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Dalit Sikhs not against relocation in Meghalaya

The Meghalaya wanted to relocate the Dalit Sikhs from the 2-acre Harijan Colony, also known as Punjabi Lane or Sweepers' Lane, adjoining Iewduh, the commercial hub of Meghalaya capital Shillong, but the settlers have been against it.

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Shillong: The Dalit or Mazhabi Sikhs of the Harijan Colony here in Meghalaya on Monday said that they are not against relocation but want all residents to be “resettled permanently with each household getting ownership rights over 200 square meters of land.”

“We are not against relocation, we want permanent resettlement,” Secretary of the Harijan Panchayat Committee, Gurjit Singh told Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong during a second round of meeting to discuss the relocation of the Dalit Sikhs.

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The Meghalaya wanted to relocate the Dalit Sikhs from the 2-acre Harijan Colony, also known as Punjabi Lane or Sweepers’ Lane, adjoining Iewduh, the commercial hub of Meghalaya capital Shillong, but the settlers have been against it.

There are multiple court cases that have been filed over the years. Singh further made it clear that the residents are against moving into a high rise buildings and all they want is the land and also the cost of building their houses.

“We will build our houses. The current quarters where we are staying has not even lasted 20 years as it was built by the government through different builders,” the Panchayat leader said. The contention of the residents is that the land where they dwell currently was gifted to them by the Syiem (chief) of Mylliem to their forefathers in 1853.

However, the State Government and the Shillong Municipal Board signed a tripartite agreement to take possession of the land from the Syiem of Mylliem. The Conrad Sangma- led government has also constituted a High-Level Committee (HLC) led by Tynsong which is mandated to find ways to relocate these residents from that area.

The government says the area resembles a slum and the prime property can be used more productively. “The government doesn’t provide us with water or electricity. There is no proper drainage. So in a way the government has made the area into a slum, not us. We will correct it if given an opportunity,” Singh said.

In fact, the HLC had earlier decided to resettle the residents at a European Ward. Under the state land tenure system, non-locals can’t purchase land anywhere in the state except a sliver of land in the European ward located in the state capital. Deputy Chief Minister Tynsong, who is also the Chairman of the HLC, told reporters that the HPC has agreed to relocate but with certain conditions.

“We (government) will prepare a blueprint and detailed proposal from the government side… Once that is done, we will communicate officially to them (HPC),” Tynsong said. In the meantime, the Urban Affairs department is also identifying land in 2-3 locations for the resettlement. We will communicate to them “Harijan Panchayat Committee) once the details are ready,” Tynsong added.

Meanwhile, the next meeting between the two sides is expected to be held around May 10 or 15. For more than two decades, several indigenous Khasi civil society groups have demanded from the Meghalaya to re-locate Sikh residents, living there since British times, from Sweepers Lane as most of them are “illegal settlers”. 

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