Saturday, December 30, 2017

Mafia Occupies Rs 2,000-cr Panchayat Land: Report

Vishav Bharti |Tribune News Service, Chandigarh | December 21 

It seems the land mafia has had a free run in the state all these years. Common village land worth Rs 2,000 crore, owned by panchayats, is in illegal possession of the mafia. The fact came to the fore during an internal report prepared by the Department of Rural Development and Panchayats recently.

According to the report, 20,800 acres is in illegal possession of the land mafia and influential individuals. According to a rough estimate, if the department gets back the possession of the land from the mafia it can generate revenue of Rs 50 crore annually from it.

Out of the total land, more than 60 per cent falls in just four districts of the state. In district-wise breakup, Chief Minister’s home district Patiala tops the chart.

In Patiala alone, 4,854 acres (25 per cent of the total land) is in illegal possession. It is followed by Kapurthala with 3,411; Fatehgarh Sahib 2,436 and Jalandhar 1,967 acres.

Despite having powers to protect village panchayats given under constitutional provisions, the department officials have failed to protect the land.

There are examples when department officials didn’t settle panchayat land disputes over five years. In the recent past, the Panchayat Union, Punjab, had also alleged a high-level nexus between land mafia and department officials.

The union had also alleged that the officials were using their powers to settle panchayat land dispute cases in favour of the land mafia.

With an aim to watch the interest of panchayats, the department officials under the Punjab Village Common Lands Regulation Act, 1961, were given powers to hear the cases related to panchayat lands and jurisdiction of civil courts was barred.

As per the Act, where individuals claim the ownership over shamlat land, responsibility lies upon individuals to prove that they are cultivating possession as per his share in shamlat land since or before January 26, 1950, which is hard to prove.

Earlier this year, the issue was also raised in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha when a joint development commissioner, who had powers to listen the land dispute of panchayats, settled around 70 cases in favour of private individuals just nine months before his retirement.

Recently the department officials had also instructed the district-level department officials to settle the panchayat dispute cases within three months.

Minister for Rural Development and Panchayats Tript Rajinder Bajwa said the process of eviction from the panchayat land was on. He accepted that there were some delays at different levels when it came to department officials acting to get back the panchayat lands.

Why village common land matters

The panchayats in the state own 1.7 lakh acres, of which 1.42 lakh acres is auctioned for annual cultivation. It is one of the main sources of revenue for the department. This year, the department generated Rs 307 crore from the auction of common village lands across the state. The money is later spent on the overall development of villages.

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