The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) has decided to write to the state government seeking agricultural pattas for tea garden workers who have in their possession large tracts of land in an effort to quell dissent brewing in the tea gardens of Darjeeling hills.
On February 21, the state government distributed parja (homestead) pattas to around 1,000 tea garden workers across north Bengal. The 3 lakh-odd tea garden workers in north Bengal do not have any land rights despite living and working in the gardens for generations.
The decision of the Trinamul government to grant land rights to all tea garden workers is expected to provide dividends for the party and its allies in the panchayat elections. Tea gardens in this region have consistently voted for BJP and its allies in the past elections.
However, with the distribution of the homestead pattas, Bengal’s Opposition parties, mainly in Darjeeling hills, have launched a sustained campaign questioning the technicalities of the land rights being granted by the state government.
The BJP, Left Front, Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Hamro Party, Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and almost all parties in the hills are going hammer and tongs against the Anit Thapa’s Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM) which helms Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and is a Trinamul ally.
“The parja (homestead) patta that is being granted to tea workers is just a poll gimmick,” said Saman Pathak, leader of Joint Forum, an apex body of 29 trade unions. The Opposition maintains that homestead pattas cannot be transferred, sold or gifted, but only be inherited by direct descendants after the death of the land rights holder.
Since the ceiling of the land eligible for homestead patta is 8.2 decimals, Opposition leaders said those who possess than 8.2 decimals for generations would have to forfeit the surplus. Sources said the GTA held a meeting in Darjeeling to discuss the issue on Thursday.
“At the moment homestead pattas are being distributed. The GTA will write to the state government to grant agricultural patta for people who have in their possession more than 8.2 decimal land. Certain rules that bar land given by the government from being sold have to be followed. But we will take up with the state government the technical aspects that may crop up in land documents,” said Satish Pokhrel, the GTA Sabha member in charge of land and land reforms.
A BGPM leader said the Opposition was making unfounded charges about “our people becoming refugees” by accepting this land document. “We will expose such claims,” he said.