If a tribal clan has its way, the government of Meghalaya could be left with no Raj Bhavan and no Secretariat. Ditto for the police headquarters and the trade hub in state capital Shillong.
Numbering over 800, the Nongkhlaws — a Khasi clan — have asked the government to hand over some 1,000 acres of prime land in Shillong or face a legal battle in the Supreme Court. Other than the Raj Bhavan, the area houses most government offices, high-end clubs, trade centres and tourist spots.
The clan says the British took the land on a 99-year lease in 1864 to set up their headquarters for the northeastern region, then known as Assam Province. Over time, they turned the area into upscale Shillong. And the Government House — Raj Bhavan today — became the seat of power.
“The government failed to return the land to us after the lease agreement with the British government expired in 1963,” said Blarin Nongkhlaw, a representative of the clan. “We have all the documents to prove that the clan is the rightful owner of the land.”
Nongkhlaw said the government had from time to time admitted that the land was a leased one. Meghalaya revenue commissioner P Kharkongor said, “I am too new in this department” to respond to the clan’s claim. Additional chief secretary WMS Pariat, who handles revenue, declined to talk in view of the “sensitivity” of the issue. A former officer in the department said the Gauhati High Court had this March 29 dismissed the Nongkhlaws’ review petition filed after they lost a legal battle in 1998.
The Nongkhlaws are now banking on the apex court’s decision.