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Individual Land Ownership and the Relaxation of the PAP are For Corporates

The PPA’s concerns on the developments in the state have missed the core issues.

The People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), on April 1, convened a meeting where several issues pertaining to the actions taken by the BJP government of Arunachal Pradesh were taken up. The party president, Bengia Kahfa through a press release raised three issues. The land rate set by the state government, relaxing the Protected Area Permit (PAP) system, and the appointment of persons to the Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Women (APSCW). The relaxation of the PAPs was done by the Union Government, ostensibly to facilitate an expansion of the tourism sector for foreign tourists. The chairman of the PPA’s central working committee, Kameng Ringu, on this issue stated that the decision was taken unilaterally by the Union Government. He added that the stakeholders should have been consulted before coming to this decision.

However, the angle of tourism appears to be merely a ruse to enable a different kind of foreign entrant. This can be inferred from their issue with the steep increase in the land rate set by the government at Rs. 1,000 from Rs. 5. The increase would price out domestic buyers and enable the entry of capital from outside the state. What this tussle over the land rate is related to, is the Arunachal Pradesh Land Settlement and Records Amendment Bill, 2018, which was passed on March 12. As reported, the Bill confers land rights to the ‘tribal’ people of Arunachal Pradesh for the first time. However, the critics of the Bill have pointed out that this has been done to enable easy acquisition of land for commercial activities. The existing system of land possession in Arunachal Pradesh was that the land ownership was vested with the state government. In 2000, a Bill was passed that conferred possession certificates. However, legally the persons did not own their land. This meant that applying for loans was a lot harder since the only collateral possessed was their land which they did not even own.

However, some voices of dissent state that the new law enables the Possession Certificates to be converted into Title Deeds, for which a fee would have to be paid. Not all landholders in Arunachal Pradesh have the resources to travel to a District Headquarter and register their land. All unregistered land would then be declared forest land or land owned by the state government. This would then allow the state government to dispossess the people of their land with ease. As the PPA mentioned in their press release, it would also speed up land acquisition and clearance for the Hydro Electric Projects across the geologically sensitive state. Taking into consideration the relaxation of the PAPs and the change in land ownership one could conclude that the two are related.

Finally, the third issue raised by the PPA, the appointment to the APSCW. The PPA alleged that the existing system is arbitrary. They described the system as a ‘pick and choose’ system and alleged that those whose names did not feature on the empanelled list were appointed as members of the Commission. The PPA stated that their cause for concern was the fact that persons who are not Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes (APST) have been appointed members. However, the constitution of the APSCW under The Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Women Act, 2002 provides for only three out of five members to compulsorily be APSTs. The real cause for concern is that any allegations against those in the government and their family members could be silenced through a commission appointed in an opaque manner. Considering that the CM of Arunachal Pradesh himself has allegations against him not only for gang-rape but also for influencing the investigation, this situation is not entirely inconceivable. Though the PPA has raised their concerns, the real issues plaguing Arunachal Pradesh with through these developments have been missed.

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