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Thursday, March 04, 2021

Explained: The law & political stakes

Why the Santhal Pragana Tenancy Act is sacrosanct for the region and any bid to amend it is a political issue.

Written by Deepu Sebastian Edmond |
December 20, 2014 3:42:51 am

The Santhal Pragana Tenancy Act that protects the land rights of Jharkhand’s Santhal tribe has become a much talked-about issue in these Assembly polls, with JMM and Congress pointing finger at BJP.

What is the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act?

The Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949 is the first codified law of tenancy in Santhal Pargana division of Jharkhand. When enacted, it supplemented existing British-era tenancy laws and codified some of the customary laws relating to land.

Where is Santhal Pargana?

Santhal Pargana comprises six districts in the north-eastern part of Jharkhand: Dumka, Deoghar, Godda, Pakur, Sahi-bganj and Jamtara. Dumka is also the sub-capital of the state.

What the SPT Act stands for?

The Act’s defining point is its Section 20: except in a few instances, it bans all transfers of land.

Why is it in news?

CM Hemant Soren began talking of the tenancy acts of the state, especially the SPT Act, in his campaign meetings, alleging that the Narendra Modi government was trying to scrap them. He claimed the state’s tenancy acts were part of a list being circulated by the Law Ministry, exploring the possibility of scrapping them. The JMM has succeeded in whipping up such a paranoia that PM Modi was forced to clarify on December 15 during a campaign rally in Dumka that “no one is capable of taking away your land”. The Congress too, seemed to get the efficacy of CM Soren’s strategy: party vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a rally had apprehended that the SPT Act was under threat.

Why is JMM raising the issue?

Sixteen of 18 seats in the region would vote in the final phase of Assembly elections. BJP has been considered weak in Santhal Pragana and in 2009 it had won only two seats from the region. The party has been looking for polarisation as it identified that JMM’s strength in the region was a social coalition between adivasis (38 per cent) and Muslims (18-20 per cent). This had helped JMM win 10 seats in Santhal Pragana  in 2009. With BJP eyeing educated tribal youth this time, JMM has come up with its own polarisation plan.

How important is the Act?

Hemant Soren has made the “moolraiyats (natives)” of Santhal Pargana paranoid of losing their most fundamental identity — land. The colonial administration understood the need for a law providing special considerations to Santhal Pragana  after the Hul —  Santhal rebellion — of 1855. Thou-gh the revolt was against administrators, the root of the problem was the exploitation of the tribals by traders and moneylenders — mostly outsiders, pejoratively called the diku by the Santhals. Adivasis had been robbed of their lands by the dikus, who now form BJP’s votebank. This history of exploitation has been the reason why the SPT Act is considered above the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act — the other tenancy law in the state in effect everywhere except the Santhal division. The CNT Act only restricts the sale of adivasi and Dalit land, and allows transfer of land between adivasis residing within the same police station and Dalits from the same district.

Is JMM’s strategy working?

Hemant Soren has dragged Santhal Pargana back to an ancient conflict: campaigning at Dumka once, he claimed “rivers of blood” will flow if the SPT Act is tinkered with. He has never missed an opportunity to say that BJP is a party of traders and its leaders are “from Gujarat and Haryana”.

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