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Mizo chiefs urge to restore power or give Rs 500 crore in damages

New Delhi, 28 Dec 2017: The Mizo Chiefs Council, a body of 309 chiefs, has moved the Supreme Court demanding the restoration of hereditary absolute administrative control over ancestrally demarcated territories in Lushai Hills, or a compensation of Rs 500 crore from the Centre for occupying their land since 1954.

Historically, chiefs of Lushai Hills in Mizoram ruled over ancestrally demarcated territories, imposed various kinds of taxes on people living on their respective territories, and even granted pardon to accused in criminal cases. The British annexed Lushai Hills in 1895 and whittled down their powers but allowed them to function like rulers of princely states in other parts of the country.

Pu Khamliana Sailo, Lungleng lal
After Independence, Lushai Hills was made a part of Assam. In 1951, the Assam Autonomous (Constitution of District Council) Act was enacted, creating six autonomous districts, including Lushai Hills. Three years later, the Assam Lushai Hills (Acquisition of Chiefs' Rights) Act was passed and the state took over the chiefs' traditional rights over the territories and gave compensation equivalent to 10 harvest years' revenue to each.

Over the years, the hereditary chiefs have lost their traditional sources of revenue through control over territories and have almost been reduced to a state of poverty. In 1999, the Mizo Chiefs Council wrote to the PM demanding Rs 509 crore as just compensation for the loss of administrative and financial control over their ancestrally demarcated areas. 

The Mizoram government has filed an affidavit in the SC stating that it supported the claim of the council, but expressed its financial inability to meet the compensation demanded by the chiefs. It has told the SC that the compensation should be paid by the Centre, said the council's counsel Kedar Nath Tripathy and Lalremsanga Nghaka.

The ministry of defence, the third respondent in the petition, has said the matter rests solely within the executive domain of the state government, which alone should be liable to pay compensation, if any, to the Mizo chiefs. 

On November 17, the matter was listed before a bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur, which sought to know the Centre's stand on the issue as it had not yet filed a response to the petition. Additional solicitor general ANS Nadkarni assured the court that he would look into the matter and discuss the issue with the Union home secretary. The matter is again listed for hearing on January 4 before the bench headed by Justice Lokur.

It would be interesting to watch the Centre's stand on the payment of compensation. The council also knows that it would be impossible legally to wrest back administrative and financial control over the territories after more than 60 years. However, they are pinning their hopes on the SC for a just compensation to tide over their state of penury. 

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