Thursday, July 16, 2015

How Gujarat babudom dictates terms to village heads to "convert" agricultural land into non-agricultural (NA) use

By Pankti Jog*
The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution of India may have given powers to the panchayati raj system, but a glaring instance suggests that Gujarat bureaucracy still wants to dictate terms to elected representatives of Gram Sabhas.  The sarpanch of Mota Samdhiyala village off Gir forests in Junagadh district, was shocked when he received a notice demanding a no-objection certificate (NOC) to transform 4,857 sq metres of agricultural land to non-agricultural (NA) without reference number, the district development office’s (DDO's) letterhead, date or even the seal.
The letter asks the village head to “verify following points for NA”, without giving any points for verification. Yet, ironically, it insists, the sarpanch is supposed to give his NOC within 21days, failing which, warning, the procedure for allotting NA certificate would be initiated. Necessary documents were not attached, except for the layout plan of the applicant who had sought NA.
“How can I be asked to give NOC without having basic documents of ownership, including the title clearance certificate (under section 7/12, 8a), or the documents which show whether the land belongs to the juni sharat (old tenure) or navi sharat (new tenure)?”, the sarpanch wonders.
The new tenure agricultural land in Gujarat differs from old tenure land, in that it was allotted to poor or landless farmers as part of the land reforms process. Any NA activity sought to be carried out on new tenure land must be first converted into old tenure on payment of premium to the government.
The plan submitted for developing the 4,856 sq metres on acquiring NA, sanctioned by the town planner, itself seemed faulty: It showed a common plot in one corner of the proposed building, though it should have been in the middle. It does not mention of the location of water pipeline and sewerage lines, either.
As per Gujarat’s Panchayati Raj Act, one needs to have clearance certificate from the concerned department saying that there is no “land acquisition process due on the above land”, which also was not given in this case.
On February 7, 2015, the sarpanch informed the DDO that he would not be able to give NOC unless he received all the documents. To his surprise, the same letter was posted back to him, and this time with date mentioned for posting the letter back to him was February 5, 2015! Finally, the sarpanch decided to fight back.
“I gave detailed response showing technical flaws in the proposal itself, along with violation of procedure to give NA certificate. For example, one third of the total area needs to be reserved (used) for common plot, plus internal roads”, the sarpanch said.
“Secondly”, he said, “The district authorities did not furnish any of the documents demanded by me, which is a prerequisite for me giving NOC. The proposal did not even have the address of the applicant but only of the correspondent, who seemed to be an agent.”
In Gujarat, getting NA has become lucrative business for agents. Letters are drafted in such a way that they do not mention about the verification process, but dictate terms, and most of the village heads give NOC without actually getting any details of the proposals.
According to one agent, the unofficial “rate” for getting NA done depends on the kind of use of land, and is up to 15 per cent of the cost of the land. In this case, after receiving the response from the sarpach, instead of asking the applicant to furnish necessary details, the DDO decided to refuse the permission of NA on February 26, 2015.
“This is very serious issue”, says secretary of Gujarat NGOs’ network Janpath Harinesh Pandya, part of the Land Study Group constituted by the Ministry of Rural Development in 2012-13 to understand land rights issues of marginalized communities in Gujarat. “The government is facilitating NA, but checks and balances are not taken care of. Hence, the state not only loses agriculture land, but also revenue to be generated through such conversions.”
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*Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), Ahmedabad

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