This is appalling loot that is happening silently. Village common lands in Punjab are being picketed. Slowly, but surely, shamlat deh, an integral feature of almost every village in the state, is shrinking.
Shamlat is village common land, kept aside for use for common purposes. The control of the land vests with the village panchayat and the land can be used by the panchayat to earn income to carry out development works in the village. The division, distribution and sale of shamlat deh is not allowed.
But all rules are forgotten when the stakes are high and a single acre of shamlat land near large cities can fetch crores. Active connivance of government officials in violation and misinterpretation of rules to “assist” the land mafia has led to the division and sale of shamlat in many villages through the khewatdars (village landowners).
The instances are more in villages that fall on the outskirts of bigger cities where the shamlat is virtually the only green patch left in the midst of a concrete jungle. At such places, there is a massive attraction to usurp shamlat and benefit from the over-blown land prices due to proximity to the city.
Majri block in SAS Nagar district has under its jurisdiction the Punjab portion of Chandigarh’s periphery. A former Block Development and Panchayat Officer (BDPO) stated in a remarkable and rare report on how shamlat land is being usurped in the periphery:
“In many villages in the Majri block consolidation of land never took place, so the question of shamlat land being shared by those who own land in the village (khewatdars) does not arise. In some villages, the title of the shamlat deh has not been decided by the collector.”
“In such villages,” the report states, “the revenue department proceeds to decide the share of the khewatdars in the shamlat without having any authority to do so. Then the general power of attorney (GPAs) of these shares is executed in favour of one person after taking consideration for the land shown under their share. Following which either the sale deeds are executed on the basis of the GPAs or a case for decision of title is filed in the court of the collector by the GPA holders.
The cases are filed under Section 11 of the Punjab Village Common Land Act, 1961.”
Even in villages where consolidation took place and the title was decided in favour of the Panchayat by the collector, the revenue department on its own identified the share of khewatdars in the shamlat and following the same process an appeal is filed under Section 11 of the Act before the collector. “Despite the fact that the collector’s court has already decided the matter in favour of the Panchayat, the collector begins to hear the case again without any hesitation,” states the report.
For example, decisions regarding shamlat in Kansal and Mianpur Changar villages were taken by the collector’s court in favour of the panchayat in 1998. And yet again in 2006, a case was filed in the Ropar collector’s court to decide on the title and these cases are still going on.
The BDPO also pointed out that the title of the shamlat lands which has been ordered to be vested in the panchayat by the collector’s court more than seven-eight years ago cannot be questioned in appeal after such a long duration. But even in such cases the collectors start hearing such appeals.
“Even when a collector decides in favour of the panchayat,” continues the report, “the panchayat has to file another case for dispossession of the land in another court. This could again take years, by which time the panchayats change and lose interest.” The BDPO found that the most sensational and shocking cases of usurpation of land are those where the area under shamlat is many times more than the land owned by the villagers where consolidation has not taken place. “In such cases, a khweatdar, owning even only a single acre in the village, claims share of many acres of land in the shamlat. For the division of such a shamlat land, the additional director consolidation, the collector, the commissioner, revenue officers and patwari are directly responsible.”
In an effort to find a solution to this rampant usurpation of shamlat, a former assistant deputy commissioner SAS Nagar Ajoy Sharma wrote to the Secretary, Department of Rural Development and Panchayat, Punjab, suggesting that collectors should be careful in using Section 11 of the 1961 Act when deciding the title.
“In the order under Section 11,” he wrote, “the presiding office can decide only as to whether the land vests in panchayat or not. He is not competent to determine the share of proprietors in the land in dispute. Even if the case under Section 11 is decided by the Supreme Court in favour of proprietors they must approach the consolidation authorities for partitioning of the land.”
“In case, it is ordered that the land in despite does not vest in panchayat,” the former ADC stated, “the presiding officer must clearly mention in the concluding para of the order that the shareholders must approach the consolidation authorities for determination of their share in the said land. Land can be mutated in the name of individual shareholders only in case the competent authority has determined the shares. ”
Ajoy Sharma also noted that following the amendment of Section 42 of the Consolidation Act, the consolidation authorities cannot partition the land. “Revenue officials are themselves partitioning the land without determination of share by the consolidation authorities. So when the Consolidation Act is bypassed, what can we achieve with the amendment of the Consolidation Act?”
“Can we rely on the sarpanch when the stakes are so high?” he asks. “I think we cannot. Replies must be vetted by the DDPOs and cases should be defended personally by the BDPOs. In fact, where the sarpanch deposes against the panchayat, the presiding officer must call the BDPO to verify the authenticity of the statement made by the sarpanch.”
Hall of ShameThe BDPO’s report lists nine villages in the Majri block where land worth crores has been usurped over the past few years:
The title of around 105 acres of shamlat was decided in favour of the panchayat in 1998. However, the land mafia in connivance of revenue officials, the sarpanch and panch sold this land. The ADC (Development) Ropar began the hearing of the case nine years after it has been decided in favour of the panchayat. The panchayat has been directed to get the land dispossessed under Section 7 of the 1961 act.
Title of the 184 acres of shamlat land was fixed in 2004 in favour of panchayat. A major portion of the shamlat land is gairmumkin nadi. However, in 2006, the commissioner’s court decided against the panchayat. A report of the BDPO in this regard was also ignored. The panchayat moved the High Court, which has stayed the collector’s decision.
The commissioner decided the title of the shamlat land in favour of the panchayat. However, the land is under the possession of persons who are not even villagers. The revenue department has recorded the ownership of land in their favour. The panchayat is fighting a case for the dispossession of the land.
Revenue department officials determined shares of 25 acres of shamlat land here on their own. The shareholders sold the shares to a single person on the basis of GPA whose name has been added in the revenue records by the revenue officials.
The village has over 92 acres of shamlat land. the title of which was decided in favour of the panchayat in 1998. However, in 2006 revenue officials determined the shares of the land and attested power of attorneys. The commissioners’ court admitted an appeal in the eight years after the decision was taken where it is still pending.
Title of 19 acres of shamlat land was decided in favour of panchayat in 1998. The khewatdars appealed to the commissioner. They faked the commissioner’s decision and in connivance with the Naib Tehsildar got the shares of the land registered in their own name. Execution of these registries was stayed when panchayat moved the High Court. Only 2 of the 142 shareholders were booked.
Title of over 200 acres of shamlat land was taken in favour of the panchayat by the High Court. However, despite repeated reminders, the revenue department did not record the decision in their records.
Consolidation of land did not take place in this village. So, the khewatdars have no right on the land. However, the joint sub registrar got the shares in the land divided and illegally possessed. The land was then leased to a telecom company.
The shamlat land is vested in the panchayat but was illegally sold and 33 registries executed. SDM Kharar reported that the registries were illegal and held the joint sub registrar responsible. These registries were ordered to be cancelled.