At least 2,000 landless tribals have been sitting on a relay hunger strike — with 21 going without food every day — outside the collector’s office in Rajasthan’s Dungarpur district, seeking khatedari rights for land they have been tilling and living on for generations.
The land in question is called ‘chak beelanam’, and is spread over 17,402 acres in 21 villages of three tehsils in Dungapur. It belonged to the erstwhile king of Dungapur and was acquired by the state government under the Rajasthan Land Reforms and Acquisition of Land Owners Estates Act 1963. While the Act states that the land should be acquired for allotment to landless persons for development of agriculture, successive governments have failed to ensure that. As a result, some occupants are registered only with gair khatedari rights, while several others have technically become encroachers.
Despite requesting elected representatives repeatedly, the tribals failed to garner support till a local group, Vagad Mazdoor Kisan Sangathan, took up their cause and mobilised them. The farmers’ dharna started on April 6.
Dungarpur collector Indrajit Singh said the khatedari rights have been delayed since the erstwhile king’s family and the state government are fighting a case over the quantum of compensation to be accorded to the family. “The case has been pending for long. Had there been no conflict over the compensation, the matter could have been solved easily. We are trying to delink the case from the compensation and the paperwork in this regard has been initiated. The law department is positive that a speedy remedy is possible. The facts are in favour of the protesting tribals, but we will need at least a month to resolve the issue as it calls for changes in the rule book,” Singh said.
Mansingh Sisodia, convenor of the Sangathan, said “the pending case has no bearing as far as allotment, regularisation or conferment of tenancy rights to tribal families is concerned”. “The land has been legally acquired by the authority. Allotment of this land for hostels, schools, aangawadis, trusts and mining has never been stopped. But the farmers have been denied their rights and are being penalised and issued notices under Section 91 of the Rajasthan Land Revenue Act, 1956,” Sisodia said.
Between 1987 and 1992, 452 farming families were allotted gair khatedari rights, but they are yet to get full khatedari rights.
The issue acquired a new dimension when a large portion of the land came under the urban periphery of Dungarpur Municipal Council. Now, every time the municipal council plans to undertake a new project, the farmers have to worry about whether they might be evicted from the land.