement saying Village Councils (the equivalent of panchayats) have no authority to issue “garden passes” (basically land ownership letters for agricultural purposes within the council’s territory) and that no one can claim compensation for land they own through these letters.
“The power to issue a Garden Pass or a pass for any agricultural purpose to any person by a Village Council is not traceable to any power in any land laws prevailing in Mizoram…” the judgement said while striking down a lower court’s order that awarded compensation to more than a hundred petitioners.
Their lands had been acquired by the government for the under-construction railway line from Assam to Aizawl as part of the North-East Frontier Railways’ plans to link all NE state capitals by 2022.
The petitioners had approached the Gauhati HC (Aizawl Bench) saying they had been compensated only for the crops on their agricultural land and not for the land itself.
“The issuance of the same for any agricultural purpose does not give any right to such pass holders to claim any land value. As such, persons having lands covered by Village Council pass for agricultural purposes cannot be entitled to compensation i.e. there cannot be any land valuation made in respect of those lands,” the judgement added.
The judgement was discussed at length during a meeting last week of various top officials to discuss the state’s strained finances and proposals to ease it.
Lalramthanga, Principal Secretary, Chief Minister’s Office, brought the judgment to the meeting’s notice. Copies of it have subsequently been circulated among heads of various departments that are and can be involved in infrastructure projects and accompanying acquisition processes, according to several officials who took part in the meeting.
Several infrastructure projects in Mizoram have been delayed and complicated by land compensation claims, prompting CM Lal Thanhawla to declare in a recent assembly session that “We are a compensation community”, leading to a heated exchange between him and opposition MLA Lalruatkima who demanded the CM’s speech be retracted and struck off the assembly records.
Lal Thanhawla refused and instead reiterated his statement.
Besides the railways project, another project that has been complicated by compensation claims have been the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, which aims to connect the North-East to the rest of Indian through the Bay of Bengal via a sea-port at Sittwe in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Competing claims for compensation for land acquired for the project has prompted an Anti-Corruption Bureau investigation against the Lai Autonomous District authorities after investigators found out the total size of alleged landholdings along the 100 km highway within Mizoram, according to compensation claims, exceeds the total area of the state of Mizoram by almost 5,000 sq kms.
CM Lal Thanhawla has also said several times that claimants for land to be acquired for the extension of the Indian Army’s Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS), considered one of the best on the world, near Vairengte village have also submitted documents typed out in and printed from a computer although the documents date from the 1960s and 1970s.