The Telegraph
Thursday , October 8 , 2015

Tough law against squatters goes soft

Urban development minister CP Singh

Ranchi, Oct. 7: The state government's decision to impose stringent penalties on encroachers of government land may be just what industry had long been waiting for, but the move is unlikely to see the official machinery going into overdrive to recover lost property.

"Making a law was necessary to discourage encroachments. But, how does that mean our government will soon begin uprooting encroachers. Further, people can also challenge this decision in court or even challenge the anti-encroachment drives in a court or law," argued urban development minister C.P. Singh.

Yesterday's decision of the state cabinet to impose a penalty of Rs 25,000 or a year's rigorous imprisonment, or both, on encroachers of government and public land or public buildings seems to have hit Singh hard.

While on the one hand, Singh, as urban development minister, was a party to the cabinet's decision to penalise encroachers, on the other hand a majority of his voters - he is Ranchi MLA - happen to be encroachers of government land.

Also, since encroachment of government land and public structures are generally more rampant in urban areas, Singh, known for his otherwise affable manner, is faced with difficult challenges ahead. Till now, there was no law, encroachments were removed by the official machinery under police protection.

Anti-encroachment drives had gained momentum in the state capital in 2011 when then chief justice of Jharkhand High Court Bhagwati Prasad ordered strict implementation of apex court orders to remove encroachments across the country. This had unnerved several politicians, including Singh, who was then Assembly Speaker and Arjun Munda the chief minister.

In fact, Singh even advocated that encroachments should not be removed, including makeshift shops on pavements, without alternative arrangements. He also opposed disconnecting water and power supply of squatter colonies in various parts of the state capital and had even approached the then chief justice in person, which created a furore in the Assembly.

"I am still saying that encroachments should not be removed without alternate arrangements. But, there has to be some law to discourage encroachments," Singh said.

"I am here to safeguard the interests of poor and we are doing our best to give them houses to live in and places to run their businesses at the earliest," the minister explained.

One of the primary complaints of industry and prospective investors has been the unavailability of land free of encumbrances. ONGC, undertaking coal bed methane exploration in several areas of Bokaro, Dhanbad, Hazaribagh and Chatra, raised the issue with non other than chief minister Das yesterday.

Sources said that at a meeting with the state top brass, ONGC officials led by CMD D.K. Sarraf spoke of instances where government (or gair mazrua) land had been encroached upon by local villagers who were not only farming on those plots, but were also paying taxes.

Company officials pointed out that in such cases, even after obtaining permission from the government to take over the land, ONGC was facing local unrest for want of compensation or jobs.

Arun Oraon, a vice president with Jindal Steel and Power which runs a steel plant at Patratu, raised the issue of tribals losing their land, primarily ancestral property in the forests, because of prolonged inaction by subsequent state governments.

Oraon, a former IPS officer, opined that the cabinet decision to penalise encroachers was an eyewash and indirectly aimed at regularising illegal constructions.

"Has the state government ever tried to find out how many illegal constructions have come up on tribal, government and forest land in and around Ranchi during the past 25 years? It is ridiculous that on the one hand, the government is talking about strict execution of CNT Act and on the other hand there will be a penalty of Rs 25,000 only or a year's imprisonment for encroachers," he said.

With inputs by Amit Gupta

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