With Jharkhand Governor Dr Draupadi Murmu returning the Bill pertaining to amendments in two tenancy Acts, many in the ruling BJP said it is time to reassess the issue and draw up a fresh strategy.
The proposed amendments to the Chhotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act seek to give rights to tribals to make commercial use of their lands, while ensuring that the ownership of land does not change. They also specify the sectors for which the government can take land from tribal on lease.
The amendments have been opposed by the main opposition parties, tribal organisations and even the church. The Raghubar Das-led government and state BJP have been roughing it out for a year on the issue.
The Bill was sent to the Governor in November 2016. However, sources confirmed that it was recently returned to the government in the wake of several memoranda submitted to the Governor. Murmu also asked the government to clarify how the amendments would benefit tribals, sources said.
A section of BJP leaders indicated that the development could be a blessing in disguise as the issue was giving unnecessary ammunition to the Opposition, besides making it difficult for the MLAs to prepare the ground for the next elections in 2019.
“We had told party leaders that we would face political fire over the amendments. The problem is that tribal Christians are convinced by vested interests that their land would be snatched by the government. We know it is political rhetoric, but it is difficult to convince people. Non-Christian tribals are with us. But they are trying to influence them too,” said a BJP MLA from Simdega, where more than 50 per cent of the population is Christian (predominantly tribal) as per the 2011 census.
Former MP and tribal leader Salkhan Murmu has started a movement in Simdega and surrounding areas. People are being told that the government is trying to snatch their land, the MLA said.
Another MLA from South Chhotanagpur region said, “We had requested the chief minister to reconsider the amendments. The impression was that something was being imposed for the ‘good of tribals’ when they themselves did not want it.”
A senior member of the legislative party said: “If a Bill is pending for nearly eight months, the government should have realised that there must be serious objections or confusion. We have time to change our strategy before 2019.”
Many in the BJP claimed that several leaders conveyed their concern to national general secretary Ram Madhav, who recently visited the state. However, party office-bearers denied that his visit was related to the amendments. “It was purely related to organisational issues,” said a spokesperson.
State BJP spokesperson J B Tubid said, “Some vested interests are creating confusion about the amendments. The government should take stock.”
Tribal MLA Ram Kumar Pahan, who heads the State Scheduled Tribes Cell and is a vocal supporter of the amendments, said, “We never had any confusion. But if the Bill has been returned, it will have to be looked into. The government has to take up the matter.”
Party general secretary Deepak Prakash said: “We will work out the strategy for the future.” No statement was issued by the Church after the Bill was returned by Murmu.