Thursday, November 17, 2011

News Article: Gujarat: Pastoral land shrinking, state mulls new policy


Posted: Wed Nov 09 2011, 02:01 hrs 


The state government has started the process of drafting a strict policy of not allowing any encroachment on pastoral (gauchar) land in villages against the interests of the local community.

The new policy could restrict land acquisition for industries, something that has been easy so far in the state, which has been a magnet for foreign investors.

In Gujarat, around 424 villages have no pastoral land left. The state should have 39.56 lakh hectares of grazing land, as per a revenue department notification issued in December 1988, which mandated 16 hectares (40 acres) of pastoral land for 100 animals in normal areas and 8 hectares (20 acres) for the same in forest areas. As against this, the state only has an estimated 8.5 lakh hectares, a data that has almost not changed since the state’s formation in 1960.

Now the new policy is being firmed up in the wake of a Supreme Court order passed earlier this year, which said that “pastoral land and other community resources belonging to a village shall not be given for industrial or commercial use and should strictly be used for communities’ use”.

A senior state revenue department official said a ministerial committee has been formed for working out various aspects of this policy in accordance with the SC order. “The department has also sought state legal department’s interpretation of the SC order,” the official said. “However, the SC has not said no to use of such land in the larger public good like building schools, health centres etc,” he added.

In its order, which related to a case from Punjab, the apex court had observed that “in many states, orders have been issued by the state governments 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 SC had directed all the state governments to formulate schemes for eviction of illegal/unauthorised occupants of land meant for Gram Sabha, Gram Panchayat and other community uses and said that “long duration of such illegal occupation or huge expenditure on constructions thereon or political connections must not be treated as a justification for condoning this illegal act or for regularising the illegal possession”.

In Gujarat, encroachment over pastoral land is becoming a serious problem. According to the state government’s own data as on September 2010, there were 50,771 encroachments in around 16,000 villages of which 36,960 encroachments are more then five years old.

A state government notification passed in 1999 had promised to compensate villagers whose pasture land was taken away. As per the notification, government was to charge 30% more from the party which was sold the pasture land and give it to the gram panchayat to buy alternate pasture land or develop one.

The scheme, however, has failed to make much headway.

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