The recent killing of eleven Gond tribals including three women by a landlord to forcefully occupy his alleged 90 bighas of land has shaken the national conscience.
Landlord Yagyadutt Bhurtiya, who is also the Pradhan of the Umbha Gram Panchayat in Sonbhadra District, Uttar Pradesh (UP), along with his 300 gunned henchmen, ferried in more than 31 tractors, fired on longtime tribal cultivators of the land on July 18, 2019. This incident brings out the need to introspect and re-implement land reform measures in the state.
Bhurtiya had purchased this land two years back from one Mishra family who had in the past managed to get these lands mutated in their names in place of the Adarsh Co-operative Society though the tribals had all along been cultivating a total of 600 bighas of land that included this land. As per the UP Large Land Holding Tax Act of 1956, the land belongs to the co-operative society and cannot be claimed by the persons who had put this land into the co-operative society and by doing so; they had ceased to have any interest in the land and did not remain landholder any longer.
Therefore, Mishras had no valid title to sell this land and thereby Bhurtiya cannot legally buy this land from the Mishras. Even their share in the co-operative society cannot be divided under the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950. Under the UP Imposition of Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, this type of land is to be vested in government because the aims and objectives of the co-operative society or the public charitable or religious trust, endowment or institution are not being met. The same act also states that no beneficiary, wholly or partly, can be from the settler, shareholder or members of the family.
Such provisions are there in almost all ceiling laws across various states. In some states like Kerala and
West Bengal, the cultivator of the land, if eligible, gets the first right to allotment of government vested land which goes to panchayat for settlement through the Land Management Committee in UP.
Tribal landless persons get first priority in allotment of land all over India. However, in UP heir of army personnel killed in enemy action have first preference and then comes the preference landless agricultural labourers belonging to Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes. It is therefore surprising that this land was mutated in personal names. This calls for severe administrative action against the concerned revenue officials.
Things in UP are very different. The lower level of revenue machinery in connivance with the landlords or otherwise can do anything. They confuse their superior revenue officers. They also manipulate police reports to make the police inactive. The superior revenue officers have neither the time nor the understanding or the zeal to protect poor cultivators. In this part of UP, large surplus land holdings remain unutilized after acquisition by government for thermal power plants. This surplus land is a bone of frequent clashes among various fractions of the land-mafia. If these lands are not taken over by the state and then redistributed among the landless persons, it will be a potential source of a deep-drawn law and order problem. Naxalites are already looking to get involved in this crisis.
— The author retired as the Commissioner General, Land Reforms in West Bengal
[The view expressed here are personal and don’t reflect those of the government]