Political class "implements" SC verdict in Uttaranchal

VB Rawat Delhi, Hard News.

Justice Shivraj V Patil and Justice Dharmadhikari delivered a historical verdict in end-February 2004. This decision troubled the political class because of its implications for other land-grabbing cases. Political leaders have benami lands in the Tarai region of Uttaranchal, where the land ceiling act was never implemented.

The verdict followed the petition filed by PN Mehta, director M/s Escorts Farms Ltd, Kashipur, who challenged the land ceiling imposed on him by the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 1990. The Supreme Court not only rejected various claims made by Mehta but also made it clear that land grabbers cannot be granted any permission to stay more and no compensation should be provided to them. For two years the Uttaranchal government just sat on the order and did nothing.

This case was revived by 150 dalit families led by retired Subedar Jasram who sought constitutional remedy for those who were mercilessly evicted from Ambedkarnagar village, a locality they created at the Escort Farms. The successive UP governments and later Uttaranchal government were not at all interested in this case as it would have created problems for the large number of illegal land grabbers in the region who happen to be Sikhs.

In fact, the issue of Udham Singh Nagar district got communalised as these political leaders jumped into the fray suggesting that the Sikhs are being victimised. In the second week of January, the trucks of Uttaranchal Police came and demolished the entire habitat at the Escorts Farms Ltd. The area became tense as Sikhs protested against this demolition, which they termed as illegal. Political parties particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were quick to call for immediate stoppage to the demolition drive in the area. A group of Punjab politicians also visited the area condemning the Uttaranchal government’s action.

Unfortunately, in this din, very few tried to understand as to why the area was demolished and if Uttaranchal government was really sincere in its approach. Immediately after the noise created by BJP and Sikh groups, the government of Uttaranchal formed a committee and decided to give plots to the Sikhs in addition to a very hefty compensation. Uttaranchal government claims to implement the Supreme Court Judgment even while it has redistributed the same land to the same people. It is interesting to note that these Sikhs were specially brought from Punjab by the Mehtas to make their case stronger in the Supreme Court and communalise the entire issue as Sikh versus Pahadi while it was a simple case of land ceiling act being imposed.

Mehta had sold this land to various individuals from Punjab without any registered papers even when Allahabad High Court had passed strictures against him. The struggle of dalits to get land in this region came a cropper. Upper caste Sikhs are pretending to be the victims while the dalits today remain isolated. The dalits did not go to the Maoists for help. The dalit families also include dalit Sikhs of the region.

Over 1,128 acre land acquired by M/s Escorts Farms Ltd was declared illegal by the Commissioner of Nainital, Nand Kishore Arya in the early 1990s. M/s Escorts Farms Ltd went to Allahabad High Court against this order and contested the claim under creation of fake cooperatives and groups. Allahabad High Court gave an adverse judgment against Mehta, asking the state to impose a fine of Rs 1 lakh on him for "enjoying the fruits of surplus land".

Today, the issue has become communalised as political parties have jumped into an entirely administrative issue. The land grabbers have found new sympathisers in political parties and the state is doling out its funds and money to them. Officers of Uttaranchal government are sitting in Kashipur and ensuring that the Supreme Court’s verdict is "implemented". So by demolishing the area, they have "implemented" the Supreme Court’s judgment and by redistributing the land along with a handsome package, opportunist political leaders have ensured that their vote bank remains intact. It is reported that an amount of Rs 61 lakh was paid all the "victims" apart from promising 3.5 acres of land to 103 families who had less than 5 acre of land. It is reported that there were 251 families living in the area.

The Uttaranchal government has produced a great example for their counterparts in Delhi and Maharastra where politicians are finding it difficult to implement the demolition orders. They can also demolish houses of land grabbers and provide compensation to "victims". This will ensure that courts are also happy and people also remain loyal to their leaders.

The author is a human rights activist