Wednesday, June 22, 2011

News Article: Gram sabha land can’t be given to pvt persons: SC

R Sedhuraman/Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, January 31

In a far-reaching order, the Supreme Court today enlarged the scope of a petition filed from Punjab to direct all the state governments to take immediate steps to restore gram sabha land allotted to private persons to the respective village panchayats.

“In many states, orders have been issued by the state governments permitting the allotment of gram sabha land to private persons and commercial enterprises on the payment of some money. In our opinion, all such government orders are illegal and should be ignored,” a Bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra ruled. All the state governments “should prepare schemes for the eviction of illegal/unauthorised occupants of gram sabha/gram panchayat/poramboke/shamlat land and these must be restored to the gram sabha/gram panchayat for the common use of villagers of the village”.

“For this purpose, the Chief Secretaries of all state governments/UTs are directed to do the needful taking the help of other senior officers of the governments. The said scheme should provide for the speedy eviction of such illegal occupant after giving him a show-cause notice and a brief hearing,” the Bench said.

The apex court clarified that “the 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 where lease was granted under some government notification to landless labourers or members of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes, or where there was already a school, dispensary or other public utility on the land, the Bench ruled.

The Bench passed the order while dismissing an appeal filed by Jagpal Singh and others who had challenged a move to evict them under Section 7 of the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961, from a pond in Rohar Jagir village in Patiala taluk as well as district.

“Instead of ordering the eviction of these unauthorised occupants, the Collector, Patiala, surprisingly held that it would not be in the public interest to dispossess them and instead directed the gram panchayat, Rohat, to recover the cost of the land as per the Collector’s rates…Thus, the Collector colluded in regularising this illegality on the ground” that they had spent “huge money on constructing houses on the said land,” the SC observed.

However, the Commissioner set aside the Collector’s order and the occupants came to the SC after losing their case in the High Court. The apex court said though it had dismissed the appeal, this would be listed for hearing time and again to monitor the implementation of its orders to the state governments.

The Bench regretted that in large parts of the country, common village land had been grabbed since Independence 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.”

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