Sonbhadra killings: Before tractors rolled in with guns, pradhan & his men targeted the tillershttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/sonbhadra-killings-up-land-dispute-gond-community-5838758/

Sonbhadra killings: Before tractors rolled in with guns, pradhan & his men targeted the tillers

From the time 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) in 2017, they had been trying to take possession of the land from the Gond tillers.

Sonbhadra killings: Before tractors rolled in with guns, pradhan & his men targeted the tillers
The bodies reached Umbha village on Thursday. (Express photo: Vishal Srivastav)

As the UP government drew Opposition fire and suspended a sub-divisional magistrate and four police personnel while announcing probes into the killing of 10 persons over a land dispute in Ghorawal area of Sonbhadra district two days ago, it emerged that gram pradhan Yagya Dutt, the arrested main accused, and his family had been targeting the Gond tillers of the land long before the incident.

From the time 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) in 2017, they had been trying to take possession of the land from the 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 persons each while a third was against five persons. In all three FIRs, Ram Raj, who has been pursuing the case against the pradhan and his family, was named.

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Ten persons were killed in Sonbhadra district over a land dispute. (Express photo: Vishal Srivastav)

Incidentally, Ram Raj is a witness to the killings on July 17. So far, 29 persons have been arrested, including Bhadohi railway station superintendent Komal Singh, a relative of the pradhan. His wife is one of the 11 who bought the disputed land. Additional Director General (Varanasi Zone) Braj Bhushan said Komal Singh, according to the complainant, was present at the spot when the clash took place.

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The first FIR against the Gond tillers was lodged on July 24 last year under IPC sections 506 (criminal intimidation), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 447 (criminal trespass). The complainant in this FIR is the pradhan’s nephew Raj Kumar Singh. He alleged that 25 persons came on seven tractors and forcibly started ploughing the land which he and the others had purchased.

On October 29, two more FIRs were lodged against the Gond tillers, with more charges. The complainants were Raj Kumar Singh and Sonu Kumar, a distant relative of the pradhan.

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Family members of those killed in Umbha village. (Express Photo: Vishal Srivastav)

On Sonu’s complaint, the FIR was lodged under IPC sections 506, 504, 447, 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object) and 144 (joining unlawful assembly armed with deadly weapon). On Raj Kumar Singh’s complaint, IPC sections 144, 149, 352 (assault or criminal force otherwise than on grave provocation ), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees ), 447, 504 and 506 were invoked.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Ram Raj claimed that the pradhan and his associates had been threatening him for the last two years and had named him and his community members in false cases.

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 the revenue records in 1951 and registered as gram sabha land. Local residents later started tilling the land for cultivation.

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Advocate Nityanand Dwivedi, who is representing the Gond tillers in court, said that 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.