The Anand District Development Office (DDO) has initiated an inquiry into allegations of illegal sale of gauchar (pastoral) land by the sarpanch of Umeta village to prominent people of Vadodara to build farmhouses. The villagers of Umeta are fighting to regain control of their pastoral lands,spread across an area of approximately 100 acres near Mahisagar river. The land,they allege,has been illegally sold off to private parties mostly prominent personalities of Vadodara by the village sarpanch,Bhagwansinh Maheda. After a series of applications and protests,the villagers have finally got the district administration to initiate a probe into the case
Roughly 100 acres of pastoral lands in Umeta have got encroached upon in the last few years. Resorts and luxurious farmhouses have replaced the pastures that were a means of livelihood for about 4,000 farmers of the village. The villagers,who have sought intervention from the district administration to claim their lands back,say the deals with influential parties from Vadodara have been struck by the village sarpanch,who has been misusing his powers.
Sheetal Goswami,deputy DDO of Anand,has ordered the taluka officers to look into the revenue records of the lands. Goswami said,The villagers have written to me saying that the sarpanch has misused his power to give away pastoral lands for private constructions and I have accordingly ordered my officers to conduct a thorough land record check and get back to me. I will be able to comment on the matter only after ten days. In line with Goswamis order,Umeta taluka circle inspector and revenue officers visited the village to measure the areas of the pastoral lands. The officers,however,refused to comment on their findings.
Yuvrajsinh Rana,one of the 250 farmers who have signed the petition submitted to the Anand district collectorate,says,The sarpanch of the village has been instrumental in selling off the pastoral lands to private parties for extensions of their lawns or for their farmhouses. About 20 acres of pastoral land is in possession of the sarpanchs son,who runs a resort there without even having the title of the lands with survey number 11 12/1 and 12/2.
The government land records (The Indian Express has a copy) identifies the lands as government pastoral lands. Rana has appealed to the district administration to probe Mahedas underhand dealings and the misuse of power as far as allotting pastoral village lands to private parties is concerned. Villagers say the cases of pastoral land-grabbing are common,but in Umeta,protesting villagers have been assaulted.
There have been at least five FIRs against Maheda because he has assaulted villagers who have protested his deals with private parties, says Ranveersinh Padhiyar,an advocate.
Illegal farmhouses have also blocked the single road that leads to the only crematorium in the village a contention that results into an ugly spat every time there is a death in the village. Rana says,The bungalow built on the path to the crematorium is totally illegal.
The said bungalow is allegedly owned by a prominent businessman from Vadodara. Sarpanch Bhagwansinh Maheda,however,refuted all allegations. He said,It is a complete lie that I have sold the pastoral lands to private parties. I have not become a sarpanch to earn money. I have been a sarpanch for 25 years. The truth will be out after the probe.