Ranchi, Aug. 11: The cabinet today appeared sharply divided on the issue of amending the almost century-old Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act.
While land revenue minister Dulal Bhuiyan is categorical that the laws cannot be changed “or else the consequences would be disastrous”, his colleagues, finance minister Stephen Marandi and HRD minister Bandhu Tirkey asserted they are strongly in favour of the amendment.
The land revenue department had directed the deputy commissioners last week to ensure that existing provisions of the tenancy acts are followed and no tribal land is mortgaged by any commercial bank or financial institution for more than five years.
The State Level Bankers’ Conference had raised the issue with the government. Banks, the government was told, are unable to release credit to tribals for more than five-year terms because of the existing provision. Tribals, they pointed out, are unable to apply for loans for a longer period of 10 or 15 years because they cannot offer their land as collateral security for more than five years.
As a result, tribals have to be content with small loans which they can repay within five years, the bankers had pointed out. The finance and the HRD minister declared there cannot be any harm in amending a century-old provision. Times have changed, they argued, and there is no reason why tribals requiring housing or educational loans should be deprived.
Tirkey also pointed out that people belonging to the ST have no problem in securing loans in states covered under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Why should then there be a problem in states included in the Fifth Schedule, he wondered.
Bhuiyan, however, insisted that his department had consulted the advocate-general and the government has been advised that the provision cannot be amended. In any case, he argued, tribals are given loans and subsidies by the government under various welfare schemes. And, if necessary, the government can think of offering softer loans to the tribals.
The government’s decision is based on a 2004 judgment of the Jharkhand High Court, which held that a member of Scheduled Tribes cannot take loan for education and house either by mortgaging rayati land for transferring such land in favour of any bank or cooperative societies.