Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mystery around "missing" 52,000 acres deepens as Gujarat's bhoodan committee declares it has no land

By Rajiv Shah
Six months after the Gujarat High Court judgment sharply criticizing the state government and the Gujarat Sarvodaya Mandal (GSM), also known as Bhoodan Samiti, for failing to oversee what happened to thousands of acres of land received during the Bhoodan movement of Vinoba Bhave, a top GSM insider has declared that as of today it has “no land.”
Participating in a well-attended civil activists’ meet in Ahmedabad at Janpath, the apex body of Gujarat-based NGOs, Anand Mazgaonkar, who is closely associated with the top environmental NGO, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, and is an adviser to the National Alliance of People’s Movement, has been quoted as saying, “It is true that during Vinoba’s bhoodan movement, 1.02 lakh acres of land was received as donation from the state’s landlords.”
Of this, he informed the participants, 51,000 to 52,000 acres land was distributed among the landless. However, the situation, he opined, has changed considerably since 1950s when the land was distributed, as large number of rural areas have become urbanized.
“However”, he insisted, “The Gujarat government did not come up with any law with regard to the bhoodan land, as it existed in the Saurashtra State before Gujarat came into existence in 1960, or in the then Vidarbha State of Maharashtra. Hence, the GSM is not in legal possession of any land. As of today, it has no land.”
Mazgaonkar explained, “Two or three generations have passed since then. This has created a number of problems in identifying as to who owns the bhoodan land. The Gujarat High Court, in its order dated December 29, 2016, has identified three types of owners: Successors of the original owners, those who received the land, and illegal encroachers.”
“The magnanimous sacrifices of lands made by the original land owners in the bhoodan yagna appear to have gone in vain” -- Gujarat High Court
Mazgaonkar's statement, quoted in minutes of the activists' meeting, comes against the backdrop of the Gujarat government beginning inquiry, through a high-level committee under the chairmanship of the chief secretary, to ascertain lands which still remain undistributed and unaccounted for the alleged "mismanagement of the bhoodan samitis", on one hand, and indifference of the state government, on the other.
The high-level committee was formed on February 2, 2017, after the High Court order directed the state government to do the investigation.
Significantly, Mazgaonkar spoke of having "no land" even as a GSM report, submitted to the High Court in 2013, admitted that total lands admeasuring 103,530 acres were received during the bhoodan movement, which land admeasuring 52,546 acres still remains undistributed.
The High Court order, delivered by Justice Bela M Trivedi, wondered, “Should the avowed and laudable object of the bhoodan movement spearheaded by Acharya Shri Vinoba Bhave be allowed to be frustrated, and the sacrifices of lands made by the land owners in the bhoodan yagna for the benefit of landless persons be allowed to go in vain, on account of the lethargy and mismanagement of bhoodan committees, and the apathy and inaction of the state government?”
Even as criticizing the Gujarat government for not enacting “any law to facilitate, regulate, distribute and monitor such lands donated in the bhoodan yagna” on lines of several Indian states, the order said, “The magnanimous sacrifices of lands made by the original land owners in the bhoodan yagna appear to have gone in vain.”

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