Two incidents involving Dalits and panchayat land in separate villages in Patti Assembly constituency in Tarn Taran have raised suspicion that powerful local interests are at play in both. In the first, 50 Dalit families of Nathuchak village who were given five marla plots on panchayat land each to construct their homes in the last months of the SAD-BJP government have found to their dismay that the change in government has brought about a change of mind among some villagers over the allotted the land.
It was in November 2016 that the village panchyat passed the resolution to allot them the plots on three acres of land, which was previously being let out to villagers for contract farming. Soon after the allotment, the sarpanch, who was close to the Akali Dal, resigned as he got a government job. An administrator was appointed to look after the panchayat. In the Assembly elections, most voters in this village voted for Congress candidate from Patti who won. Local leaders of the party wield more influence now. Meanwhile, the Dalit allottees began planning construction on their plots, and some had begun to build. Suddenly, on May 5, some villagers allegedly told the allottees to take their possessions and leave, and started ploughing the land again to sow the next crop.
The allottees complained to the district administration, but so far they have not been given any assurance that their plots will be returned to them. “It is true that colony was planned for 50 Dalit families on the panchayat land of Nathuchak village and possession of plots were also given to beneficiaries. We have received complaints that they were removed from the land. We have asked police to investigate the matter,” said Block Panchyat Development Officer (BDPO) Patti, Mela Singh.
In a second incident involving Dalits and panchayat land in Harike village of the same block, the police removed 100 Dalit families who took possession of 10 acres of panchayat land and put up temporary structures on it. According to the Harike village sarpanch, Bhupinder Singh, who is with the SAD, the 100 families had decided to follow the example of an influential Dalit family in the village who was the first to start constructing a house on panchayat land. “The police did not touch his construction,” said Bhupinder Singh.
“We evicted Dalit families in Harike village who were political motivated. They have no right to take possession of the land,” said BDPO Mela Singh. Asked why just one construction was spared, he said: “We cannot take any action against that family. Police have told us to go to court and bring the order to demolish the structure.”