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The battle between Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) and Hima Mylliem over declaring an area near Shillong as reserve forest seems to be never ending. Both the KHADC and the traditional body Hima Mylliem ‘want to protect’ the forest at Mawpat near Shillong, but in different manner. While the KHADC’s intention is clear in keeping the area under ‘reserve forest’ category, the objective of Hima Mylliem in wanting the tag removed ‘to protect it’ is not understood. Mawpat, a once barren area which was turned into a forest and vital catchment area through plantations, was declared a reserve forest through an agreement between the KHADC and Hima Mylliem last year. Both the KHADC and Hima Mylliem drew applauds by making announcement about the declaration on the occasion of World Environment Day. However, Hima Mylliem has done a volte face by wanting to retract from the agreement.

The debate over declaration of the reserve forest, an occasion attended by Syiem (chief) of Hima Mylliem himself besides the KHADC leaders, has been going on for the past one year. The former KHADC chief executive member Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit during a debate wondered as to why the Hima wants to scrap the agreement when the latter says the intention is to protect the forest. He made it clear that Mawpat neither belongs to the Syiem of Mylliem nor the executive committee (EC) of the KHADC. He said both are ‘guardians and custodians’ of the forest. In fact, the concept of private ownership of land is very new in Meghalaya. Earlier, most of the land belonged to the community and individuals and families were only allowed to use it. However, the supreme power of the clan leaders and traditional bodies over community land led to corruption with the changing scenario of modern economy where money became a powerful tool in decision making. One of the prime reasons behind the haphazard urbanisation in Shillong is the absolute right of the community leaders, who are not accountable for governance.

Although there was a change of guard in the KHADC, the new Congress-led EC too maintained the stand on Mawpat reserve forest by deciding not to scrap the agreement. On the other hand, the Hima Mylliem and its supporters in the KHADC want the deal be cancelled in order ‘to stop encroachment’ on forests. While the agreement gives KHADC and Hima Mylliem equal authority to monitor the forest, the latter will rule the roost once it is scrapped. The Hima should now come clear and convince the people about its intention to scrap the agreement.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on July 25, 2015)