Thursday, November 29, 2012

‘Right to land’: Is the Centre serious?

It is not clear if this will only be land for homesteads or a provision like the one-acre-per-family for cultivation that was done reasonably well in West Bengal. At first sight, the government’s proposal seems extremely positive, but the critical point is whether it is really serious about land reforms and not just employing another pre-election gimmick. Its record in implementing land reforms is appalling, to put it mildly. The government has failed to implement the Land Ceiling Act, the cornerstone of land reforms, which would have brought millions of hectares of land for distribution to the landless. The thousands of acres of land donated by rich people in the Bhoodan movement in the 1960s remains to be distributed.

Historical evidence indicates the government is not at all serious about distributing land to the landless. It is one of the largest owners of land in the country, though this is officially termed “community land”. Will it be ready to relinquish control over vast tracks of forest land and national parks? Else, it would mean giving land to the landless, who have little or no right over the land, produce etc. In short, it would simply be a red herring. Today, for the government, land mostly means real estate to be given to the highest bidder and to cronies and associates in the name of development.

It is one thing to talk of the “right to land”, but quite another matter to actually put this in practice. To start with, there would have to be a survey of who owns land in India, and also an accurate survey of the number of landless in the country, and what they would do with the land given to them. Mr Ramesh is reported to have estimated that 20 million rural families lacked even homestead land, and that two million acres of land would be required to deliver on this promise. Ekta leader P.V. Rajagopal, however, estimates that 200 million people are in need of land, as 50 per cent of dalits and tribals are landless. There are many issues that need to be thrashed out immediately if the government is serious about providing a “right to land” that the landless desperately need to earn a livelihood.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

HC: Panchayat member can’t be disqualified if spouse at fault

Press Trust of India : Mumbai, Mon Oct 22 2012, 03:55 hrs

The Bombay High Court has held that a member of a village panchayat cannot be disqualified just because her spouse had encroached upon a government land or public property.

To incur disqualification under the law, such encroachment should have been done by the member alone and not by his or her spouse, the court ruled.

Accordingly, the court quashed an order of the Pune Divisional Commissioner, which had disqualified Yallubai Kamble, sarpanch of Phaye village in Kolhapur district, from being a member of the Gram Panchayat on the ground that she was living with her husband who had encroached upon government land.

“It will not be possible to hold that if an act complained of has been committed, in this case by the husband of the petitioner, then, the petitioner is disqualified,” observed Justice S C Dharmadhikari recently.

“If the petitioner had encroached upon the government land, it was a different matter. That her husband has encroached upon a government land is an admitted position and obviously the petitioner resides with her husband. For that she should be disqualified is really reading something in the provision which is not there,” the judge said. “By reading in the provision that the petitioner is the wife and therefore party to encroachment or having a nexus therewith, she is held to be disqualified and disabled. That is not what is provided by the statute,” said the judge.

“If the act is committed by somebody other than the elected person and therefore, he or she incurs or invites disqualification, is not a conclusion, which can be drawn or arrived at on a plain reading of section 14(1)(j3) of Bombay Village Panchayats Act,” the judge noted.

Related News
Six gram panchayat members disqualified in 1 yr for misuse of power

Nisha Nambiar : Tue Oct 23 2012, 04:59 hrs

Six members of gram panchayat in the Pune division have been disqualified in the last one year. While one of them is from Pune, the others are from Kolhapur and Satara. These members were found misusing powers under the Maharashtra Gram Panchayat Act, 1958.

“These persons have been found violating the rules mentioned in Section 39 (1) of Panchayat Act. Action against the members was taken after all the gram panchayat members agreed for it,’’ said a senior official from the divisional commissionerate.

But recently, the Bombay High Court had held that a member of the village panchayat cannot be disqualified just because her spouse had encroached upon a government land or public property. Officials said such decisions would hinder their effort to make gram panchayat transparent.

The court has stated that to incur disqualification under the law such encroachment should have been done by the member and not by his or her spouse. Thus, the court quashed the order of the Pune Divisional Commissioner which had disqualified Yallubai Kamble, sarpanch of Phaye village in Kolhapur district. Divisional Commissionerate officials said gram panchayat members themselves had agreed to disqualify him.

“There were complaints and the decision was taken after the hearing,’’ said the official. Now with the court observing in her favour by stating that it is not the petitioner who has committed the crime, divisional commissionerate officials said “such favours are rampant at village levels”.

Officials said the disqualification is done after a thorough assessment and in agreement with gram sabha members. In the last one year, members from Wadanage, Daryache Wadgaon, Kasarwadi, Chokak in Kolhapur and Deogaon in Satara and Keshavnagar grampanchayat in Pune were disqualified under the same section. “There is definitely irregularity found in their functioning. It could also amount to misuse of power and some of them do pass on the favours. This is serious and a member is disqualified after a decision by the gram panchayat and a hearing before the additional commissioner,’’ said the member.

There are also cases of misappropriation of funds for several festivals or syphoning of funds or giving out of turn sanctions to relatives or acquaintances. “These are very common reasons and several such cases come up in hearings. But this ruling opens up a doorway for the relatives of the members,’’ said another official.

While the rule strictly mentions - misuse of power for the person or for their own interest, the ruling comes as a blow for the officials taking action against these members. “Most of the members have their relatives elected to the gram panchayat and unless such favours are checked, gram panchayat cannot function transparently,’’ said a gram panchayat member from Pune’s Paud village.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Devanahalli legislator accused of land-grab

Published: Saturday, Nov 3, 2012, 17:22 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

Devanahalli legislator K Venkateswamy has been accused of trying to usurp 640 acres of government land. N Nagaraj, president of the Aklenahalli-Mallenahalli Scheduled Caste and Tribes Destitutes’ Samithi (AMSCTDS) , on Friday alleged that Venkataswamy has been trying to grab government land by forming a taluk-level Jagruti Samiti.

“Venkataswamy has been distributing the government land for his supporters to get political mileage. Many outsiders have been given sites through the Jagruthi Samithi,’’ said Nagaraj.

Coming down heavily on village panchayat president, executive officer of the panchayat for colluding with the MLA, the AMSCTDS president said 25 families, who have been staying in the area for many years, have been denied shelter but people who can afford to bribe gram panchayat officials have been allotted sites.

‘’Earlier, the land was encroached by late MS Ramaiah family members. Later, we approached the high court to direct the authorities concerned to clear the encroachment. Now, the MLA, instead of selecting the poorest of the poor for allotment of sites, has been indulging in corrupt practices,’’ he alleged.

Venkataswamy, however, denied the allegations and asserted that he has no right to allot government land to his supporters. “I have received some complaints against the gram panchayat selecting some beneficiaries by mistake. I have already sent the file of allottees to the gram panchayat to rectify the anomalies,’’ he said.

The MLA, instead, argued that the AMSCTDS has been politicising the issue. “I advise them to attend meetings conducted at the village level to identify the beneficiaries. There will be no use if the go on making allegations,’’ he said.