The opposition has severely criticised a move by the Punjab Cabinet to give in-princple nod to amend the Village Common Land (Regulation) Rules, 1964 to create rural land banks, saying this devastate the Dalit families who till the common land. They alleged that this was a Congress ploy to “grab land” and hand it over to a few industrial houses.
Both AAP and the BJP accused the Capt Amarinder Singh government of trying to snatch village common land, known as Shamlat, without any vision document of how the land is to be used, adding that the move of the state government will be opposed tooth and nail not only in the Vidhan Sabha but also across the villages in the state.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema said that he has been getting phone calls from shocked villagers who are agitated at the state Cabinet’s move. “Where is industry in Punjab? What industry is the CM talking about? Industry in the state is fleeing for the past many years and here a pretext of industrialisation of village lands is being taken in order to facilitate the land grab in chosen few villages by the Congress leaders in cahoots with business houses,” Cheema alleged.
He further said that the state government has been fooling people by holding investment summits but there has been no substantial industry which has set up shop on the state. “Was this initiative of land pooling of Shamlat land even a part of the election manifesto of the state government? The Congress has been unable to implement items in its manifesto in half its term in office and has not brought in this amendment for ulterior reasons,” he said.
Cheema pointed out that the “forced takeover” of Shamlat land will also be detrimental to the Dalits in the villages who till the common land and earn their living. “The state government is all set to snatch the manner with which the Dalits in villages earn the bare minimum. What will they do? Where will they go?
This amendment is a direct attack on the huge Dalit population of the state. We shall not let this happen unchallanged and will not only take it up in the Vidhan Sabha but will also raise it in villages across the state and mobilise opinion against this draconian measure,” he said.
Rebel AAP leader and Kharar MLA, Kanwar Sandhu, said that any such move to hand over Shamlat land to industries will have grave consequences for the environment of the area and the villages in particular. “Any such move must be well thought of in depth and several factors must be considered before arriving at such a conclusion. For example, the government must tell how the waste and effluent of the industries in villages will be disposed off.
I am sure they will try to dump it on village ponds which are already in a bad shape. What will be the percentage of employment guaranteed to the village youth? Also, the village panchayat must have a regular source of income through these projects and not just a one time payment. I wonder if the government has thought about these issues, he said.
BJP national secretary, Tarun Chugh, said: “Let the CM inform about the measures taken by his government to promote small scale industries in the villages. What steps have been taken in the direction of promotion of khadi gramudyog? You cannot just get up and decide one day that village common land will be available for industries.
The upper caste villagers will use this opportunity to oust the Dalits who have been tilling the common land for decades and this will cause social unrest. I smell something fishy in this entire exercise.”
The Cabinet had on Monday cleared the proposal of the Rural Development and Panchayats Department for insertion of Rule 12-B in the ‘Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Rules, 1964’ to provide special provision for transfer of Shamlat Lands for development of Industrial infrastructure projects, to be implemented by Industry Department and Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation.
A government spokesperson said that the underlying objective of this amendment is to facilitate Gram Panchayats to promote development of villages by unlocking the value of Shamlat land. The new rule would pave the way for transfer of Shamlat Land for Industrial projects to the Industry Department and Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation (PSIEC).
With this amendment, a gram panchayat could, with the prior approval of the state government, transfer the Shamlat land vested in it by way of sale on deferred payment terms to Industries Department or PSIEC for their Industrial infrastructure projects. The government has already identified big chunks of land in five villages where this amendment would be implemented.