The Covid-19 pandemic notwithstanding, over 70 Dalits at Ghrachon village of Sangrur district have been sitting on dharna on the uncultivated panchayat land since May 20. They have been protesting against dummy candidates being fielded to get annual lease of the land for cultivation.
This land measuring 48 acres is reserved for Dalits — they form nearly 50% of the 5,000 votes the villages has. More than 170 Dalit families wanted to take this 48-acre land on an annual lease to do group farming. But they alleged that five families of the same village were fielded as dummy candidates who got the annual lease for the current financial year.
Now the aggrieved Dalits have come together to protest under the banner of Zamin Prapati Sangrash Committee (ZPSC).
“Last year, our Dalit families had done group farming, but this time at the behest of Congress leader of village, Dalit dummy candidates were fielded. One patch of 18 acres of land was auctioned at a reserve price of Rs 20,000 an acre while the rest 30 acres were auctioned at Rs 55,000 per acre. I wonder how five families who took this land have got so much money. We want our share of land back. On Sunday, we entered 68th day of our protest,” said Gurmukh Singh, union leader of ZPSC
On Friday, a large number of these protesters had also staged a dharna at the grain market of Sangrur defying Covid-19 guidelines. An FIR under the Disaster Management Act was lodged against Mukesh Malaud, president of ZPSC, members Gurmukh Singh, Bikkar Singh and 60 unidentified people.
Gurmukh said, “What can we do when we are not being heard? in the garb of corona, they are not even allowing us to protest. We have been living on agricultural land for the past 68 days. Is the government serious about this issue? They forced us to hold a large protest rally on Friday.”
Due to the controversy, paddy transplantation could not be done on this 48-acre land. Bikkar said, “Land reserved for Dalits should not be auctioned at a rate as high as Rs 55,000 an acre. Such things happen when landlords field dummy candidates. Next year, Rs 55,000 will become reserved price, which is not justified.”
In this village, 144 acres of panchayat land goes for auction every year. Out of this, 48 acres is reserved for Dalits. In 2018, a similar controversy of dummy candidates had erupted due to which cultivation could not be done. In 2019, Dalit families associated with ZPSC had taken it on annual lease at the rate of Rs 20,000 per acre.
ZPSC president Mukesh Malaud said, “For the past many years we have been fighting over this issue of dummy candidates as this deprives Dalits of an opportunity to do group farming and earn a respectable living.”
Sangrur Deputy Commissioner Ramvir, when contacted, said, “We are in talks with them. There are two groups of Dalits; one group has taken it on an annual lease. Now an angle of dummy candidates has been added which is not true. Everything happened in a fair manner. We are aware that they have been sitting on dharna for the past many days. We are trying to resolve the issue through talks.”
The ZPSC members were called for a meeting with Sangrur MLA and Cabinet Minister Vijay Inder Singla on Sunday, but this meeting was called off at the last moment.