Sugar Commissioner of Maharashtra Shekhar Gaikwad wears multiple hats. When he is not busy trying to get sugar mills to pay the farmers their dues, Gaikwad tries to untangle the complex land laws of the state. In fact, over the years, his books have become the Bible for the farmers in the state. It is not uncommon to see farmers taking the help of Gaikwad’s book while arguing their cases in the revenue courts.
Gaikwad’s interest in land laws dates back to the late 1980s when he was a young Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) of Kagal taluka of Kolhapur district. He came across a dispute that had been going on for 80 years. The case — in which two farmers were fighting for the legal ownership of 1.46 acres of land — had even reached the Supreme Court on two occasions. “As a young officer, I was stumped. Why would these farmers fight for so long over a piece of land,” he recounts. So he asked both the parties. The answers were an eye-opener for Gaikwad and made him decide to take up the onerous task of trying to unravel and simplify the tangled world of land rights.
“It was a case of encroachment – the party that was defending its right freely admitted that it had encroached on the land and was growing sugarcane on it. From the annual yield of 80 tonnes, this farmer paid half to his lawyer and kept the case going even as the original owner of the land continued to fight the case as he had promised his father on the latter’s death bed,” explains Gaikwad. It was a deadlock and the only ones making money were the lawyers. The case made Gaikwad want to simplify land laws.
His books, which have gone into multiple editions, both in English and Marathi, have over the years become the ready reckoner for farmers, litigants and even revenue officers of the state. What differentiates Gaikwad’s books from the tomes on land laws is that they are presented in a very different manner. “Interaction with farmers showed me that instead of an academic approach, they would prefer a situational approach to their problems,” he says. Thus the books present situations and their legal solutions in a simple storytelling format. Other than the 25 major land laws of Maharashtra, the books draw information from various government resolutions and judgments with regards to land laws.
Of his 18 books, the one titled Shetiche Khaidya (Land laws) is the most popular. First published in 2005, the book till date has seen 5 editions. It simplifies various laws related to land and also answers the various questions related to land deals. Ignorance of land laws, Gaikwad says, often leads to farmer asking for advice from lawyers who charge hefty fees.
The most common problem that farmers face is about the mutation of their land. As the name suggests, change in ownership has to be “mutated” in the land records. Easy as it might sound, this simple act becomes the single biggest source of litigation and often leads to corrupt practices at various levels of government. Gaikwad’s book Land Rights and Mutations in Maharashtra delves deep into this problem and presents numerous scenarios that farmers face. “Farmers now carry this book if the village level talathi (official) creates obstacles in their land dealings,” he said.
At present Gaikwad is working on his next book, which, he says, aims to help sugarcane farmers fight for their rights.