Assembly sees heated discussion over Land Rights Bill Opposition misleading Sherpa community: CM

Gangtok, 12 Jul:

Sikkim Legislative Assembly today witnessed heated exchange of words between the treasury and opposition benches on the last day of the Assembly session.

The discussions were centred around Sikkim Regulation of Transfer of Land [Second Amendment] Bill tabled by the Chief Minister, Pawan Chamling and the Private Member’s Resolution “Protecting the land of Sherpa under the provision of Revenue Order No 1 of 1917” moved by SKM MLA, Kunga Nima Lepcha. Both the bill and the private member's resolution were themed around the protection of Sherpa land from alienation.

Forest Minister, Tshering Wangdi Lepcha lashed out against the stand of the two SKM MLAs, Kunga Nima Lepcha and Sonam Lama, on securing land rights for the Sherpa community within the purview of Revenue Order No. 1.

He stated that such a stand poses a great threat to the protection of rights of the minority Bhutia Lepcha communities.

SKM MLA [Sangha], Sonam Lama, had stated that the Sherpas feel insecure and being part of the larger Bhutia definition, they should also get their land rights within the purview of Revenue Order No. 1 of Article 371F.

Both SKM MLAs stated that the bill should be passed only after consultations and discussions with the concerned stakeholders.

Member of the House, RN Chamling, had also said that members of Sherpa community were not happy with the bill and hence it should not be passed.

The Forest Minister, however, welcomed the move of the government to table a separate bill in the house to protect the Sherpa community’s land and stated that it is a strong bill where even the BL community cannot buy their land.

This was also reiterated by the Chief Minister and Leader of the house, Pawan Chamling, who stated that no one can now buy land of the Sherpas except members of the same community hence protecting alienation of Sherpa land.

He added further that this bill is even stronger than Revenue Order No. 1.

MLA BB Rai, further reiterating the government’s position stated that Sherpas cannot get land rights within the purview of Revenue Order No. 1 which is directly protected by the Constitution under Article 371F. He alleged that demanding the protection of Sherpa land under Revenue Order No 1 is just vote bank politics.

The treasury benches unanimously criticized the opposition for misguiding the Sherpa community to which the Sangha MLA aggressively retorted that they must "prove" as to how the opposition has misled the Sherpas.

Minister TW Lepcha, while stating that such stand of the opposition can dilute Article 371F, thereby hampering the interest of not just one but the entire Sikkimese population.

To the suggestions made by the SKM MLA, KN Lepcha, that all stakeholders should have been consulted before the bill was presented, the CM stated that his government is willing to consult not just with the Sherpa community but also with the Bhutia and Lepcha communities including all other groups identified within the greater Bhutia definition like Kagatey, Yolmo, Dhotapa, Tibetan, etc.

Member, Ugen Nedup, also welcomed the bill and said that the opposition is contradicting itself as they have been accusing the government of diluting the Old Laws of Sikkim and now are demanding the dilution of the Old Laws.

While mentioning that SDF government has provided equal protection to every community and section of the State, Mr Nedup stated that it is time for people to understand and recognize the political party in favour of Bhutia and Lepcha communities.

Member, DR Thapa, expressed that it was the duty of a legislator to protect the interest of every person but the demand of the opposition Members will dilute the Revenue Order No 1. On the same, he alleged that the opposition knows the facts but is only raising the issue to gain political mileage. He further added that it is not healthy to play with the Old Laws of Sikkim just to gain political mileage. He stressed that everyone should work in the interest of the people of Sikkim.

Responding to queries raised by opposition Members, the CM stated that this bill will ensure that people are not rendered landless. He stated that even if all Members of the House wanted to, the State cannot protect the land of Sherpas under Revenue Order No 1 because it is purely a Central and Parliamentary subject.

To bring forth such a proposal even after knowing all facts is just to mislead and deceive members of the Sherpa community for votes, he stated.

He added that such a proposal is not in the interest of either the Sherpa community or Bhutia and Lepcha communities but will only dilute Revenue Order No 1.

The CM further announced that the State Government will take opinion from members of Bhutia, Lepcha and Nepali communities on Revenue Order No 1.

The sole Sherpa representative in the State Assembly, DN Sherpa, from the ruling SDF party, welcomed the bill and thanked the CM for presenting it in the House which he added would ensure the rights of the Sherpa community in the State.

As for the private member's resolution, the Speaker, KN Rai informed that the discussion on the Resolution was recorded in the House. The Resolution, however, did not receive the support of majority of the Members and hence was not adopted by the House.