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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Explained: Why Punjab land decision has upset Dalits

Over the last several days, various organisations in Punjab have been protesting against a revised land policy relating to village common land, which is known as ‘shamlat’ land.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Updated: January 25, 2020 11:06:10 am
Explained: Why Punjab land decision has upset Dalits Protest against the amendment in Sangrur district on Friday. (Express Photo)

Over the last several days, various organisations in Punjab have been protesting against a revised land policy relating to village common land, which is known as ‘shamlat’ land. The state Cabinet recently approved an amendment to the Village Common Land (Regulation) Rules, 1964, allowing panchayats to sell shamlat land to industrial houses, entrepreneurs, businessmen, and companies for setting up micro, small and medium industrial units.

What is shamlat land

Shamlat is one of three categories of common land in Punjab villages. ‘Shamlat’ land is owned by the village panchayat. Of the other two categories, ‘Jumla mushtraka malkan’ is land in a common pool made with villagers’ personal contributions, and is managed by the panchayat. The third category, ‘Gau charan’, too belongs to the panchayat, and is for cattle grazing. Over time, however, all such lands have come to be known as shamlat land. Shamlat land is mainly used for cultivation, and is allotted for this through an open auction that is conducted by the Rural Development and Panchayat Department every year.

Why it matters

One-third of Punjab’s shamlat lands are reserved for Dalits. Around 25,000 to 26,000 families in the state, mostly Dalits, depend on this land for their livelihood, according to a survey by Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC), an umbrella of eight organisations, mostly representing Dalits.

“For instance in Sangrur district, around 4,000 Dalit families are cultivating shamlat land. Not only are they earning from the crop, but around 15% of these families running small dairies are benefiting by growing their own fodder on this land,” said Mukesh Malaudh, ZPSC president.

The recent government move has sparked fears of unemployment. On Friday, ZPSC members agitated outside the homes of ministers and Congress MLAs in their respective districts, demanding withdrawal of the Cabinet decision.

The land & the earnings

Punjab has 1,70,033 acres (68,839 hectares) shamlat land in around 8,000 of the state’s 13,000 villages, according to the Rural Development and Panchayat Department. The one-third that is reserved for Dalits (who represent one-third of the population) comes to around 56,677 acres (22,946 hectares). According to a response to an RTI query by ZPSC in January 2018, over half of Punjab’s shamlat land is concentrated in the six districts of Patiala (highest at 15.5%), Gurdaspur, Ludhiana, Kapurthala, Fatehgarh Sahib and Amritsar.

Some 23,000 acres shamlat land is under the control of land grabbers; of the remaining 1.47 lakh acres, most is auctioned by panchayats every year, and any villager can bid for cultivation. The average rent is Rs 20,000 per acre in the reserved category (Dalits), and around Rs 28,000 in the general category. In comparison, lease rates to private persons (farmers) are Rs 60,000 per acre annually in Malwa region, and Rs 25,000-45,000 in other regions.

The auctioning fetches nearly Rs 372 crore annually to 8,000 villages, and the proceeds are used for development work.

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