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Millennium Post

The story of displacement

In the last few days, few political parties and some vested interests, especially ones belonging to ruling Congress party at the Centre, trying to politicise the so-called displacement issue which is a sub-judicial matter and is truly of real estate nature. It is the classic example of how a party caters to the need of handful of white collar criminals involved in real estate business. As sources point out, the real estate business worth of Rs 10,000 - Rs 20,000 crore is in peril as they are on verge of
losing it even if they win the case in Supreme Court. Because they are the ones who evicted the poor farmers of Kutch regions from farming and started using their money and muscle power to invest in land deals thereby made land as a medium of diverting their ill-gotten wealth from shipping, transportation business, etc. Many of the political statements show the callousness and never tried to understand the real issues. First of all, in none of 784 cases, the Government of Gujarat dispossessed the land mafia! And therefore, where is the question of dispossessing the farmers? Moreover, the matter is sub-judice in Supreme Court.

Let us differentiate between issues of the Sikh farmers and real estate mafia here. 454 people belonging to Punjab and majority of them belonging to sikh community, were allotted land in 21 villages of border talukas of Kutch district namely Abdassa, Bhuj and Lakpath between 1964 to 1984. Sources claim that this exercise was done to strengthen the border area and also goes to say that it was carried out at the directions of the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Of them, many chose to cultivate and settle in the villages and the remaining people flew back to their homeland. Even today, one of these villages i.e. Nara panchayat in Lakpath taluka is headed by a sikh as panchayat president. About 100 sikh farm holdings are there in the village. These people consistently say that they are well off in Kutch and never ever faced any discrimination from administration or from local people. Their lands are in their possession and they are happily doing farming. Their land records were never confiscated as a part of unearthing non-agri farmer issues.
Kutch has become a hub of industrial activities after the earthquake as a result of the initiatives taken by the present government headed by Modi. As more and more investment poured in, the real estate rates sky-rocketed and thus came the issue of real estate mafia. A miniscule number of people belonging to Gandhidham, started buying huge parcel of lands belonging to small and marginal farmers of Kutch and selling it to industries at a very high margin. Their prime goal was to invest their ill-gotten money from shipping and Kandla port business, in land deals and convert agriculture land into non-agriculture purposes viz. industries, commercial and residential plot schemes, etc. This process evicted many farmers from their own land and many of them became landless and non-agriculturist. These people believed that everything can be bought with money and any barrier in their murky deals, can be taken care of by bribing the officials and politicians. They never ever bothered of farming by own self and lived in lavishly built farm houses in the sub-urban areas of Gandhidham, Bhuj and Anjar. In one case, a MLA from Punjab made land deal involving more than 400 acres of land in Lakkpath taluka as revealed by the sources.

Basic principle of land reform was to ‘safeguard the interest the farmers specially the weaker sections, small and marginal farmers from the clutches of zamindars and real estate mafia.’ With this in mind, the law puts restriction on non-agriculturist buying agriculture land and thereby protecting the interests of the farming community.

However, few social groups who came to Kutch for small opportunities as traders of wood and in other products, settled down in Gandhidham as Kandla port gave them ample business options. Gradually, these people indulged in other illegal businesses and amassed huge wealth expanding their interests in every single business opportunity including land. As these people were never agriculturists, they could not become a farmer in Gujarat. What is the way out? Bribing officials and politicians! Only way to become agriculturist, was to get their names entered in the revenue record by bribing the lower level officials who certified them as agriculturist. This happened right from 1980 to 2005. This gave them license to buy huge parcel of agricultural land at cheaper rate and sell to industries. It was their modus operandi and these groups moved from one place to another and carried on their real estate business and thereby jeopardising the interest of the true farmers till their records were put on hold/frozen by the district administration in the year 2010 following numerous complaints of such activities. Nearly, 50 FIRs were also registered against land grabbing activities in the district.

In the year 2010, the district administration took an exercise to unearth illegal real estate issues and in the process, identified about 784 such cases of illegal and non-agricultural nature. Consequently, the land record was frozen so that the land sharks cannot sell their land to innocent third parties and recover their money back and also to avoid multiplicity of legal issues. Out of these 784 cases, 156 people belonged to Gandhidham, 175 in Bhuj and 127 in Mundra taluka. This goes to show that this group targeted the industrially fast growing belt for the land deals. Gandhidham is a taluka having only eight villages wherein literally no farming/ agriculture take place! Then why did they buy land here? For farming? No, for real estate business only! Where is the issue of sikh farmer displacement?

Consequent to the action of district administration, these people approached the High Court of Gujarat which upheld the action of district administration. In their second attempt, the Hon’ble High Court ordered to look into larger interest of constitutional issues and transferred the cases to a larger bench. The larger bench gave verdict that agriculturist from other state can also buy agricultural land in Gujarat. Here again, it is noteworthy that only agriculturists! But many of these people are non-agriculturist and traders by profession. The same verdict was challenged in Supreme Court and the issue is sub-judice. If the order is in their favor, why are they afraid of the outcome of Hon’ble Supreme Court, if they are genuine and legally correct! Because, even if Supreme Court upholds the verdict of Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat, these people will lose their case as it involves the issue of ‘non-agriculturist’ and Tenancy Act can be applied and in the process, all these people will lose their case. Till 1998, even agriculturist could not buy land beyond 8 km circumference of their land holdings. As this section and non-agriculturist issue will form a strong case for Tenancy Act, in all such cases, the lands in question can be confiscated. Constitutional bench order may probably be applicable only from 1998 onwards and also to agriculturists of other states only.
Were all 784 frozen land records belonging to sikh community? The answer is No. It is hardly about 90. About 164 people belonged to both Punjab and Haryana out of 784 total records. If we analyse the data, about 108 Gujarati land records were also frozen and about 512 records of other state’s people excluding Gujarat and Punjab-Haryana origin. How can they say that government of Gujarat targeted the Sikh only when it took action against its own 108 people? This goes to show the financial clout of this Punjab-Haryana lobby and the extent to which they can bend the rules by lobbying and twisting the issue as a ‘minority issue’.

These people tried their level best to influence the top level administration through various means including lobbying and money power. However knowing the straight forward approach and clean image of the chief minister of Gujarat they resorted to other mediums, including media, political activists and courts.

As a last resort, they stooped so low to use the name of a community and make it a minority issue so as to build pressure on the chief minister, Gujarat and his government to withdraw the cases.

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