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Remove restrictions, open up tribal land: Govt Panel

MUMBAI,KANCHAN SRIVASTAVA: If the recommendations of the tribes advisory council (TAC) are implemented, 137 lakh hectares of land, accounting for 8.9% of the total land holding in Maharashtra, will be opened up for development.

At present, sale of tribal land to non-tribals for non-agriculture purpose is a tedious process, thanks to the many restrictions.

The SS Sandhu committee report, tabled in the TAC meeting last week, recommends jettisoning the restrictive norms on transferring tribal land to non-tribals in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, cities and semi-urban areas.

It also calls for a total ban on sale of ST land to non-tribals, except for those needed for government departments or agencies or local self-government, in other areas.

Nine out of 10 tribals in the state are dependent on farming or related work and four out of 10 are landless.

Those who buy tribal land would have to develop the project within five years. Else, the land would go back to the owner. Buyers would also not be allowed to sell the land in the same form, suggests the report. This is meant to discourage agents who occupy huge chunks of land only to sell it later for a profit.

The proposed reforms are aimed at “development” of tribal villages, which, despite being at the periphery of the Mumbai metro region, big cities and municipal towns, have remained underdeveloped due to a slew of norms, stated the report.

The state plans to give wide publicity to all tribal land sale proposals, so that they get a fair price for their agriculture land, on par with non-agriculture land. Till now, district authorities publicised it only within a 5-km radius. For industrial projects, owners of tribal land would be made stakeholders, though the sharing formula is yet to be decided.

The proposals, if approved, would open up the scheduled area of the state for overall development and also generate employment, feels the tribal development department. The discussion on the report has been deferred to the next meeting of the TAC after some members reportedly opposed the move.

The committee also recommends a panel, headed by the district collector, to guide the tribals, and to supervise and facilitate the land transfer process.

“Rather than benefiting the tribes, restrictions on land transfer have worked against them. It takes 2-3 years to get permissions to sell their own property for urgent needs. The delay adds to their distress, so agents exploit them,” the committee said, asking the government to come up with a separate comprehensive regulation for tribal land transaction.

The committee, set up in June 2014, was entrusted with the task of finding out the status of tribal land, and do a comparative study of regulations in five states, and suggest ways to stop illegal transfer of ST land to non-STs.

Incidentally, none of the states studied allows sale of ST land to non-tribals. Even the four sub-committees which studied various states and held talks with the stakeholders had difference of opinions, with one of them even suggesting a total ban on sale.

Tribal MLAs oppose the move. KC Padvi, Congress MLA from Akkalkua, says: “The proposals would benefit the builder lobby and industries. Tribals would be up for more exploitation now.” Prof Raju Todsam, BJP MLA from Arni, has also opposed the “highly controversial move”.

The report highlights that 45,000 court cases of encroachment and illegal land transfers were registered in Maharashtra till 1999. Of these, in 20,900 cases, tribals had won and 40,265 hectares of land were returned. In 2014, 875 cases were registered. In 698 cases, tribals won and 1,353 hectares were returned.

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