Uttarakhand again restive about land laws, domicile issues
Dehradun, December 26
Even twenty-three years after the creation of Uttarakhand, the people of the state continue to be restive about the use of their land and resources, December 24 protest in the state capital Dehradun is a pointer to the fact that these issues continue to unite the people who are again demanding restoration of stringent land laws and 1950 as a cut-off date for domicile certification.
Since the formation of the state in 2000 there have been many restrictions on outsiders buying land in the state. In 2018 Trivendra Singh Rawat who was then the Chief Minister increased the cap for the area of land that could be purchased by investors for the tourism industry, horticulture, agriculture and energy sector in the state from 12.5 acres to 30 acres. It was claimed that the decision was taken to attract investors in these sectors. The increase in the ceiling prompted opposition from many quarters. Campaigns against it then prompted Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami to constitute a high-level committee under the chairmanship of former Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar to look into the issue. The committee has already submitted the report and its recommendations are yet to be implemented.
Successive governments from the Congress to the BJP have tinkered with the law claiming that it was being done to make investment in Uttarakhand attractive to investors. In 2003, the ‘Uttaranchal UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reform Act 1950-Adaptation and Incorporation Amendment Ordinance 2003’ was brought in which prevented outsiders from buying more than 500 square metres of agricultural land in Uttarakhand. In 2007, BJP CM Lt Gen (retd) BC Khanduri reduced the area of land that outsiders could buy in the state to 250 sq m. However, these restrictions did not apply to urban areas. In 2018 BJP CM TS Rawat set aside the 2003 amendment paving the way for outsiders to buy any amount of land in the hill state. Agricultural land could be purchased and put to any non-agricultural use, to attract investment in the state. Throughout the rigmarole of bringing newer laws, the role of the BJP which managed to usurp credit for the creation of the state from the people and then go on to rule the state for a greater part in making political gains out of this restiveness cannot be ignored.
At Sunday’s rally, the protestors raised their demands. Still, they shied away from criticising the BJP or the present Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, who also played a role in the alleged sale of large-scale land by doing away with the 2003 provision in the Land Ceiling Act that sought to impose a penalty by seizing the land that was misappropriated and not used for the stated purposes for which it was bought under the industrial development provisions. It may be recalled that Dhami was also instrumental in raking up the ‘Land Jehad’ issue in the state before the 2022 state elections and has also pledged to implement the recommendations of the committee on Uniform Civil Code for the state. Interestingly, it was the issue of ‘Land Jehad’ which was used and an imaginary fear of ‘Muslim invasion’ through purchase of land in the state was created to win the state elections. In September 2021 before the state assembly elections, the District Magistrates and SSP’s of all the districts were asked to report about ‘Land jehad’. But after winning the polls, the issue was conveniently forgotton since there was no truth in it.
More interestingly, even before the December 24 rally, the state Chief minister announced a committee headed by senior bureaucrat Radha Raturi to look into the issues of domicle and land laws.
“The people of the state are angry because of the misuse of land they feel their land, jungle and water is not safe. They came out in large numbers to lodge their protest. The corrupt BJP government is responsible for providing an open playing field for the rich and mighty of the country to buy land in Uttarakhand at will and jeopardise the rights of the people of Uttarakhand. The BJP Chief Ministers have wreaked havoc with ‘Uttaranchal UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reform Act 1950-Adaptation and Incorporation Amendment Ordinance 2003’ brought by the Congress Chief Minister ND Tiwari,” said senior Congress leader Suryakant Dhasmana.
While all these issues have been used by the Dhami government in making political gains, it remains to be seen how it will tackle the domicile. So far there has been a Supreme Court ruling that people residing in the state since 1985 are entitled to get domicile, thereby upholding the 2013 Nainital High Court ruling. The main opposition parties in the state have been urging the government to adopt a cautionary approach and not rake up these issues to play divisive politics, “The locals of the state should be given preference in the state in appointments and use of resources but domicile issue is being raised to drive a wedge between locals and people who have come from other states and settled here for a very long period. It will alienate the people and should be dealt with caution,” said Indresh Maikhuri, Secretary of CPI (ML).
What the protestors demanded a law akin to Himachal Pradesh where the 1971 law bars trading in agricultural land and has other provisions to safeguard the interests of the locals. Surprisingly, none is talking about the role of the successive state governments and fixing responsibilities about any dilution of land laws since the inception of separate Uttarakhand.