Such was the clout of village pradhan Yagya Dutt — the main accused in the July 17 killing of 10 people in clashes over a disputed land in Ghorawal area of Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh — that he allegedly usurped a pond near his house in Sapahi village, using it exclusively to irrigate his field and selling its fish.
On Monday, the district administration decided to seal the pond and remove the equipment that the pradhan had installed to carry water to his own farmland.
District Magistrate Ankit Kumar Agarwal told The Indian Express: “I will instruct the official concerned to get the pradhan’s equipment removed and seal the pond.”
Ghorawal tehsildar Suresh Chandra said: “I got a call from the DM regarding the pond and sent the local lekhpal to seal the pond. The pond will be used by the residents of the village for fishing and irrigation.”
Lekhpal Rajkumar Srivastava, who was at the site, said: “We have removed the pradhan’s equipment. Locals have told us that the pradhan didn’t let anyone use water from the pond and also kept fish in it.” Asked how much land does the pradhan own, Agarwal said: “We don’t have the papers of his land anymore because they were sent to the committee which is probing the issue. I can tell you that his family owns approximately 300 bighas of land in three villages. They have influence in the villages because of their political connections. He used to also collect rent on the land and took a cut from that. He did that for several years.”
The three villages — Umbha, Sapahi and Moortiya — are near each other, within a 6 km radius.
Yagya Dutt’s lawyer, K N Mishra, rejected the allegations against the pradhan as “baseless”. He maintained that the pradhan’s land had been encroached upon.
“The people who encroached upon the land of Yagya Dutt and his family members belong to a Gondwana outfit. The media and political leaders are giving them shelter. The Gond are the encroachers and trespassers on the land owned by the pradhan and his family,” Mishra told The Indian Express.
On allegations of the pradhan usurping the pond, he said: “These are baseless allegations. His land has been taken away by the encroachers.”
Asked about the July 17 incident, Mishra said: “The Gond attacked and severely injured members of Yagya Dutt’s family when they went to plough their land… They tried to snatch the weapons. This is when they (Dutt’s family) had to fire to save themselves.”
In 2017, Yagya Dutt and 10 others of his family bought 145 bighas of the disputed land from the wife and daughter of a retired Bihar cadre IAS officer (the daughter is also married to an IAS officer). Since then, they had been trying to take possession of the land from its Gond tillers. Calling the sale illegal, the tillers complained first to the revenue authorities and then filed a case in the civil court this year.
Last year, the gram pradhan and his family lodged three FIRs against members of the Gond community at the Ghorawal police station. Two FIRs named 25 people each while a third was against five persons.
Arvind Mishra, who is holding acting charge as SHO of Ghorawal police station, said in all three cases, no arrest has been made so far. The land dispute dates back more than five decades. Following the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950, around 600 bighas, owned by a local estate, was recorded as infertile in revenue records in 1951 and registered as gram sabha land. Locals later started tilling the land.
Advocate Nityanand Dwivedi, who is representing the Gond tillers, said in December 1955, 463 bighas was transferred by the tehsildar to a society called the Adarsh Sahkari Samiti. He said the society had 10 members and a Bihar cadre IAS officer’s father-in-law became its president.
In 1989, after the society president passed away, 145 bighas was transferred to the IAS officer’s wife and daughter by the SDM, Dwivedi said. This land, he said, was sold to Yagya Dutt and 10 others for around Rs 2 crore. He said the local residents objected and complained to revenue authorities but no action was taken. According to Dwivedi, a case against the mutation done in January 2018 is pending in the civil court. On July 6, an application to district authorities, protesting the mutation, was rejected, he said. Eleven days later, clashes left 10 persons dead.