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Explained: Who are the Punjab and Haryana farmers fighting a legal battle for land in Gujarat’s Kutch?

The dispute dates back to 2010 when many farmers were told that records of their land were being frozen as they were not natives of Gujarat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the state chief minister then.

Written by Gopal B Kateshiya , Edited by Explained Desk | Ahmedabad | Updated: December 23, 2020 12:24:24 pm
On Tuesday, PM Modi interacted with farmers in Kutch, including those from Punjab, during his visit to the border district to lay the foundation stones of several projects. (Source: Twitter/@ANI)

A group of farmers in Kutch, who are originally from Punjab and Haryana and have settled here, are embroiled in a legal battle with the Gujarat government over their agricultural land. The dispute dates back to 2010 when many farmers were told that records of their land were being frozen as they were not natives of Gujarat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the state chief minister then.

On Tuesday, PM Modi interacted with farmers in Kutch, including those from Punjab, during his visit to the border district to lay the foundation stones of several projects.

Who are the farmers fighting a legal battle for land in Kutch?

A group of around 60 farmers from Kutch have been fighting a legal battle for the past decade to retain their agricultural land. These farmers are mostly natives of Punjab and Haryana, who either purchased land or received it through government allotment. However, underlining that since they were not native Gujaratis, the state government has frozen records of land belonging to them and around 700 other farmers in Kutch. Of the total 784 farmers whose land records have been frozen, 245 are from Punjab and Haryana. The rest are from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. A majority of them are Sikhs.

How did they happen to come to Kutch?

During the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the Pakistan army had managed to enter Kutch. After the war, however, then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri proposed to populate border areas in the district to make the border more secure. Government incentivised settlements in Kutch by allotting people land and handing out cash doles to help them purchase bullocks, etc. In response, a sizable number of families from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra came to Kutch. The state government allotted land to a total of 550 individuals between 1965 and 1984. Of them, 390 were Sikhs, some of them having come to Punjab after the Partition. They started exploiting groundwater to irrigate their crops in Kutch and brought about a revolution in agriculture in this semi-arid district. Relatives and friends of these early migrants followed as land in Kutch is abundant (Kutch is spread over 45,000 square kilometres and thus accounts for 23 per cent of total geographical area of Gujarat) and comparatively cheap.  

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What did Gujarat government do in 2010?

On October 22, 2010, Kutch collector served notices on 784 farmers, informing them that records of their land were being frozen since they were ineligible to hold land in Gujarat because they were not natives of Gujarat. The government cited a circular of year 1973 which declared that only native Gujaratis can purchase agricultural land in the state. Freezing of records of their land meant that the owners of such land couldn’t sell it nor could they transfer it in the name of their heirs through mutation entries. Also, Forms 7-12 and 8-A of records of such land came with riders, making their owners ineligible to avail of bank loan, etc. In short, the freezing meant third party interest in the land couldn’t be created. The 784 land accounts included those who had been allotted land by the government. Land records of 52 farmers who could prove it through documents that they legally held land allotted by the government were de-frozen later on.

Where does the legal fight stand now?

After courts of revenue authorities, the matter reached the Gujarat High Court (HC). In July 2011, a single judge bench of the HC ruled in favour of the state government but the farmers challenged that verdict before a larger bench of the court. In June 2012, the larger bench of the HC ruled in favour of the farmer. Therefore, the state government approached the Supreme Court in 2012 with a special leave petition praying no third party interest should be created in the land in question. The SC granted that prayer. However, the government’s petition challenging the Gujarat HC ruling is still pending.

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