Bill on Shepa land protection passed amid protests

Report by: 
SUJAL PRADHAN
Gangtok
12 Jul 2018

Discussions on the Sikkim Regulation of Transfer of Land (Second Amendment) Bill of 2018 dominated the proceedings of the State assembly on Thursday. The Bill does not allow any other community to buy land owned by Sherpas in Sikkim. The Bill was passed amid protests.
All the Opposition legislators opposed the Bill and demanded its reconsideration, but it was passed on the strength of the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front after discussions that lasted the whole day. TheDenzong Sherpa Association, the apex body of Sherpas in Sikkim, are in favour of protection of land under Revenue Order No. 1.
Chief Minister Pawan Chamling said in support of the Bill said land protection for the Sherpa community could not be provided under Revenue Order No. 1. “Sherpas can only contest election and share the seats in the assembly from Bhutia-Lepcha assembly seats, their land cannot be protected under it'.
Opposing a Private Members’ Resolution in favour of land protection for Sherpas under Revenue Order No. 1, the Chief Minister said the resolution was against the interest of the Bhutia – Lepcha community and termed it an anti-Sikkimese reslution that would violate article 371F of the Constitution.
“The Sherpa community is referring to the government gazette that the first census in Sikkim was conducted on 1891 and the Sherpa community was listed in the Bhutia (subcast) of community of Sikkim and was listed similarly in the1911 census of Sikkim and considering the history of the Sherpa community in Sikkim added with the documentary facts that the Scheduled Tribes Order 1978 and the Representation of People’s (Amendment) Act 1980, the Union of India, had placed the Sherpa community within the constellation of Bhutia-Lepcha. But we cannot make the law on the basis of history,” the Chief Minister said.
Oppposition Sikkim Krantikari Morcha member K. N. Lepcha told the House the Bill should be reconsidered and protection of ownership of land should be ensured for the Sherpas under Revenue Order No. 1. Sangha legislator Sonam Lama too said the Bill was not in favour of the interest of the Sherpa community and it would be better if the question of protection of land for them was brought under Revenue Order No. 1.
Independent MLA of Yangang Rangang constituency too said the Bill should be reconsidered “as the Sherpa community is alreday showing its dissatisfaction over the Bill.” He said the Bill should be redrafted after discussion with the stakeholders concerned.
From the ruling SDF, however, legislator D. N. Sherpa welcomed the Bill and said this was very much in favour of the interest of the community. It may mentioned that on Wednesday DSA said in a news conference that if the MLA of “our community  do not speak on the Bill in our favour then we will not count him as our MLA.” DSA is in favour of protection under Revenue Order no. 1. It described the Bill as “draconian, motivated by feudal residue” and wanted its withdrawal.
In Sikkim, land of Bhutias and Lepchas are protected under Revenue Order No. 1, which, in turn, is protected under article 371F of the Constitution that accords special status to Sikkim which merged with India in 1975. The provisions allow Bhutias and Lepchas to sale their land only to members of the own community, and not to others. They can, however, buy land from members of other communities in the state.
The day's session also saw the presentation by Opposition MLA Kunga Nima Lepcha of the Private Members’ Resolution for protecting the land of Sherpas under the provision of Revenue Order No. 1, 1917. This resolution, too, saw a long discussion after which the resolution was recorded in the assembly.