Wednesday, June 29, 2011

News Article: Land sharks in net

The Tribune
Thursday, February 3, 2011, Chandigarh, India 
Supreme Court must monitor states’ action
IN a landmark judgement the Supreme Court has declared as illegal the state orders allotting village common land to private persons or commercial enterprises. There is a nexus of politicians, officials, builders, property dealers and criminals that grabs public land wherever available in cities, towns and villages. Representatives of panchayats and municipalities too sometimes share the loot. The opponents are silenced by “orders from above” since the land mafia enjoys political patronage. 

The rules are bent or changed as the guardians of public property turn robbers of public trust. Precious pieces of land are passed on to private persons on token payments. In such a scenario the judiciary is the only institution that can stop the proliferation of gangsters. In the given case it is the illegal occupants of a village pond who had the temerity to approach the apex court for “justice”. They had challenged the move to evict them from the village common land. The court also took note of the role of the Patiala Collector, who instead of helping the village get back its land, directed the panchayat to recover the cost of the land based on the Collector’s rates. 

This is just one small example of land grab in Punjab. If a survey is done by a competent authority, there would hardly be a village, town or city in Punjab where the land mafia has not captured or encroached upon public land. NRIs are an easy target. Though the Bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra has directed the Chief Secretaries to ensure speedy eviction of all illegal occupants, the bureaucrats’ efforts might be scuttled by their political bosses. The court will have to monitor such cases regularly — a formidable challenge in itself — and launch contempt proceedings, where necessary. Otherwise, the land-grab issue would meet the fate of police reforms, which states like Punjab have failed to implement despite instructions from the Supreme Court. 

Associated story
Govt wants transparency in auction of village common land
Prabhjot Singh/Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 26
Bowing to criticism over malpractices in allowing the tilling of village common land or renting out such land to influential groups much below the market prices, the Punjab Rural Development and Panchayats Department now wants detailed records of all such common land at the village level collected till June 30. 

Rural Development and Panchayats Minister Ranjit Singh Brahmpura says the state government is categorically opposed to the illegal disposition of village common land to unscrupulous tillers or persons in connivance with officials, as such lands were revenue-generating sources and lifelines for the development of villages. 

All field officials of the Rural Development Department have been instructed to submit detailed records, including annual jamabandis of village shamlats and mushtarka-malkaan land at the earliest, he added.

Complaints have been galore over malpractices, nepotism, favoritism and circumvention of the provisions of the Village Common Lands Act in allowing certain influential and powerful groups and individuals over nominal increase in re-allotment or even at the time of auction.

In many areas, panchayats were getting far less than the average prevailing price for such common village land. To generate more revenue from annual auctions for agricultural purposes of village shamlats, the minister has also directed development officials to enhance per acre auction rates from the previous year auctions (bolis) and asked to complete the auction process by May 31 in a fair and transparent manner after announcing fixed dates publicly to farmers. 

“The auctioneer official will be responsible to deposit the full amount after the successful completion of the auction of land. The bid money has to be deposited in the bank on the same day, else the erring official would have to face the disciplinary action,” warned Brahmpura.

The rural development minister also directed officials to dispose of all pending cases under Sections 7 and 11 of the Panchayats Act within two months so that litigants should not suffer. 

“Strict instructions have also been issued to employees to properly monitor and supervise court cases pending in various subordinate courts, including the HC and the Supreme Court. No leniency will be tolerated in dishonestly delaying the cases,” the minister said.

Suggesting the optimal utilisation of surplus land under the village focal points, Brahmpura said out of total 6,434 acres of land earmarked for various rural focal points, about 1,185 acres of land were still laying unutilised. He asked field officials to prepare cases for the restoration of such unutilised common lands to the village panchayats concerned so that they could fetch revenues for their village development.

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