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HC raps Dispur on land allotment policy

Guwahati, April 11: Gauhati High Court has asked Dispur to review its 1989 land policy and questioned the Assam government’s mechanism of providing settlement to people living on encroached land for 15 years or more.

A single-judge bench of Justice Ujjal Bhuyan, in a recent order, directed the principal secretary of the revenue department to review Clause 14.3(ii) and 14.3(iv) of the 1989 policy within six months from the date of receipt of the judgment.

The court, vide its order, a copy of which was made available to The Telegraph today, restrained the government from making any further settlement in greater Guwahati area and in other towns in terms of the above two clauses till the review takes place.

The order was passed in connection with case WP (C) number 530 of 2011.

Clause 14 of the 1989 land policy deals with settlement and reservation of land in urban areas and Clause 14.3 specifically deals with settlement of land within greater Guwahati and other towns in the state.

According to sub-clause (ii), an indigenous person who has land in a rural area but does not have land in a city or town either in his name or in the name of any family member, and who has been occupying government land with his family members for 15 years or more, becomes eligible for land settlement in greater Guwahati or in any other town.

Sub-clause (iv) stipulates that in order to become eligible for land settlement, a person’s stay in urban area must bear some permanence by virtue of his service or profession. He should not have been able to purchase land in urban area on account of his poor financial condition.

The court questioned the logic behind such land settlement.

“Why should the state government encourage people, who already have land in rural areas, to come to Guwahati or any other town and encroach upon government land and after 15 years become entitled to land settlement at government rate, which is usually a fraction of the market value of the land?” asked Justice Bhuyan.

The high court observed that the provision requiring a person occupying government land for 15 years or more to get land settlement virtually encourages and puts a premium on illegal encroachment.

“Why should a person who already has land in rural area and stays in urban area in connection with his service or professional requirement be given settlement on government land at a throwaway price only on the ground that he is unable to purchase land because of his poor financial condition,” the judge asked.

This judgment assumes significance since it comes at a time when Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and other organisations are spearheading an agitation demanding land rights for landless people living in and around the city.

The order is likely to have far-reaching implications on the government’s policy of granting land to landless people here and in other urban areas of the state.

Reacting to the order, eminent lawyer and civil rights activist, Bhaskar Dev Konwar, said, “The land policy in question confers unbridled power on the government to allot land. Many undeserving persons have got land allotment at throwaway prices because of its policy.”

“Only a CBI probe can unearth the amount of illegal and irregular allotment of government land,” he added.