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Singed by farm law protests, BJP-JJP govt fears flames of common village land row

BKU leader Chaduni leads protest against a govt move to take possession of the land, following an SC order

BKU leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni restoring possession of shamlat land to the farmers in village Kari Modh of Bhiwani district. The authorities had recently taken possession of this land from the farmers. (Express Photo/ arranged from farmers)

A Supreme Court order freeing shamlat deh or common land in villages in Haryana from all litigation is fast becoming a political issue in the state. With the Opposition claiming to be standing up for the farmers against an insensitive government, the BJP-JJP Ministry is treading carefully on the matter.

The shamlat land is kept aside for common use in villages, as part of the Punjab Land Revenue Act of 1887. In April, the Supreme Court held that such land should be utilised by panchayats only for the needs of villagers. “No part of the land can be re-partitioned amongst the proprietors, and such land would not be available for sale,’’ the apex court ruled.

In June, the Haryana government ordered immediate end to all ongoing cases and pending litigation in courts across the state. While the High Court stayed the Haryana order later, the state government is expected to come up with revised instructions given the Supreme Court ruling.

The move has far-reaching consequences as thousands of acres of such land are believed to have been sold off by shareholders or gram panchayats, and now being tilled by farmers.

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Both the Opposition and BJP realise the potential minefield of implementing the decision amid sinking land holdings of farmers. The move is even more fraught as the farmers are now heavily organised following the year-long successful protests against the farm laws.

Several farm bodies have been holding panchayats on the matter, with senior BKU leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni, who played a key role in the agitation against the farm laws, taking the lead. On August 5, Chaduni and others restored possession of nearly 100 acres of panchayat land in Kari Modh village of Bhiwani district to farmers, a week after the authorities had taken possession of the land.

On Wednesday, the Opposition raised the issue in the Assembly. Congress MLAs urged the government to “protect the interests of farmers cultivating this land for the past several decades”.

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As Congress leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda puts it, “The shamlat land came into existence as farmers contributed their share on the basis of a pro-rata cut. But large portions of this land were not used for common purposes, and farmers have been cultivating the same for 50-60 years.” Hooda urged Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to re-examine the issue. “There should be no hurry.”

Khattar assured the Assembly that they were looking at all aspects of the issue, admitting that it was complicated. “Even the Supreme Court order said that the state government… can frame a policy or rule and any law,” he said.

However, he added, the government could not lose time in executing the mutation of such land holdings in favour of the panchayats. “Mutation would not change the title. However, if we don’t act now, land might change hands.”

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Soon after Khattar’s remarks, Chaduni issued a statement asking the CM “not to mislead farmers”. “Mutation means ownership. If it is changed, the ownership stands changed.”

He also contested the government’s claims that land not mutated to panchayats might change hands. The selling of such land is already banned since 2012 (when the state had a Congress government led by Hooda), Chaduni said, adding: “We will sacrifice our lives but won’t allow snatching of even a single inch of land from farmers. This land originally belonged to the farmers as they contributed their share. Bring legislation to get the land back in the accounts of farmers.”

The agitation against the farm laws, spearheaded in Haryana by Chaduni, had severely impacted the top leadership of the ruling BJP-JJP in Haryana. Protesting villagers didn’t allow them to even enter their constituencies for a long time.

On January 10, 2021, Chaduni’s message ahead of a Khattar event in Karnal to “teach the CM a lession” had drawn so many farmers that the CM had to abort a helicopter landing.

First published on: 12-08-2022 at 07:51:52 pm
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