Monday, October 21, 2013

Punjab’s well-connected usurp huge tracts of village land

The Tribune starts a series on illegal occupation of shamlat and panchayat land in the state

Balwant Garg
Tribune News Service

Faridkot, October 20

Not only shamlat and panchayat land, even sites to dispose of carcasses (hadda-rorie) are under illegal possession of influential persons in villages of this district.

Approach the villagers, and most have a story to tell. However, in official records only three acres of land is under illegal possession in the district. But residents cite innumerable instances of encroachment of panchayat land.

Officials concerned claim it is difficult to identify the land occupied illegally because the Revenue Department has yet to take the initiative of marking panchayat land, explained Gurmit Singh Dhillon, District Development and Panchayat Officer (DDPO).

Golewala village is deprived of “hadda rori” as supporters of a former sarpanch have raised a house on land earmarked for the purpose. A major portion of the village's prime panchayat land on the Faridkot-Ferozepur road has been under encroachment for the past several years. A part of this land has been used to raise houses.

On Beguwala road, 22 kanals and 2 marlas of the Golewala panchayat land has been with encroachers for a long time. Yet never has anybody raised a question on the matter, nor efforts made to vacate the land.

A vast tract of village common land, measuring over 10 acres in Laleana village of Faridkot is under illegal occupation. Houses have come up on the land illegally. In Dhilwan village, a family in possession of 20 kanals of common land stopped paying the annual lease money to the village panchayat about 10 years ago after resident close to the family became the village sarpanch. “All my efforts to recover the lease money proved futile,” claimed Darshan Singh, a former sarpanch.

In Gobindgarh village, eight acres of shamlat is in possession of a supporter of a Chief Parliamentary Secretary (CPS). Owing to the influence of this Akali leader, none dares to question the encroachment, say residents.

A huge portion of the common village pond in Pakhi Kalan village has been filled with earth to raise residential houses and cattle-sheds. While the village pond is on the verge of extinction, the village sees a flood-like situation every monsoon with no place for the rainwater. Ponds have been encroached upon in most villages, claimed Balbir Singh, sarpanch of Sibian village, Faridkot.

An ex-serviceman, Balbir Singh said the illegal practice was rampant in rurual are as government officials and village panchayats chose to remain mute spectators. After a major portion of the pond in Sibian village was encroached upon two years ago, Balbir Singh took up the matter with the authorities concerned, but to no avail.

Sibian village had four ponds spread over 12 acres of land. Now a major portion of these ponds are with encroachers. My efforts to erect a boundary around these ponds to check encroachment came to a naught with the Revenue Department failing to undertake demarcation of these ponds, he said.

In Kameana village of Faridkot, well-connected persons had been cultivating 32 acres of panchayat land by paying a paltry sum as lease money. Against the annual lease rate of Rs 30,000-Rs 35,000 per acre, they were paying just Rs 12,000 per acre.

But once RTI activist Kulwinder Singh exposed the wrongdoing, there was a sudden jump in the lease money, from Rs 12,500 to Rs 30,000 per acre per annum.

CHANDIGARH: Land mafia, politicians and even bureaucrats and others have encroached upon shamlat and panchayat lands, especially in the periphery of Chandigarh, and Punjab. The land fetches a very high price.

There are allegations that powerful politicians control panchayat and shamlat lands illegally in a number of villages near Mullanpur, which is now known as New Chandigarh. In these villages, the land price varies between Rs 1.5 cr and Rs 3 cr.

And this is not confined to the Chandigarh region. In Punjab, even village ponds and 'hada rories' (where carcasses of animals are disposed) are usurped. There are reports that illegally occupied panchayat and shamlat lands have been sold further at a premium. Government officials have shown their helplessness.

Grabbing huge chunks
  • In Gobindgarh village of Faridkot, eight acres of shamlat is in possession of a CPS supporter
  • In Golewala village , supporters of a former sarpanch have raised a house on land earmarked for disposing of carcasses
  • In Laleana, houses have been raised on the village common land, measuring over 10 acres
  • In Dhilwan village, a family in possession of 20 kanals of common land has stopped paying annual lease money to the panchayat
  • A huge portion of the village pond in Pakhi Kalan has been filled with earth to raise residential houses and cattle-sheds
© The Tribune Trust, 2012.

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