N Thomas Lotha
Heartiest Congratulations to you on your magnificent victory and successful installation of new government under your leadership in Nagaland Sir.
I am writing this letter to your good self in regards with the proposed new land laws in Nagaland.
Last August, Nagaland hosted a highly anticipated CSR conclave that generated significant buzz among business leaders and experts, providing a platform for sharing ideas and best practices on corporate social responsibility. However, the final day of the conclave took a concerning turn when Neiba Kronu, the then Minister of Planning and coordination, announced plans to introduce new land laws in Nagaland.
The proposed land laws by the Nagaland government could potentially disrupt customary land ownership system and have severe impact on the Naga way of life.
Before this letter delves into the implications of the proposed land laws on customary law and explore the need to guard against policies that undermine the rights of indigenous people, it’s important to understand the nefarious hidden market mechanism which are influencing this decision of Nagaland state government.
Forest & carbon markets:
Sir, Forest play crucial role in regulating the Earth’s climate by absorbing and staring carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. In addition to this vital ecosystem service, forest also provide habitat for biodiversity, regulate water cycles, and conserve soil.
However, deforestation and forest degradation are significant contributors to green house gas emissions, accounting for around 10% of global emissions.
To address this problem, a financial mechanism called the carbon market has emerged, which provides incentives for individuals and corporations to reduce their carbon footprint. Carbon credit are tradable certificate that represent the tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent that has been prevented from entering or removed from the atmosphere. Forest are a significant source of carbon credits because of their ability to sequester carbon dioxide.
Carbon credits from forestry projects have become popular option for companies to offset their carbon emissions. By creating a market for carbon credits, business and government can incentivises the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions while supporting sustainable development.
Forest are home to around 370 million indigenous people worldwide, who rely on the forest for their livelihoods, cultures, and spiritual traditions. Nagas, too have a deep connection with the land, and their inherited knowledge and practices have sustained the forest for generations.
However, the implementation of some carbon offset projects in forested areas has raised concerns about land tenure rights and the recognition of indigenous people’s participation in forest management. Carbon offset projects have often been implemented without the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples, leading to disputes over land ownership and control.
Sir, i would suggest that, every concerned Nagas must read the research papers on Sikkim, how investment Banks exploited the land under the pretense of CSR in Sikkim.
And why Martha Peediyakkan Climate Scholar & researcher after proper assessment call the Sikkim offset projects ‘Carbon Quisling.’
I am sure, case of Sikkim should serve as a reminder for the legislators and the concerned councillors of Nagaland of the need for greater attention to be paid to the social and political dimensions of environmental initiatives, and for more participatory and inclusive approaches to conservation and development and that take into account the needs and perspectives of local communities.
How customary law in Nagaland has a deep connection with our land & forest:
Sir, unlike elsewhere in India, Nagas have a distinct culture and tradition that has been shaped by our long history of isolation and resistance to external influences. We have a rich system of customary law under Article 371-A which is unambiguously enshrined in Indian constitution that governs our social, economic, and political life. The land rights of the Nagas are an important aspect of our customary law, which is closely tied to our identity, way of life, and worldview.
Under the customary law of Nagaland, land is considered as an inheritance property that belongs to the individuals, family, Clans, community, or village as a whole. The individuals and the village council, comprising of elders and respected members of the community, manages the land and decides how it should be used.
The Nagas have had a deep connection to their land, which is reflected in our culture and traditions. Land is not merely a resource to be exploited, but a sacred entity that is valued, revered and protected. The Nagas also have a strong sense of collective identity, which is linked to their land. The village and the tribe are the primary units of social organisation, and the land is a symbol of their shared heritage and history.
Sir, in the recent years the land rights of the Nagas have come under threat due to various factors such as urbanization, infrastructure development, and influx of outsiders under various pretext. The Nagas have been struggling to protect their land and ensure that it is used in a manner that benifits the owners and the community. The Nagaland Land Revenue Act 1968 and Municipal Act 2001, have been a source of conflict, as it grants the government the unilateral power to acquire land for public purposes.
The new land laws – the real game behind the curtains:
Sir, while the new land laws has been announced, it has been welcomed by some as a step towards better governance and economic development, there are concerns among climate activists and researchers that the new land laws could have a potential impact on Nagaland’s customary land rights and indigenous communities, similar to the case of Sikkim.
Dear Sir, it is paramount to note that the development of these new laws did not involve relevant stakeholders such as village councils, and there is limited available in the public domain on their implementation and impact on indigenous communities.
One alarming feature of the proposed law is the elimination of the requirement for social clearance from village councils before executing projects with Foreign Direct Investment or External Aid. This could set a dangerous precedent by undermining customary laws to accommodate the demands of international investment banks and corporations. Consequently, these funding agencies could obtain custodianship of large forested areas and provide minimal rent payments to the villages, while pocketing the profits from carbon credits. While the value of a single carbon credit on voluntary markets may currently be low (approximately $4 per credit), the prices are projected to rise as the world moves towards the net-zero goal by 2050.
Furthermore, Sir, the recognition of the Naga people’s participation in forest management is another important concern. Indigenous communities possess a wealth of traditional knowledge and practices that have sustained forest for generations.
Sir, Nagaland has been blessed with nearly 800,000 hectares of deciduous evergreen rainforest, the state has the natural capital to generate over 200 million carbon credits annually. Even with a price of one credit at $10, this would allow Nagaland’s natural assets to generate nearly $2 billion in annual recurring revenue, almost equal to the state’s annual budget deficit for eight years. This amount of revenue could potentially transform the fortunes of the 3 million Nagas who reside in the state.
Sir, Therefore, it is essential that your esteemed government, before taking final decision in this regard, need to recognises the importance of customary land rights and works with the stakeholders through the respective Tribal Ho-hos to ensure that their land is used in a manner that benefits the community and not forcing corporations and investment Banks.
The proposed land laws bills must safeguard Nagaland’s land rights and ensure that the state’s natural assets are utilised for the greater benefits of the Nagas.