A unique dis­pute

Two gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and land­less peo­ple are locked in a le­gal bat­tle over 4,000 ha in Mad­hya Pradesh whose out­come would have coun­try­wide ram­i­fi­ca­tions |

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - JI­TEN­DRA @journo­ji­ten­dra

Mad­hya Pradesh trib­als can­not get 4,000 hectares of do­nated land be­cause both for­est and rev­enue de­part­ments claim it is their

ON AU­GUST 3, Shashank Mishra, Dis­trict Mag­is­trate of Betul in Mad­hya Pradesh, will hear a land own­er­ship case. It in­volves over 4,000 hectares (ha) of mostly com­mu­nity land in 11 vil­lages of Gho­radon­gari tehsil. The re­mark­able fea­ture of the case is that while both for­est and land rev­enue de­part­ments are claim­ing own­er­ship over the land, in 2008, when farm­ers and trib­als liv­ing on the land de­manded land ti­tles un­der the Sched­uled Tribes and Other Tra­di­tional For­est Dwellers (Recog­ni­tion of For­est Rights) Act, 2006 or fra, both the de­part­ments re­jected the ap­pli­ca­tions, say­ing the other was the owner. fra guar­an­tees tribal and non-tribal for­est dwellers right over land they have been tra­di­tion­ally lived on, or de­pend for sur­vival.

In May this year, Anil Garg, a Be­tul­based ad­vo­cate who has been study­ing the issue and pub­lished a book on it in 2017, de­cided to file a case on be­half of the peo­ple at the Betul col­lec­torate. Garg says the prob­lem has his­tor­i­cal roots. “Af­ter the en­act­ment of the Za­min­dari Abo­li­tion Act of 1950, which put a limit on the land an in­di­vid­ual can own, states across the coun­try passed sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tions and ac­quired land. But there were many cases where the for­est depart­ment scut­tled at­tempts by the land rev­enue depart­ment to dis­trib­ute the land among the land­less by reg­is­ter­ing it as forest­land. The Betul case is an ex­am­ple of this tri­par­tite tus­sle,” he ex­plains. “The dis­trict has about 0.12 mil­lion ha claimed by the two de­part­ments and the cu­mu­la­tive fig­ure for Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh could be more than 9 mil­lion,” he adds.

But how could for­est de­part­ments claim own­er­ship of com­mu­nity land? Sec­tions 3 and 29 of the Indian For­est Act, 1927, al­low it to ac­quire gov­ern­ment land and de­clare them as Pro­tected Forests or Re­served

Forests. Garg says the for­est de­part­ments could have used th­ese pro­vi­sions to claim own­er­ship, but they should not have done so be­cause such lands were be­ing used by com­mu­ni­ties as waste­land, graz­ing land or vil­lage forests. When con­tacted, Mishra said the case has enough com­pli­ca­tions to war­rant a deeper look, which is why he al­lowed it to be reg­is­tered. More­over, this is not the first time it is be­ing probed. In July 2004, the then chief sec­re­tary of Mad­hya Pradesh, B K Saha, had is­sued an or­der ask­ing both the de­part­ments to check their land records. The issue was also raised in the Mad­hya Pradesh Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly sev­eral times between 2014 and 2017. “It is as­ton­ish­ing the two de­part­ments never tal­lied their records,” says Garg.

What has hurt the claimants (many of whom be­long to the Gond tribe) the most is that in 2016 the land rev­enue depart­ment granted pat­tas (land ti­tles) to 109 Bangladeshi refugees who had been liv­ing in the area since 1974. “The Gho­radon­gari con­stituency had a by-elec­tion in April 2016 and this was a po­lit­i­cal issue,” says Garg. When Chief Min­is­ter Shivraj Singh Chouhan was can­vass­ing in the dis­trict, he faced protest from Gond trib­als. “The chief min­is­ter had as­sured we would get pat­tas for the land that has helped us eke out a liveli­hood. Af­ter hav­ing voted for their can­di­date, we feel cheated. There are about 200 fam­i­lies in the vil­lage that feel the same way,” says Pandu Singh Marshkole, a Gond tribal of Betul’s Dol­hara vil­lage.

As per the Union Min­istry of Tribal Af­fairs, land ti­tles cov­er­ing 8.44 mil­lion ha of forest­land were is­sued between 2006 and 2016 in Mad­hya Pradesh un­der the fra. This is just 38 per cent of to­tal claims re­ceived dur­ing the pe­riod. The state stands third in terms of claims cleared un­der fra, the top two states be­ing Odisha and Ch­hat­tis­garh, which have cleared 59 per cent and 40 per cent of the claims re­spec­tively in the same pe­riod.

A com­mon prob­lem

Sharad Chan­dra Behar, a for­mer chief sec­re­tary of Mad­hya Pradesh, says there is no doubt gov­ern­ment records have gross ano­ma­lies and adds that the prob­lem of land rev­enue and for­est de­part­ments claim­ing own­er­ship over same pieces of land is not lim­ited to Mad­hya Pradesh. Cor­rob­o­rates Manohar Chauhan, a land rights ac­tivist based in Odisha. He says that in Odisha, the for­est depart­ment claims al­most 52 per cent of rev­enue land, which it has reg­is­tered as vil­lage forests.

Rakesh Bhati of Sah­jee­van, a non-profit based in Bhuj dis­trict of Gu­jarat, sites a sim­i­lar case. “Both for­est and land rev­enue de­part­ments claim own­er­ship over 2,500 sq km of Banni Grass­land in the Rann of Kutch.” Banni, which is re­ported to be the largest grass­land in Asia, was de­clared a pro­tected area in 1955 and was un­der the pos­ses­sion of the rev­enue depart­ment. In 1998, the state gov­ern­ment handed its own­er­ship to the for­est depart­ment. But an rti query by Sah­jee­van found that both de­part­ments still claim own­er­ship over it.

Shubh­moorty Kumar, chair­per­son of the Bhoodan Yagna Com­mit­tee of Bi­har, formed un­der a state gov­ern­ment law to over­see the dis­tri­bu­tion of the over 0.65 mil­lion ha do­nated by peo­ple dur­ing the Bhoodan move­ment in the 1970s, says that the dis­tri­bu­tion never hap­pened be­cause of the tus­sle between the two de­part­ments. “In Barachatti block of Gaya dis­trict, there is a 300 ha plot be­ing used by land­less non­trib­als over which the for­est depart­ment claims own­er­ship,” he says. In fact, Bhoodan com­mit­tees in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ra­jasthan were dis­solved be­cause the re­dis­tri­bu­tion of land never started due to such con­fu­sions. The only suf­fer­ers in this three­way com­bat are the peo­ple who have been made to shut­tle between the two de­part­ments, with­out any re­sult, says Garg, and adds that the out­come of the Betul case could have reper­cus­sions in other states too.

Pandu Singh Marshkole (seated on the right), a Gond tribal of Betul's Dol­hara vil­lage, says about 200 fam­i­lies in the vil­lage want

pat­tas for the land they have lived on for decades. (Be­low) Marshkole's wife Kamodi Bai says land in­se­cu­rity has also re­duced their liveli­hood op­tions

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.