Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How private players grabbed forest land in the Aravalis

By Dipak Kumar Dash, TNN | Jan 7, 2013, 04.24 AM IST
NEW DELHI: A law that was meant to reverse fragmentation of agricultural land, appears to have been rampantly abused in Haryana to allow influential private players get possession of hilly and non-agricultural common lands, including forests in the Aravalis close to the national capital.

The law in question is the Consolidation Act, enacted to consolidate agricultural holdings of farmers who own land in small patches spread over an area and for preserving the village commons. Officials said in Faridabad and Gurgaon districts of Haryana, this law had been twisted to give outsiders vast tracts of common hilly land and forests, including the pristine grove of Mangar Bani held sacred by villagers.

According to records accessed by TOI, the modus operandi was exposed a few months ago by Ashok Khemka, who, as the director general of land records had also cancelled an unrelated land deal involving Robert Vadra. For the first time in Haryana, Khemka challenged the practice of partitioning of common hilly land, via the consolidation process and denotified it in two cases - at villages Kot and Roz-ka-Gujjar - in August 2012.
The then director general of land records, in his order on Faridabad's Kot village, said the consolidation exercise carried out in the entire village, including its 'gair mumkin pahaar' (common hill), would wrongly benefit certain "influential outsider-purchasers".
"The aims and objects of the Consolidation Act are to consolidate agricultural holdings for the betterment of agriculture, for prevention of fragmentation of agricultural holdings and for reservation of land for common purposes of the village," the order said.
The officer wrote that of the total area of 3,184 acres notified for consolidation in Kot, 2,565 acres fell under common hill area and the inclusion of this portion would "defeat" the purpose of consolidation.

Even more blatant was the case of Roz-ka-Gujjar - an uninhabitated and mostly forested hill completely located in the Aravalis which formed the main catchment of the Damdama lake in Gurgaon. Of the 5,744 acres brought under consolidation in this village, close to 4,798 acres were notified under Sections 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA).Under the Forest Conservation Act, land under these two notifications cannot be diverted for any use other than forest related activities without permission of the Union environment and forest ministry.
Khemka in his order had pointed out that quite a large portion of the land in Roz-ka-Gujjar had been mined for stone, ordinary sand and silica sand prior to 2002. There were 50-60 feet deep mining pits in certain pockets. In his order, the IAS officer also observed that the village was 'be-chirag' (uninhabited) and there was a single khewat (record) consisting of more 1,000 co-owners having joint share in the entire area of 5,744 acres. He also pointed out that not a single square inch of the land under consolidation had been cultivated for a long time.
Expectedly, hardly any locals figured in the names of the co-sharers. Almost the entire area had been purchased by the "powerful business-politico-bureaucratic-police nexus with ostensibly no interest in agricultural, cultivation activities". Moreover, some land transactions seemed benami on behalf of a few powerful politicians and bureaucrats, Khemka had pointed out.
The officer, who was allegedly shunted out for hurting higher-ups, had recorded in his order that since there was no land under agricultural activity, there was no fragment of land to consolidate. "On a perusal of the consolidation records, it is apparent that the scope of the Consolidation Act has been extended as a tool of partition. The single joint khewat has been divided into some 640 khataunis (accounts) and specific khasra numbers allotted to them," Khemka's wrote.
The order said the use of the Consolidation Act to partition a joint single khewat was "a grotesque abuse". Even retired officials from revenue department posted in the NCR said lands falling under hills or drains were nobody's property and could not be fragmented. This law has been violated in many cases including Mangar, which has a sacred forest protected by local Gujjar villagers. Sources said the process of consolidation and then division of this common land/hill was completed long ago, enabling several to buy huge chunks of land.

With the Mangar development plan 2031 likely to be notified soon, these players are expecting big gains in the form of escalated property prices."The Haryana government should review the status of the common lands in the more than 100 villages of southern Haryana and secure such land that should be preserved for future generations," said Chetan Agarwal, a forest analyst.
In the light of recent Supreme Court judgments that say common lands should not be privatized, the sale of lands around Mangar and other villages should be retrospectively reviewed and if necessary, reversed, said Colonel Sarvadaman Oberoi, a legal activist fighting to save the Aravalis.

With the Mangar development plan 2031 likely to be notified soon, these players are expecting big gains in the form of escalated property prices.
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