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Fearing displacement,Sikh farmers in Gujarat hope Badal will take up their cause

Over the past four decades,Abdasa taluka in Kutch district has been known as ‘Mini Punjab’

Written by Satish Jha | Updated: April 8, 2014 2:21:00 pm

With the Supreme Court hearing a case that may decide their future in Gujarat,Sikh farmers of Kutch hope that Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal will take up the issue of ‘freezing’ of their land records with Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Badal will be in Gandhinagar for an agriculture summit on Monday.

Over the past four decades,Abdasa taluka in Kutch district has been known as ‘Mini Punjab’. Locals say that with the advent of Punjabi migrants in Kutch,spread over 45,600 sq km,thousands of acres of barren land slowly turned into lush green patches. Most migrant farmers have set up their homes in the fields,far away from local villages. The Indian Express visited one such village,Banada.

The aroma of tandoori roti wafted through the home of Jaswinder Singh (39) here. The women in the house were busy wrapping up for the day in a yard facing cotton field. The scene seemed straight out of a Punjab hamlet. For Singh and his family,originally from Moga district of Punjab,it’s a seemingly peaceful evening ahead of cotton harvest season. They spend the nights watching out for blue bulls,the biggest threat to standing crop. However,Singh is more worried about a law that has cast a shadow over his future and that of migrant farmers like him settled across several talukas of the district.

In 2011,the Gujarat government resorted to the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Land Act,1948,and ordered “freezing” of their land records,preventing them from selling,buying or taking loan or subsidy on their land. Subsequently,these farmers were not issued certified copies of their land ownership records or what’s known as “7/12 utara”. It is on the basis of this document that farmers can sell or transfer their land or take loan and subsidy. The farmers fear that with this order,they may be denied water by local irrigation cooperative societies formed by the state government,thus,forcing them to vacate the land.

The Gujarat High Court quashed the state government’s order. The Gujarat government then moved the Supreme Court where the matter is being heard. “Our contention is that when one is staying here from 1965 onwards,how do you consider them outsiders? These are third generation people settled in Kutch. The migrants left their land in Punjab and were allotted land in Kutch. Later,some of them bought more land. The government is taking a dishonest stand,” said advocate Yatin Oza representing six farmers in the SC.

According to Singh,during the 1965 war locals fled this place after enemy forces hit the chopper of the then CM Balwant Rai,killing him.

“My father fought the 1965 war. He was wounded and responding to the call of the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri,he decided to settle here. He was allotted 30 acres of barren land. Our family tilled this land for years. Now,it give us two crops a year,” said Singh.

“Till early 1980s,locals couldn’t identify wheat. Today,it is grown everywhere. The Kutchi farmers were dependent on monsoon,we introduced water management,drilled borewells,” said Jung Bahadur (50),a neighbour of Singh. “We toiled for years to make the land fertile. Now,we are scared of being evacuated,” Bahadur said.

The Sikh farmers have already met Badal,the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and National Commission for Minorities.

There are similar stories in other talukas like Mandvi,Bhuj,Anjar. According to Surendra Singh,a farmer from Mandvi,there are around 5,000 farmers who migrated from Punjab and Haryana. Singh returned from Delhi on Saturday where he and 15 others are attending hearings at the SC.

The local Kutchhis allege that the state government is under pressure from industries. In Abdasa alone,in the past five years three cement plants and a solar park have come up while many are looking for land.

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