Dalit Sikhs Resist Meghalaya Government's Relocation Attempt from Sweepers' Colony, Move Court

Reported by

Sarup SinhaLand Conflict Watch

Last updated on

April 7, 2021

Location of Conflict

Sweepers' Colony, Bara Bazar

Ïewduh, Bara Bazar

East Khasi Hills

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Urban Development (Other than Smart Cities)

(

)

People Affected by Conflict

1440

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

ha

Starting Year

2018

State

Meghalaya

Sector

Infrastructure

Sweepers Colony, also known as Sweeper Line or Punjabi Line, is an impoverished locality in Meghalayas capital city, Shillong tightly packed with poor housing and infrastructure. The colony is populated by Dalit Sikhs or Mazhabi Sikhs who primarily work as sweepers or safai karamcharis in various government offices and establishments. Although the exact figure of the Dalit Sikh population is unknown, various media outlets have placed the number at 300 families. The Dalit Sikhs had [migrated ](http://The residents are not considered friendly owing to past incidents.)to Shillong from Punjab on the orders of the colonial government to perform menial jobs, such as sweeping and manual scavenging, which the tribal population of Shillong was not inclined to do. Soon after Meghalaya achieved statehood in 1972, the Sweepers Colony began to be viewed as a blot on the urban landscape of Shillong. Since then, the state has made repeated attempts to evict/relocate the residents of the colony. The residents are not considered friendly owing to past incidents. The situation got worse in the aftermath of violent clashes between the Dalit Sikhs and Khasis in May 2018. The Khasis claimed that some Dalit Sikhs assualted Khasi locals over a parking dispute while the Dalit Sikhs claimed that the some Khasi teenagers sexually assaulted a yound Dalit Sikh. The issue was largely communalised on social media and the state had to impose a curfew, lasting for days, to control the situation. Several Sikh organisations and political parties, such as the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee and Shiromani Akali Dal Delhi, dispatched their respective delegations to take stock of the ground situation.  On June 4, 2018, shortly after the incident, the Meghalaya government notified the Sweeper Line residents about relocation plans. The state set up a High Level Committee (HLC) headed by Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong to work out a plan for rehabilitation. The committee promptly sprang into action by conducting a survey of the locality – a move that was long opposed by the Dalit Sikhs who viewed it as a ploy to displace them. In July 8, 2018, the Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC), representing the Dalit Sikhs, filed a writ petition in the High Court of Meghalaya challenging the HLC's move to conduct a survey.  On November 26, 2018, the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) further asked the residents to furnish documents to prove their legal occupation. The Dalit Sikhs claim to have been the residents of Shillong for over 150 years now – a claim reiterated by HPC Secretary Gurjit Singh on several occasions. He cites an agreement letter from 2008 to substantiate his claim, according to which the land was bequeathed by the Syiem (Khasi chieftain of the highest order) in 1863 for the accommodation of sweepers. On the other hand, Erwin Sutnga, legal counsel for the Executive Committee of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, told The Wire that the land handed over by the Syiem violates the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act, 1971, which debars the sale or transfer of tribal land to nontribals. On February 15, 2019, the High Court upheld the writ petition of the HPC and stated that no arbitrary action can be taken against the Sweeper Line residents without following the due process of law. In March 2019, the government filed a review petition at the High Court against this order. Responding to the petition, the High Court, in [May 2019, ](http://notices on the doors of residents)directed the Sweeper Colony residents to cooperate with the state government in providing requisite documents to the SMB, which began posting notices on the doors of residents. Disappointed with this verdict, in[ June 2019, ](http://notices on the doors of residents)the HPC approached the Supreme Court on the grounds that the review petition order violates the original High Court order. In its response, the SMB [claimed](http://notices on the doors of residents) that the information was necessary to prepare a long term and short term policy. Following this, the HPC dropped the petition and the high court [disposed](http://notices on the doors of residents) it. Meanwhile, a subcommittee has been formed under the HLC to investigate the matter. According to the preliminary report, 184 employees and their families have been identified as legal settlers of the Sweepers' Colony, including families of 128 employees of the SMB and 56 others working in different government departments. The final report was submitted in August 2020 and a meeting was held to discuss the issue. However, Deputy CM Tynsong refused to share any details about the meeting and state that another will be held soon to resolve the issue. In February 2021, the present Syiem of the area and the state government Deputy CM Tynsong was quoted in a news report as saying: "The Harijan Colony issue is not simple, especially the land in dispute. I am confident that the report of the subcommittee would guide the HLC on how to move forward to find a permanent solution to this longpending issue."

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Demand for legal recognition of land rights

Region Classification

Urban

Type of Land

Common

Type of Common Land

Non-Forest (Other than Grazing Land)

Total investment involved (in Crores):

Type of investment:

Year of Estimation

Has the Conflict Ended?

No

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Constitutional Law, Forest and Scheduled Area Governance Laws, Other

Legislations/Policies Involved

Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community? What was the decision of the concerned government department?

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Forced evictions/ Dispossession of Land, Lack of legal protection over land rights

Legal Status:

In Court

Status of Case In Court

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

High Court of Meghalaya, Supreme Court of India

Case Number

WP(C). No.218 of 2018, SLP(C) No. 18324 - 18325/2019.

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

Whether criminal law was used against protestors

Official name of the criminal law. Did the case reach trial?

Reported Details of the Violation:

Date of Violation

Location of Violation

Nature of Protest

Campaigns (Grassroots organisations/press releases/media), Objections as part of official procedures

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Shillong Municipal Board, Revenue Department, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, Director General of Police, Deputy Commissioner of East Khasi Hills, High Level Commiittee, Department of Urban Affairs, Meghalaya Land Record and Survey Department

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Shillong Municipal Board and Department of Urban Affairs. Several attempts were made to call the office of the Shillong Municipal Board but LCW could not reach them. The researcher managed to speak to the principal secretary of Urban Affairs but he did not divulge any information, stating that he is not authorised to speak on the issue and asked LCW to approach the High Level Committee instead.

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Name, Designation and Comment of Corporate Authorities Approached

Other Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:
No Images Available

Documented By

Sarup Sinha

Reviewed By

Sarup Sinha

Updated By

Sarup Sinha

Edited By

Sarup SinhaLand Conflict Watch
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