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21 Jun 2018

Call for more on hill land rights plan

Vivek Chhetri, TT,  Jun 20, 2018, Darjeeling: A political consensus has emerged on granting land rights to the hill population, especially tea garden workers, but realising the long-cherished dream of land ownership seems easier said than done.

The dream has eluded over 60 per cent of hill population for years as the land under their possession has been earmarked as tea garden land.

Amid the growing demand for land rights, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) recently announced plans to revive the Nijo Griha Nijo Bhumi Prakalpo (own home, own land project).

It generated much enthusiasm and all parties supported the move. "But meeting the expectations of hill population will not be that easy," said a land department official.

According to him, homeless and landless people in rural areas can be given 5 decimals of land under the scheme, a pet project of the Mamata Banerjee government.

"This scheme started from October 2011 but did not cover urban areas. The government then came up with a new notification dated February 9, 2015, through which the scheme was extended to urban areas," said the official.

Under this urban scheme, homeless and landless and "generally belonging to economically weaker section" are given 5 decimals of land or a flat measuring 25 square meters constructed through urban bodies.

"However, in case of urban land, it is given to the beneficiaries on a lease of 99 years for salami of Re 1. Land rents can be suitably fixed," said the official.

While the Morcha is pitching this scheme as part of a plan to give land rights, the official pointed out the two schemes are unlikely to cover tea garden workers as the land has been leased by the state government to the respective tea garden owners.

"Tea garden land can be taken back by the government under the state acquisition act and redistributed to the landless under the Land and Land Reforms Act, 1955," said another official.

However in all schemes, beneficiaries will only have inheritance rights - the land can be passed from one family head to another but cannot be sold off to a third party. Several hill residents said they wanted something more than inheritance rights so that they can sell off the land.

The administration, however, has a different logic. "The basic tenet of starting this scheme is to provide land to those who do not have it. If they are allowed to sell the land, it will defeat the purpose as they will again be without land," said the official.

The official, however, added, that leased land can be sold, provided a special permission is granted by the district magistrate. According to him, meeting the expectations will require amendments.

Karuna Gurung, president, Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, the tea trade wing of the Morcha, said: "Let the government make all the modifications."

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