Tuesday, June 21, 2011

News Article: Court asks States to restore land meant for common use


Friday, Feb 04, 2011
J. Venkatesan

Allotment of gram sabha land to private persons illegal
Ponds, tanks which served communities for years encroached upon

New Delhi: Taking a serious view of illegal and unauthorised encroachments on government poromboke land, the Supreme Court has directed all the State governments to prepare schemes for eviction of such occupants of gram sabha/panchayat/poromboke/shamlat land and restore them to the gram sabha/panchayat for the common use of villagers.

A Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra directed Chief Secretaries to do the needful, with the help of other senior government officials. The Bench said the scheme should provide for the speedy eviction of such illegal occupants, after giving him a show cause notice and a brief hearing.

It said: “Long duration of such illegal occupation or huge expenditure in making constructions thereon, or political connections, must not be treated as a justification for condoning this illegal act or for regularising the illegal possession. Regularisation should only be permitted in exceptional cases, e.g. where lease has been granted under some government notification to landless labourers or members of scheduled castes/scheduled tribes, or where there is already a school, dispensary or other public utility on the land.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Katju said: “We are of the opinion that such kind of blatant illegalities must not be condoned. We cannot allow the common interest of the villagers to suffer merely because the unauthorised occupation has subsisted for many years. In many States, orders have been issued by the State government 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.”

The Bench said: “What we have witnessed since Independence is that in large parts of the country, this common village land has been grabbed by unscrupulous persons using muscle power, money power or political clout, and in many States now there is not an inch of such land left for the common use of the people of the village, though it may exist on paper. People with power systematically encroached upon communal land and put them to uses totally inconsistent with its original character, for personal aggrandisement at the cost of the village community. This was done with active connivance of the State authorities and local powerful vested interests and goondas.

“Our ancestors were not fools. They knew that in certain years there may be droughts or water shortages for some other reason, and water was also required for cattle to drink and bathe in. Hence they built a pond attached to every village, a tank attached to every temple. These were their traditional rain water harvesting methods, which served them for thousands of years. Over the last few decades, however, most of these ponds in our country have been filled with earth and built upon by greedy people, thus destroying their original character. This has contributed to the water shortages in the country. Also, many ponds are auctioned off at throwaway prices to businessmen for fisheries in collusion with authorities/gram panchayat officials, and even this money collected from these so-called auctions are not used for the common benefit of the villagers but misappropriated by certain individuals. The time has come when these malpractices must stop.”

The Bench was dismissing an appeal filed by Jagpal Singh and others against a judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, rejecting their plea for regularisation of constructions made in a pond.

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