Thursday, June 30, 2011

News article: States warned on land grab

The Telegraph
Tuesday, February 1, 2011


New Delhi, Jan. 31: The country’s top court has warned states against allotting gram sabha land to private persons and commercial enterprises and then “regularising” such illegal encroachment in return for money.
In a ruling last week, the Supreme Court said such land was for the common use of villagers and directed chief secretaries to prepare schemes to evict “unscrupulous” trespassers who had grabbed land using muscle power or political clout.

“In many states, government orders have been issued permitting allotment of gram sabha land to private persons and commercial enterprises on payment of some money. In our opinion all such government orders are illegal, and should be ignored,” a bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra said in its order on Friday.

The ruling came on a case of encroachment on a Punjab village pond. The trespassers had filled up the pond and built houses on the land. The high court had ordered their eviction, prompting them to move the apex court.

In its order, the apex court said even if the trespasser had occupied the encroached land for a long time or invested huge amounts of money in constructions, that couldn’t be a justification for condoning the land-grab.

Regularisation, the bench added, should only be permitted in exceptional cases, such as where lease had been granted under some government notification to landless labourers or members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, or where there was already a school, dispensary or other public utilities. 

The court said illegal encroachments had become common in post-Independent India, and “… in large parts of the country common village land has been grabbed by unscrupulous persons using muscle power, money power or political clout”. 

This appeal, the court added, “is a glaring example of this lamentable state of affairs”.

In the Punjab case, the gram panchayat of Rohar Jagir had filed an application under the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961, to evict the trespassers. 

An FIR was also filed but it didn’t help as the unauthorised occupants had the backing of officials and panchayat members. Instead of telling them to pack up and leave, the Patiala collector had held that eviction wouldn’t be in the public interest and asked the gram panchayat to recover the cost of the land from the trespassers. 

“Thus, the collector colluded in regularising this illegality on the ground that they had spent huge money on constructing houses on the land,” the court said. 

After the collector’s directive, some residents had appealed to the commissioner, who said regularising such illegal encroachment was not in the panchayat’s interest. 

The trespassers then filed a petition in the high court, which threw out the plea on February 10, 2010. A division bench also took the same view. The trespassers then appealed to the top court. 

In its January 28 verdict, the apex court said the appellants were “trespassers” who had illegally encroached on the gram panchayat land by using muscle power/money power and in collusion with the officials and even with the gram panchayat”.

The court ordered them to return the land to the gram panchayat. “We cannot allow the common interest of the villagers to suffer merely because the unauthorised occupation has subsisted for many years.”
The case will be listed on May 3, 2011, for court monitoring of compliance by states.

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