The Bengal government has decided to resume the survey of tea garden land under a proposed scheme to hand over possession to residents to set up homesteads, this time not imposing any ceiling on the maximum amount of land that a beneficiary can hold.
The government had put the survey on hold in September following protests by tea garden residents against the proposed ceiling of 5 decimals on land that is to be handed over to them in Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) areas. Many residents have said they now have houses and vegetable and poultry farms on bigger land parcels.
The land policy branch of the land and land reforms and refugee relief and rehabilitation department of the state government on Thursday issued a directive to the district magistrates of Darjeeling and Kalimpong to restart survey work.
“…Resume survey work in tea gardens in GTA areas on ‘as is where is basis’ without reference to any limitations on area held,” the letter to the DMs said.
The Bengal government had on September 12 ordered the DMs of the two districts to put on hold work related to the scheme for the distribution of homestead pattas in tea gardens.
On August 1, the government had issued a notification to distribute up to 5 decimals of land to each resident of tea gardens across north Bengal.
However, in the Darjeeling hills, the Opposition parties opposed the scheme on the ground that tea garden workers have more than 5 decimals of land in their possession and that the entire land should be given to them. Many Opposition leaders feared that the state government might distribute excess land among private players after setting aside 5 decimals for every beneficiary.
Many have also opposed the use of the word “landless” to describe tea garden workers in the August 1 notification and argued that hill residents had been in possession of the land for generations, since before Independence, but did not have documents.
A massive protest rally was organised in Mirik by the Chia Shramik Surakasha Samity (CSSS), a body espousing the cause of tea garden workers.
Anit Thapa, chief executive of the GTA and also the president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM) that is an ally of the Trinamul Congress, had welcomed the government’s 5-decimal ceiling initially, but later made a U-turn and requested the state to halt the scheme against the backdrop of protests.
Thapa had initially thought that the state government’s scheme would help his party politically, sources claimed.
“We welcome the new notification. People were rightly unhappy with the provisions of the earlier scheme,” Thapa, who had earlier written to
the state government to put the survey on hold, said on Friday.
Observers believe that the scheme could have an impact on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
“This has nothing to do with elections. It is about fulfilling a longstanding demand of the tea garden workers and providing them land rights,” Thapa countered such an assumption.
Some Opposition leaders, however, said that there was no point in jumping the gun and that they would be monitoring the developments closely.
“The notification only talks about a survey and does not say that the entire land of the workers would be handed over to them,” said an Opposition leader.