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12 Jul 2018

Bill to 'protect' Sherpa land

RAJEEV RAVIDAS, TT, Jul 12, 2018, Gangtok: The Sikkim government on Wednesday tabled a Bill seeking to amend the Sikkim Regulation of Transfer of Land Act, 2005, in order to protect the land holding of the Sherpas, but a section of the community was in up in arms, demanding that their land be protected under a pre-merger rule applicable to the Bhutias and Lepchas since they were also part of the larger Bhutia community.

Tabling the amendment Bill in the Assembly, chief minister Pawan Chamling, who is also in-charge of the land revenue department, said the old law was being sought to be amended in order to ensure protection against alienation of the land holdings of the Sherpa community.

"This has been done with a view to ensure protection of the interest and land holding of the said section (read the Sherpas)," he said.

According to the Bill, the land belonging to a member of the Sherpa community of Sikkim cannot be sold to persons belonging to any other community.

"However, there shall be no bar on sale of land within the Sherpa community of Sikkim, provided that if such person has a minimum holding of 3 acres only, in such event, the land shall not be permitted to be sold at all in any manner," reads the provision of the Bill.

The Bill is expected to sail through easily when it is put to vote in the Assembly on Thursday, given the brutal majority the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front enjoys in the 32-member House.

The government, however, drew a lot of flak from a section of the Sherpa community outside the Assembly immediately after the Bill was tabled.

In a hurriedly convened press conference, the Denzong Sherpa Association and the Sikkim Sherpa Protection Board condemned the Bill and said they would oppose it tooth and nail.

"We very strongly oppose the Bill that was tabled today (Wednesday). We will not accept this Bill even if it means we have to give our lives while doing so. This is an open challenge to the Sikkim government, the ruling SDF and even the Opposition parties. We Sherpas are willing to die but not be deprived of our rights," said Pasang Sherpa, the DSA spokesman.

By seeking to separate the Sherpas from the larger Bhutia community, the government, he alleged, was working at the behest of some feudal forces.

"Why is the government bulldozing us when the entire Sherpa community has been demanding that their lands be protected under revenue order number one (a pre-merger rule). They appear to be acting at the behest of feudal residue," he said, without explicitly naming the feudal forces.

The land of the Bhutias and Lepchas in Sikkim are protected under the revenue order number one, which, in turn, is protected by Article 371f of the Constitution that accords special status to the state which merged with India in 1975. The rule allows the Bhutias and Lepchas to sale their lands only to members of their own community, and not others. They, however, can buy land from any other members of other communities in the state.

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