Tribals in Telangana flag illegal constructions in Agency areas

The New Indian Express | May 19, 2021

Leaders of the Adivasi Hakulla Porata Samithi (Tudum Debba) and other activists have been strongly opposing these constructions.

ADILABAD: Tribals protested in front of the Adilabad District Collector’s office here on Tuesday, demanding action against those developing illegal layouts in Agency areas. Multi-storeyed buildings have come up on many of these illegal layouts, some even on government lands, violating the PESA Act.

Leaders of the Adivasi Hakulla Porata Samithi (Tudum Debba) and other activists have been strongly opposing these constructions.

They submitted a memorandum to the district panchayat officer to take action on people responsible for illegal constructions. Adivasi Hakkula Porata Samithi district president Godam Ganesh said that the Commissioner of Panchayat Raj Department had given directions to each district and panchayat secretary to protect Agency lands.

The government is also taking other steps to curb land encroachment in these areas. The State is enforcing the LTR 1/70 Act in the Agency areas and orders have been issued to take action in accordance with the provisions of Regulation 1/70, LTR.

Apart from this, the government has made it clear that authorities should demolish illegal structures without giving any notice to the owner.

The Land Change Regulation Act, 1959 and the Land Change Prohibition Act, 1/70 are in force in the Agency areas, which prohibit buying and selling of land among non-tribals.

​However, mandal level officials and village level panchayat officials have neglected to implement these acts. Illegal layouts and constructions have taken place in Ichoda, Gudihathnur, Indravelli, Narnoor, Jainoor, Gadiguda, Utnoor, etc.

Without Addressing Legacy Issues, Can Digitising Land Records in India Be a Game Changer?

The Wire | May 18, 2021

For millions of rural families who still lack access to good internet connectivity or are computer illiterate, the programme may end up increasing out-of-pocket expenses.

As part of the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP), the central government intends to create an Aadhaar-like unique identification for every land parcel in the country. The initiative named Unique Land Parcel Identification Number (ULPIN) will assign a geo-referenced 14-digit alphanumeric unique ID for each land parcel surveyed in the country. ULPIN has already been launched in 11 states, and the Centre intends to do a countrywide rollout by March 2022.

This is a welcome addition to the previous digitisation steps taken up by DILRMP like establishing data centres at all administrative levels, computerisation of registration and record of rights, digitisation of cadastral maps among many others. ULPIN is expected to further contribute towards the larger goal of creating an Integrated Land Information Management System (ILIMS) that is intended to improve real-time information on land resources, develop land banks, optimise land use and assist in policy and planning.

The opportunity in digitising land records…

The current paper-heavy physical management of land records is inefficient and replete with red tape which in turn creates a fertile ground for corruption by land mafias, especially in rural areas. The common man has little say in this and is at the mercy of revenue officials. So it follows that India must upgrade to a modern and efficient land records management system that works for both the administration and common people.

Land records digitisation which started in 2008 has ushered tangible benefits in many states. For example, Jharkhand now has a dedicated web portal called ‘jharbhoomi’ where any land owner in the state can see the status of their land tax, pay the due amount online, register land and homes, or apply for online land mutation.

ULPIN can further enhance similar single window citizen services delivery and can potentially prevent land fraud and bring in much needed transparency, especially in rural areas where many land records are outdated, missing or disputed. ULPIN will most certainly guarantee uniqueness in all transactions, especially if blockchain technology is utilised. It would also be a massive step in enabling seamless interoperability across government departments, financial institutions and even revenue courts.

For rural landowners, accessing loans and land-based government schemes might become easier and people living in the disaster-prone areas might not have to worry about losing their land documents to floods and fire anymore as their land ownership will be digitally secured and accessible. If not anything, ULPIN will at least provide a better picture of land ownership in India and help identify illegally held lands by bad actors. The ULPIN digitisation, therefore, seems like a good initiative, at least in principle.

…comes with certain caveats

India might be a growing IT hub but the digital divide is still a huge concern in this country – a sad reality that was revealed in the pandemic when students from far flung areas struggled to attend online classes for want of the internet, laptops or smartphones. For the millions of rural families who still lack access to good internet connectivity or are computer illiterate, the online facilities by virtue of ULPIN will be of little use. In fact, this may end up increasing their reliance on ‘internet middlemen’ and increase their out of pocket expenses.

The Centre has said that linking Aadhaar number with ULPIN will be based on consent but it is safe to assume that sooner or later the linkage will become mandatory. Moreover, nobody wants to be left out. The perception of missing out on future “imaginary” benefits due to the said linkage itself will drive people to opt for the same.

Individuals still face issues with Aadhaar in terms of mismatched IDs and biometric verification which in many cases deprive rural beneficiaries of their rightful access to government schemes. Linking Aadhaar with ULPIN can potentially create conditions of further alienation of the marginalised sections of the society.

One of the significant repercussions of the ULPIN initiative will be in the forest sector where it is can potentially undermine the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The landmark Act provides individual and community forest rights (IFR and CFR) over forest lands that the local communities have been using traditionally for centuries.

According to a 2019 TISS report, a decade after the FRA implementation, only 14.67% of the potential forest area have been recognised across the country. So, what does ULPIN mean for the hundreds of thousands of India’s forest dwelling citizens whose rightful claims to forest land remain unsettled.

Additionally, what happens to the resources of villages which are government property on record but have been claimed by gram sabhas as part of their FRA rights. In the absence of any formal land-holding titles, these customary lands might be at risk of being added to the land banks and made available for developmental activities, industrial establishments or CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) plantations.

In states like Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, these CFR (commercial forest reserve) lands are already under immense pressure for raising such plantations by the forest department. There have been cases where CFR rights are intentionally delayed or rejected to accommodate for such plantations (often monocultures).

Then there are millions of hectares of land in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh called ‘orange areas’ which erroneously show up in both revenue and forest department land records. This bureaucratic mismanagement has caused disputes over 3.8 million hectares of land causing an estimated 1.5 million poor farmers to live in perennial insecurity. This issue has not been solved in the last 50 years, and it doesn’t look like a digital intervention like ULPIN can be of any aid. Instead, a rushed implementation can further complicate this complex issue and raise land legacy tensions.

As with any top down heavy initiative, ULPIN too risks doing too much in too little time overlooking the immense complexity of issues related to land ownership in India. As government officials from tehsils and blocks rush toward completion of their respective targets within a stipulated time, will they consult all the stakeholders, settle long-pending land rights, resurvey disputed lands and change land plot numbers before assigning a unique digital identification?

A similar digital experiment with land has already been carried out by a few nations in South America. An extensive report by GRAIN shows how the land digitalisation process in five South American countries is paving the way towards mass privatisation and financing of land, disregarding the socio-ecological function of such community and public lands through a process that is termed as ‘digital land grabbing’. The report warns about reducing such common lands to mere financial instruments that has facilitated land grabs on massive scales, often at the expense of peasant and indigenous territories.

The fact that the ULPIN initiative shares similar tools (geo-referencing, digitised cadastral maps, private titling, land market, bank integration) as used in the South American nations raises some immediate red flags. Although this development is taking place in a far-off continent, it still provides valuable learnings for India, especially on the importance of safeguarding community and public lands. Any attempt to bulldoze the initiative across all states without making robust provisions for collective titling of common lands may lead to severe land legacy disputes in future.

Digitisation of land records and its unique identification can certainly lead to efficient management in land administration in India. However, just like any other technology, what matters is how the technology is wielded in the shadow of underlying interests of the political economy of India. In a country where vast amounts of land records are outdated, disputed or unaccounted, ULPIN will hardly be able to be the game changer that it is billed to be, unless the pending rights are settled and land records are updated post resurveys.

Otherwise, it simply ends up in a costly exercise in validating historic land dispossessions and existing illegal encroachments by the rich and powerful. So, in a way the initiative provides a timely reminder and massive opportunity to first create an enabling environment, rectify old injustices and update existing land records before going ahead with the proposed digitisation.

This will need time and patience and so, instead of a hurried campaign to cover the entire geography of India in a few years and earn some political points, ULPIN, for now, should be limited to only those land parcels where rights and legal statuses are well-settled.

Haryana Cabinet nod to policy for sale of shops/houses by municipal bodies

The New Indian Express | April 22, 2021

TO ENCOURAGE monetisation of locked properties of municipal bodies, Haryana government has made a policy for sale of shops/houses by municipal bodies, where possessions of such properties is with entities other than the municipal bodies or its predecessor for a period of 20 years.

The state Cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Thursday approved the policy, besides taking several other important decisions.

“There are a large number of properties in the shape of shops/houses which, though are presently owned by municipal bodies, are in possession of entities/individuals other than the municipal bodies for a period of 20 years or more. The municipal bodies find managing such properties difficult, particularly in view of the fact that the ownership/possession of such properties have, in several cases, changed hands on numerous occasions and the municipal bodies lack authentic documentation in this regard. Furthermore, several municipal bodies are unable to even recover the rentals of such properties,” the state government spokesperson said.

“On careful consideration, it was decided to transfer the ownership of these properties to such persons who are currently in justified possession of these properties. As per the policy, the shops/houses and other properties of municipal bodies which have been assigned to persons (other than the municipal bodies) for a period of 20 years or more shall be converted in the properties belonging to such of the persons, or shall be transferred in the ownership possession of such persons and also to sale such properties to such persons. This policy will not only strengthen the financial position of municipal bodies but will also grant small shopkeepers and other pattedar to the ownership of the said properties under their possession,” the spokesperson added.

Cabinet also approved the policy for transfer of municipal lands by charging consideration. “This policy would apply on the categories of properties/persons, where due to exigencies or otherwise, no approach road is available to the land owned by private individuals or entities.

In such cases, where no approach road is available to land owned or, as the case may be, held on lease for a minimum period of 30 years or more, by private individuals or entities and it is possible to provide approach access through the land owned by the respective municipal body, the respective municipal body shall provide land for being utilized for the purposes of constructing approach road (rasta) against the consideration equal to the market rate of the said land which is proposed to be transferred, provided that such transfer cannot be claimed as a matter of right and the decision of government, purely on the discretion of the government, on all aspects related to the transfer including shall be final,” the spokesperson added.

Other key decisions

Policy for homeless abandoned and surrendered children

Cabinet approved the Homeless Abandoned and Surrendered Children Rehabilitation Initiative Haryana (HARIHAR) policy for providing employment, educational and financial benefits to abandoned and surrendered children who have completed the age of 18 years from the childcare institutions of the state and were abandoned before the age of 05 years or surrendered before the age of 1 year.

The policy shall cover children admitted to childcare institutions before the age of 5 years (as abandoned) and before the age of 1 year (as surrendered) and who have completed the age of 18 years in childcare institutions, upto the age of 25 years, and who possess the required qualification.

“Also, to provide free school and higher education including technical education, skill development and industrial training and after care stay, rehabilitation and financial assistance upto the age of 25 years or marriage, whichever is earlier and one time interest free loan for purchase of a house in Haryana to abandoned and surrendered children who were admitted to childcare institutions before the age of 5 years (as abandoned) and before the age of 1 year (as surrendered), who have completed the age of 18 years while living in childcare institutions and have obtained admission in such courses,” the spokesperson added.

“In case an abandoned and surrendered beneficiary in after care gets a job on compassionate grounds, his/her salary will be deposited in a fixed deposit account and withdrawal will be allowed after attaining the age of 25 years or marriage or opting out of after care, whichever is earlier by such beneficiary. Such person will get upto 20 per cent salary advance from his/her own salary per month for his/her living expenses and will not be eligible for financial assistance. They will be provided one time interest free loan for purchase of a house in Haryana at the time of marriage,” the spokesperson added.

Uninstallation of toll

Cabinet approved uninstallation of toll on Punhana to Lakarpur, Sri Singalheri, Thenkri, Jalalgarh, Ranota-Manota upto Rajasthan border at 12.65 km in Nuh district.

Mining lease/contract rules amended

Cabinet approved amendments in the ‘Haryana Minor Mineral Concession, Stocking, Transportation Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules, 2012’ and ‘Haryana District Mineral Foundation Rules, 2017’.

“As per the amendments, in case of mining lease/contract being granted through competitive bidding process, the highest bid received shall become the ‘annual dead rent’ or annual contract money payable by the lessee or contractors respectively. As per existing State Rules [Rule 9(3) and 22(2) respectively of the State Rules, 2012, the same is increased at 25 per cent on completion of each block of three years. The department proposed that rate of increase after every 3 years shall be reduced to 10 per cent as the existing rate is too high. Also, the request of mining contractors/lease holders seeking surrender [unconditional request] of lease/contract will be allowed subject to the condition that they submit application with no dues certificate up to the calendar month. The surrender will be allowed on payment of surrender fee equal to one-month dead rent/contract money. However, such surrender fee would be equal to two months dues in case applications are submitted during June 1 to September 15 (monsoon period). No application for surrender of part area of the mineral concession shall be maintainable. The director shall pass orders accepting the surrender request within 30 days. In case no decision is communicated, the application for surrender shall be deemed to have been accepted on expiry of 30 days of submission of the application. Also, the minimum distance from the source of mineral (mine) for grant of MDL be increased to 5 km for raw mineral from mines, to reduce the possibility of stocking illegally mined mineral. In cases of washing plant and screening plant, provision for grant of MDL based on NOC/CTE of the HSPCB,” the spokesperson said.

Is Centre Violating Peoples’ Rights for Acquiring Coal-Bearing Land in Chhattisgarh?

News Click | Ayaskant Das | Jan 08, 2021
There is no clarity yet on whether gram sabhas will be consulted to acquire 700 acres of land for the Madanpur South Coal Block in Korba.

New Delhi: On December 24, 2020, the Central government invoked the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Act, 1957 for acquiring over 700 hectares of land in tribal-dominated Korba district of Chhattisgarh, with no clarity yet on whether consent from gram sabhas will be sought through public consultations.

The land, sought to be acquired by the Union Coal Ministry, is for developing the greenfield Madanpur South Coal Block which had been allotted by the Central government to Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) in September 2016. The Aditya Birla Group’s mining arm, Essel Mining & Industries Limited, is the private Mine Developer and Operator (MDO) for the Madanpur South Block.

The coal block falls within the Hasdeo Arand area, a very dense and unfragmented stretch of natural forest that is rich in wildlife as well as coal reserves. The Chhattisgarh government has also proposed an elephant reserve spreading across this area which is, however, yet to be formally notified. It has been alleged that the land is being acquired bypassing powers of the state government as well as provisions meant to protect the rights of tribals.

“Madanpur South coal block falls in an area in Korba district designated as Schedule 5 under the Constitution of India due to its pre-ponderance of tribal population. By invoking the Coal Bearing Act for acquiring land in this area, the Central government is intending to bypass public consultations which are mandatory through gram sabhas for areas designated as Schedule 5,” said Alok Shukla of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a network of individuals and organisations fighting for peoples’ rights in the central Indian state.

The proportion of Scheduled Tribe population in Korba district is 40.90% in the Census of India data compiled for 2011. As per the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act or the PESA Act of 1996, it is mandatory for governments to conduct public consultations through gram sabhas before acquiring land in Schedule 5 areas. However, the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Act, 1957, which pre-dates the PESA by nearly 40 years, does not contain provisions for conducting public consultations through gram sabhas.

Therefore, in accordance with Section 7 of the Coal Bearing Act, the Central government has, through its notification last month, only given the mandatory period of 30 days for the general public to submit objections, if any, over rights on any parcel of land that will be notified for acquisition in Korba.

However, as per legal experts, local people living for centuries over land that has now been allotted for coal mining have very little say once it is notified for acquisition under the Coal Bearing Act of 1957. Some legal experts Newsclick spoke to said that rights over land practically go out of the hands of people in any coal bearing area as soon as a notification under Section 4 (for exploration of coal) of the Coal Bearing Act is issued. Further, with the notification of Section 7 (intention to acquire) of the Act, the only rights of project-affected people are to file objections within 30 days and claim their compensation amounts.

However, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, does contain special provisions for Scheduled tribes with regard to acquisition of land. The question, therefore, is: did the Central government bypass the 2013 Act, formulated by the erstwhile Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, to bypass the rights of the Scheduled tribes?

“The Coal Bearing Act, very much like the Atomic Energy Act of 1962, is based on the principle of eminent domain, whereby the government has the power to take over private land and convert it into public use. These Acts work on the premise that coal and uranium are needed for the country’s energy security. Therefore, all deposits of coal and uranium are legally kept under the control of the Centre,” Rashmi Katyayan, a Ranchi-based legal expert on land acquisition, told Newsclick.

Of the 712.02 hectares sought to be acquired for the Madanpur South Block, roughly 650 hectares fall under the category of forest land. Nearly 503 hectares comprise ‘protected forest’ area. Nevertheless, the Central government has, through its December 24 notification, also notified these 650 hectares of forest areas for prospecting of coal under the Coal Bearing Act of 1957.

Activists allege that in the process of acquiring land through the Coal Bearing Act, public consultations are sought to be bypassed by the Central government in violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. Section 5 of the FRA bestows power upon gram sabhas to regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity that adversely affects wild animals, forest, and biodiversity.

Besides, in the landmark Samata judgement of 1997, the Supreme Court had authorised the role of gram sabhas as democratic decision-making forums on issues of individual, community and cultural rights of tribals and traditional forest dwellers on forest land.

When asked by Newsclick on whether consent of gram sabhas will be taken before proceeding with land acquisition, Korba district collector Kiran Kaushal recused herself from making any comments on the issue. An official of the APMDC, however, said that a representation for conducting gram sabhas has been sent to the Korba district administration and that the dates for conducting the meetings have been twice deferred on account to one issue or another.

“We will not go for mining until and unless gram sabhas are held. A socio-economic assessment study has been conducted. Two villages are set to be affected by the mining project, namely, Ketma and Morga. The number of project-displaced families in Ketma is six, while the corresponding number for Morga village is 82. Nearly 90% of the population in these villages is Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. We will take all measures to ensure that these families are resettled comfortably. Whatever compensation is required in terms of alienation from forest rights will be suitably settled. Around 19 persons from Morga village have already given their consent for the project and information in this regard has been sent to the Union Coal Ministry, the district administration of Korba and the chief minister’s office in Chhattisgarh,” said the APMDC official, on condition of anonymity.

An email sent to Essel Mining & Industries Limited asking it about what measures, if at all, will be taken to ensure that rights of local stakeholders are not compromised, is yet to elicit any response. Responses are also awaited from Union Coal Ministry on email queries asking about the logic behind invoking provisions of the Coal Bearing Act, 1957 to acquire land for developing Madanpur South Coal Block and whether consent of gram sabhas will be obtained before the acquisition. This article will be updated as and when Newsclick receives responses to these queries.

From October to December 2019, local residents from at least 20 villages in the Hasdeo Arand region had sat on a protest against land acquired using the Coal Bearing Act of 1957 for Parsa coal block in Chhattisgarh. Their demands included revoking of mining clearances granted to the Parsa block without consulting the gram sabhas.

It has been further alleged by activists that applying the Coal Bearing Act to acquire land for Madanpur South is legally questionable because the block has been awarded to a public sector undertaking belonging to another state government, that is, Andhra Pradesh, while mining operations will be carried out by a private developer.

“It is a direct affront on the federal structure of the country. The Central government is acting toward concentration of powers in its own hands in taking over land under the Coal Bearing Act in favour of State public sector units having long-term MDO agreements with private companies. The Central government already enjoys unilateral powers in allotment of coal blocks and also in providing environmental clearances as well as forest clearances for projects,” said Raipur-based environmental activist and lawyer Sudiep Shrivastava.

Ahead of the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections in 2018, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the incumbent Chief Minister Bhupesh Bhagel had assured the electorate that no mining activities would be permitted in the state by violating rights of local people.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Central government and the Congress government in Chhattisgarh have locked horns in the recent past over auction of coal blocks to private players for commercial mining. In June 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining by private players. However, this list was ultimately scaled down to 38 following vociferous opposition by the Congress government in Chhattisgarh against the auction of three blocks that are located in the densely forested areas of Hasdeo Arand. The Chhattisgarh government, has also, using powers vested to it in the Constitution, proposed the creation of an elephant reserve across Hasdeo Arand which may encompass several coal blocks that would make prospects of mining difficult in the area. This proposal, however, awaits a formal notification.

“The Central government is trying to assume absolute powers as far as coal mining is concerned because most of the coal-bearing states, including Chhattisgarh, are at present being ruled by political parties that are not aligned with the BJP-led NDA. However, it remains to be seen if the Chhattisgarh government agrees to submit proposal for Stage-I forest clearance for the project as the state government can still block the clearance,” added Shrivastava

Chhattisgarh govt begins process of framing rules for PESA Act

Business Standard | Nov 19, 2020

Chhattisgarh Panchayat and Rural Development Minister held the first meeting with tribal leaders and other representatives of panchayats in Kanker district to discuss the framing of rules for PESA Act

Chhattisgarh Panchayat and Rural Development Minister TS Singhdeo on Wednesday held the first meeting with tribal leaders and other representatives of panchayats in Kanker district to discuss the framing of rules for the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA Act.

Singhdeo along with Sarva Adivasi Samaj leaders organised the meeting in village Kherkheda of Kanker where tribal representatives from 16 blocks of 5 districts were also present.

Addressing a press conference later, the Minister said that the residents of tribal areas were waiting for a long time for the implementation of the law after its enactment.

He said that the purpose of this law is not to violate the rights of the Central or State governments but to provide the rights to the rural areas that were pending for decades.

Singhdeo said that Congress in its 2018 election manifesto included PESA Act and the government is now moving forward to implement this after some delay to lockdown.

The Minister said that when the law is for the gram sabha then the views of the villagers are very important.

“Villagers have the right on issues like water, forest, and land, hence they should ensure the right of management on these subjects,” he said.

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