Tuesday, June 28, 2011

News Article: Village common land leased to not-so-common people

SC orders restoration but states still wary

Ruchika M. Khanna/TNS
The Tribune
Chandigarh, February 2

Common village land worth hundreds of crores in Punjab and Haryana, presently under possession of the rich and the politically influential, may soon be restored back to the respective gram panchayats. With the Supreme Court putting its foot down on land deals where land is taken from gram panchayats by private persons on lease, or bought from the khewatdars on a GPA (General Power of Attorney), there is consternation in both Punjab and Haryana.

The village common land or shamlat land is meant to be kept aside for use for common purpose of villagers. The control of this land rests with the village panchayat, which can lease it out (for purposes like education, agriculture, public utility and professional use) to get revenue for carrying out development works in the village. However, over the years, shrinking land near the big cities has led to an unholy nexus between land sharks and government officials. 

Inquiries made by The Tribune reveal how this shamlat land, especially near the periphery of big cities (Mohali, Patiala, Panipat and Sonepat) in Punjab and Haryana, is now under ownership of private person/enterprise. A top official in Rural Development and Panchayats Department said that even in those villages where the consolidation of land did not take place, the share of the khewatdars is decided following ratification by the government. These khewatdars then get together and the General Power of Attorney of these shares is executed in favour of one person after taking consideration for the land shown under their share. This done, the land is then sold off to a private person, mostly on GPA. 

No wonder that the influential persons in the region have been usurping the village common land. A realtor, who is also in the liquor business, is taking village common land in the name of getting contiguous land for his project (in exchange for private land in Mohali). In Haryana, a top cricketer has been allotted common land in the name of setting up a sports academy in Jhajjar. In another case, a top corporate house of the country, too, had been eyeing the village common land “for the purpose of land contiguity,” while setting up of a Special Economic Zone (in the national capital region of Haryana). 

The Supreme Court judgement clearly says that all orders issued by any state government permitting the allotment of gram sabha land to private persons and enterprises on the payment of money, are illegal and should be ignored. This could mean that all such land deals will have to be re-examined in the context of the Punjab Village Common Lands Act and Public Premises Act, and such land could be given back to the respective villagers. “Though village common land is allowed to be given on lease for agriculture, professional and educational purposes to private persons, we need to study the new SC judgement,” said a top Punjab official. 

Since the SC judgement also calls for the state governments to formulate a policy for speedy eviction of such illegal occupants, officials in Punjab and Haryana say that they will soon come out with a policy, and step up efforts to get the village common land freed from illegal occupation. Top officials in Punjab estimate that one-third of the total land with various gram panchayats in the state is under illegal occupation. Officials in the Rural Development and Panchayats Department informed TNS that almost 2000 cases were reported where the common land was under illegal occupation. The maximum cases of illegal occupation of land are in the districts of Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib and Nawanshahr. 

In Haryana, over 25,000 acres of land is presently under illegal occupation, with over 8000 acres of gram panchayat land under illegal occupation being located in Panipat, followed by Kaithal (4500 acres) and Sonepat (4000 acres).


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