A law tweaked, in retrospect
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Last year, Haryana and Punjab amended their respective land ceiling laws, one following the other in a move whose implications are beginning to sink in only now.
Each state did away with its ceiling if the land was to be put to non-agricultural use, and did so with retrospective effect, Haryana since 1975 and Punjab since 1971. This was apparently done to give a seal of legitimacy to land already handed over in excess of existing limits to various projects.
But what retrospective effect also means is that any landowner who had surrendered such land since those dates has become eligible to reclaim it, says Ashok Khemka, Haryana's director general, land records.
"All that such an owner needs to do now is to tell the government that he now wants to put the surplus land he surrendered to non-agricultural use. Thousands of acres of surplus land vested with the government for more than 30 years will have to be returned to the original owners," Khemka says.
Early this month, Khemka wrote to the financial commissioner (revenue), saying, "To prevent discrimination against the poor farmers whose lands were declared surplus and utilised but now exempted as per the amendment, such farmers may be allowed to claim back their land declared surplus earlier and vested in the state under section 12."
The problem is that the land declared "surplus" under these Acts has changed hands several times in the last four decades.
"It was a thoughtless move carried out only to help real estate developers to create land banks in the state. And now the amendment is going to lead to a major land claim crisis," says Anil Vij, BJP leader in Haryana. "The surplus land has been doled out to the landless. How will the state reclaim it? We will move court praying for repeal of the amendment." Vij was among those who walked out from the Assembly in protest when the amendment was passed.
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