Last year,Haryana and Punjab amended their respective land ceiling laws,one following the other in a move whose implications are beginning to sink in only now.
Each state did away with its ceiling if the land was to be put to non-agricultural use,and did so with retrospective effect,Haryana since 1975 and Punjab since 1971. This was apparently done to give a seal of legitimacy to land already handed over in excess of existing limits to various projects.
But what retrospective effect also means is that any landowner who had surrendered such land since those dates has become eligible to reclaim it,says Ashok Khemka,Haryanas director general,land records.
All that such an owner needs to do now is to tell the government that he now wants to put the surplus land he surrendered to non-agricultural use. Thousands of acres of surplus land vested with the government for more than 30 years will have to be returned to the original owners, Khemka says.
Early this month,Khemka wrote to the financial commissioner (revenue),saying,To prevent discrimination against the poor farmers whose lands were declared surplus and utilised but now exempted as per the amendment,such farmers may be allowed to claim back their land declared surplus earlier and vested in the state under section 12.
The problem is that the land declared surplus under these Acts has changed hands several times in the last four decades.
It was a thoughtless move carried out only to help real estate developers to create land banks in the state. And now the amendment is going to lead to a major land claim crisis, says Anil Vij,BJP leader in Haryana. The surplus land has been doled out to the landless. How will the state reclaim it? We will move court praying for repeal of the amendment. Vij was among those who walked out from the Assembly in protest when the amendment was passed.
In Punjab,Leader of the Opposition Sunil Jakhar says the amendment has opened a Pandoras box. The amendment was among the eight bills passed within a few minutes that day. There was no time to discuss its implications. Had the state any surplus land to give back,it would have been a positive step. But where is the land to return? This will only lead to unnecessary litigation and confusion, he says.
Krishna Mohan,Haryanas financial commissioner (revenue),says,We are going through the various aspects of the Act and Ill be able to comment on what we will do only after I have studied these thoroughly. In Punjab,Sarvjit Singh,special secretary (revenue),says,We have not received any claims from landowners who gave up surplus land following the amendment. This aspect of the Act needs to be studied further.
Other states that have amended their laws have not done so retrospectively. On September 13,2010,Rajasthan amended its 37-year-old land ceiling law to facilitate the direct purchase of agricultural land by investors. On April 3 this year,the West Bengal government amended the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act of 1976. Both were done prospectively. On June 28,2012,the Himachal Pradesh government removed a restriction on buying land in excess of the upper limit mentioned in the Land Ceiling Act of 1972,but it was for religious institutions and not retrospective.
Haryanas Assembly passed the amendment to the Haryana Ceiling on Land Holding Act,1972,in August 2011. In October,the Punjab Assembly cleared that states Act. Haryanas amendment is deemed to have come into force from January 1975,and Punjabs from January 1971.
LIMIT ONLY FOR AGRICULTURE
18.12 to 54.5 acres
Haryanas ceilings for agricultural land,varying according to land quality
17.29 to 50.65 acres
Agricultural land possession ceilings in Punjab,again varying based on quality
August 27,2011: Haryana Assembly clears amendment Haryana Ceiling on Land Holding Act,1972; changes effective from 1975
October 8,2011: Punjab Assembly clears amendment to Punjab Land Reforms Act,1972,with retrospective effect from 1971