Dalits fear loss of land
Shah Imran Ahmed/New Delhi
About 150 Dalit peasant families of Ambedkar village in Kashipur tehsil of Udham Singh Nagar in Uttaranchal have approached the National Commission for SC/ST to direct the local administration to stop the alleged selling of land in their village, which is subjudice and whose ownership has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
The Dalits, in their petition filed through an NGO on December 27, 2000 have urged the Commission to order its own inquiry into the allegations and urge the apex court to look into the subjudice matter urgently.
The aggrieved Dalits allege that the land mafia in the region in connivance with the local politicians is selling off the land in their village to people without valid papers and several of them have built houses there. The villagers consider this act as contempt of court.
Following their submission, the Commission called in two members from the village on January 12, 2001, to apprise it of the ground situation there. It is believed that the Commission has instituted an internal inquiry into the matter.
Meanwhile, the matter regarding this land has got further complicated as Udham Singh Nagar was till recently a part of Uttar Pradesh. After the formation of Uttaranchal and its subsequent inclusion in the new state, the affected Dalits apprehend that the new Government might not implement the Land Ceiling Act.
For, they say that before the state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, almost all political parties had promised that they would not implement the Land Ceiling Act in the new state. It is also reported that of the 150 Dalit families, many have gone missing and their whereabouts are still unknown.
Moreover, the UP Government was supposed to file its reply on the pending petition, but it failed to do so even after three years.
The Dalits are said to be living on this land since 1948-49, when the then Uttar Pradesh Agriculture and Revenue Minister Chaudhury Charan Singh, in order to rehabilitate the Scheduled Caste families of his constituency, got them allotted some land in the village. At that time, it was wasteland and entirely under forest cover.
It is alleged that as long as the land remained barren, nobody made any claim over it. However, as soon as the land became fertile and the area showed signs of development, the land mafia became active.
These landless peasants had been cultivating the surplus as well as wasteland in the area near M/s Escorts Farms Ltd (Ramgarh), in Dohri Vakil village. There were around 154 families living in this village.
On January 14, 1992, Kumaon Commissioner Nand Kishore Arya, through his orders under the UP Land Ceiling and Zamindari Act, 1973 (an amended version of UP Zamindari Act 1960), declared 1128.67 acres belonging to M/s Escort Farms Ltd as ceiling surplus land and distributed the legal entitlement to the landless Dalits who have been cultivating that land for over 20 years.
However, after the land was declared surplus, the local landlords along with some politicians from the area came over and asked the poor peasants to leave aside their ownership rights and work as farm labour for them but the villagers refused to oblige.
On July 23, 1993, the local administration, on a complaint filed by M/s Escorts Farms Ltd that these people had illegally occupied their land, allegedly demolished their houses. The villagers allege that the area was cleared and paved within a day and was taken over by the land mafia.
On September 30, 1993, the aggrieved Dalits wrote to then Minister of State for Internal Security Rajesh Pilot to intervene in the matter.
Though Mr Pilot reportedly instructed the district administration to take appropriate steps, the local administration failed to take any action against the culprits and assuage the feelings of the villagers.
On February 17, 1995, the then Panchayat Minister of Uttar Pradesh Lal Singh Chauhan also wrote to District Magistrate of Nainital asking him to rehabilitate the poor victims, but no action was initiated.
In May, 1995, the High Court delivered its judgment in favour of the Dalits. The court ordered the State Government to compensate the victims and resettle the entire village at the same place.
The court also imposed a cost of Rs 10 lakhs on M/S Escorts Farms Limited (petitioner of the leading writ petition). The court orders stated: "It is further directed that the land should be settled as far as possible within three months of taking possession of the land in accordance with the provisions of the Act. It also stated that the cost imposed on M/s Escorts Farms Ltd will be utilised for the rehabilitation and settling the displaced persons."
However, this verdict was challenged in the Supreme Court by M/s Escorts Farms Ltd, who were the main party in the petition along with the local administration. Since then, the matter is pending with the apex court and the last hearing took place in March, 1998.
The Uttar-Pradesh Government was asked to file its reply in response to the petition, challenging the orders of the Commissioner of Nainital, which the Government did not. And now, as Udham Singh Nagar has become part of Uttaranchal state, it remains to be seen how long the Uttaranchal Government will take to file the reply.