The Gujarat Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed The Gujarat Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Bill, 2020 that prohibits land grabbing in the state and imposes imprisonment of up to 14 years on “land mafias.”
The Bill also states that the burden of proving that the land has not been grabbed will be on the accused.
“It has come to the notice of government that there are attempts on part of certain lawless persons operating individually or in groups to grab either by force, or by deceit or otherwise lands belonging to the government, a local authority, a religious or charitable institution or endowment as well as private individuals. The land grabbers are setting up fictitious claims and indulging in large scale and fraudulent sales of land through unscrupulous real estate dealers or otherwise,” said Revenue Minister Kaushik Patel, while tabling the Bill.
“The public order is adversely affected by such unlawful activities of land grabbers in the state. Hence, the state government with a view of prohibiting the activities of land grabbing and to provide for matters connected therewith has proposed to bring the Gujarat Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 2020 into force,” the minister said.
Patel said that land is at the root of Gujarat’s economic development and due the state’s growth, the prices of land have shot up which have attracted land mafias. “The state government had formed a Special Investigation Team in 2008 to check land grabbing. This Bill has not happened overnight,” the revenue minister added.
The government has also proposed a punishment for land grabbers which could be a term not less than 10 years, but which could extend to 14 years with a fine of which may extend to “Jantri” value of the property. The government has also proposed to constitute Special Courts for speedy trial of cases. The government had earlier promulgated the Gujarat Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Ordinance, 2020.
The Special Court shall be presided over by a judge to be appointed by the state government with the concurrence of Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court. The judge can hold the office for a term of three years. The Special Court shall determine the order in which the civil and criminal liability against a land grabber be initiated. Under this law, “the burden of proving that the land has not been grabbed” will be on the accused. “If possible, these courts will dispose of the case within six months,” Patel said.
If a company is involved in land grabbing, then every person responsible or in charge of the company shall be deemed to be guilty and shall be liable to be punished.
Investigation of an offence under the provisions of this Act will be carried out only by a police officer of Deputy Superintendent of Police rank and above. For areas under Commissioner of Police, such investigations will be carried out by a police officer not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police.
Speaking in support of the Bill, state Home Minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja citied four cases where attempts were made grab land worth Rs 25-100 crore in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat. In all the four cases, sale deeds were registered using fake power of attorneys. The minister while discussing the modus operandi of groups involved in land grabbing said that most of them use fake documents and in several cases even notaries are involved or assistance of serving or retired revenue officials is taken.
Members of the Opposition Congress also supported the Bill. Congress MLA Baldevji Thakor said that in the last 10 years, gangs of land grabbers have increased in and around Ahmedabad where members of his community own a lot of land.
“Most of them are illiterate, and fall prey to the allurement of land mafia,” Thakor said. He also spoke about the alleged involvement of a DySP -rank police officer in one of the land cases at Ganpatpura.
Congress MLA Prakash Dhudhat suggested the government to make penal provisions for government officials who are found hobnobbing with the land grabbers.
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