A STRINGENT anti-land grabbing law with a provision of a minimum of 10 years imprisonment, which can go up to 14 years, for violators has come into force across the state, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani announced Wednesday.
The Gujarat Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, passed in the last session of the state Assembly, has been framed to ensure time-bound and speedy disposal of complaints and protect the interests of farmers and common man, the CM said at a press conference.
An official release issued by the state government stated that the law was brought in after reports that land of several farmers was grabbed by land mafias. “To ensure that no criminals and land mafia usurp land of farmers, and to teach them a strict lesson, the government has decided to bring this stringent law,” the CM is quoted as saying.
“The government does not want to spare any influential person who indulges in such criminal acts of illegally usurping land… The government is committed to check the activity of usurping land in Gujarat and implementation of this Act will be a landmark,” he added. The CM also said some people were also intentionally making false claim on the title of a land parcel and then extorting money from lawful owners to let go their “claim”.
Under the provisions of the Act, anyone who illegally grabs land, provides money for construction, threatens owner, extorts rent, or helps in any such activity will fall under the definition of land grabber. A commercial company, a group of people or a religious or charity organisation can also be held as accused.
Those found guilty of any of these crimes, the official release said, will be liable for 10 to 14 years of imprisonment and penalty equivalent to the jantri rate (or ready reckoner rate) of the land in question. The Act also has a provision to restore possession of the grabbed land parcel.
With the enforcement of the Act, the CM said, the current system of instituting a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in each district for dealing with land-related disputes will come to an end. According to Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue), Pankaj Kumar, under the SIT system more than 400 FIRs were registered and over 780 persons arrested for grabbing land in the last four years.
Under the provisions of the new Act, a committee of seven officials, headed by the district collector concerned has been set up in each district. It will also have other members such as district development officer, district superintendent of police, municipal commissioner, police commissioner, chief executive officer of urban development authority, while the resident additional collector of each district will be the member secretary of the committee.
Under the Act, the committee has been mandated to meet at least once in 15 days. Any aggrieved person can approach the committee with a written complaint which will then appoint an officer to inquire into the complaint. The inquiry officer will submit the report and the committee has to take a decision on the report within 21 days.
As per the Act, if the complaint is found genuine, then the committee will order registration of an FIR against the accused person. Police will have to register an FIR in the case within seven days of the order of the committee. Investigation of the case will be done by a police officer, not below the rank of deputy superintendent of police. Police will also have to submit the charge sheet within 30 days of the FIR. For expediting trial in cases under the law, special courts will also be set up and these courts will have to dispose of the case within six months. Each such special court will also have a public prosecutor. The special court will have powers of both civil and criminal courts, the Act provides. During a criminal trial, the burden of proof will be on the accused.
Under the Act, a district collector can take suo motu cognizance of any act of grabbing government land. A special court can also take suo motu cognizance of any matter related to land grabbing.
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