Observing that the fate of shamlat deh land (common village land), which is the primary source of income for gram panchayats in Haryana, is “at stake” due to its benefits being extended by authorities “to a particular class of persons” including unauthorised occupants, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has ordered that no such land shall be leased out for more than two years.
The division bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and AB Chaudhari, while staying operation of Rule 6-A of the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Rules, 1964, as applicable to Haryana, has referred the matter to the larger bench for “serious consideration” and to determine whether it is “result of colourable exercise of powers.”
The court, in its order released on Monday, observed that the original Rule 6 of 1964 Rules mandates that the gram panchayat land is to be leased out by way of auction and it cannot be leased out for agricultural purposes for a period exceeding two years. However, authorities, through an amendment, inserted Rule 6-A in 2013, which was challenged before the High Court in a bunch of petitions, including that of Dalel Singh. Haryana government counsels were found wanting for justification of the Rule before the court decided to refer the matter to the larger bench.
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The court observed that vide the impugned provisions, the gram panchayat land is permitted to be leased out, virtually free of cost, for a period upto 99 years “in favour of a class of persons including those who are in its unauthorized and continuous cultivating possession upto the prescribed cut-off date.”
The division bench framed six questions to be determined which include “whether the impugned provisions have been enacted/inserted to give undue benefit to a specific class of persons and are thus discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution? “ Also the larger bench would determine whether shamlat deh land can be leased out without public auction.
The division bench also questioned whether the gram panchayat or the inhabitants of the village can be divested of the benefits of shamlat deh land through perpetual lease-hold rights on payment of a nominal lease amount “which is totally a farce”?
The court said that Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961, has been enacted for regulating the rights in shamlat deh and abadi deh lands with the legislative object of utilising shamat deh land for the benefit of villagers.