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Ranchi SOS to Delhi for rescue

Ranchi, Jan. 29: The state government today woke up to a “mistake” made by the Union home ministry four years ago.

A high-level meeting decided that the chief minister would write to the Centre and ask it to correct the mistake committed while notifying the scheduled areas in the state in 2003. There was no explanation forthcoming, however, as to why the mistake was not detected earlier.

The “mistake” came to light last week after the Ranchi deputy commissioner suspended restoration of tribal land and the functioning of the SAR (Scheduled Area Regulation) court. The high court had stayed the proceedings of the SAR court, after its attention was drawn to the revised central notification, and as many as three cases had been referred to division benches.

Aggrieved tribal groups had interpreted this as another onslaught on their rights and had called for a Ranchi bandh on January 31.

Governor Syed Sibtey Razi also cut short his visit to Delhi and Lucknow and rushed back here. He had left for Delhi yesterday and was expected to return on February 5. Soon after his return, chief minister Madhu Koda called on him. Later, Koda called a news meet at 9 pm to announce steps being taken by the state government to defuse the crisis.

Koda spoke of the Delimitation Commission’s recommendations and also the faux pas made by the home ministry. And he hoped that following the initiatives, the proposed bandh call in Ranchi for Wednesday would be withdrawn.

Sources claimed that the government, after the creation of Jharkhand, had sent a proposal that included the whole of Ranchi district in the scheduled area. All earlier notifications of scheduled areas had taken the district as a unit. But then the home ministry sought details of tribal population, which was sent block-wise.

This block-wise list was mistaken as the proposal for inclusion in the scheduled area and, consequently, 112 out of 212 blocks in the state were notified in the gazette on February 2, 2003, as part of the scheduled area in the state.

The Ranchi municipal area was consequently left out of the list. Lawyers then jumped into the fray and, citing the revised list, began challenging prayers for restoration made by tribals living with the municipal limits of Ranchi.

Some of the restoration orders were challenged before the high court and the high court too stepped in to stay proceedings of the SAR court.

Lawyers, however, are sharply divided in their interpretation of the impact the scheduled area might have on provisions of the tenancy acts. But since the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, extends to North Chhotanagpur, South Chhotanagpur and Palamau divisions, including areas occupied by cantonments or which have been constituted into a municipality, a section of lawyers, led by Rashmi Katyayan, a legal adviser to the Union panchayati raj ministry, believe that change in the contours of scheduled areas has neither relevance nor impact on CNT Act.

But another section, led by former state advocate-general Anil Kumar Sinha, believe that the CNT Act, which provides for restoration of tribal land, is no longer applicable to the Ranchi municipal area “because sections 71A and B had been inserted into the Act in 1969 by the governor through a regulation framed under schedule V of the Constitution”, which speaks only of scheduled areas.

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