Twentyone families belonging to the Bhil tribal community face the threat of being evicted from 18 hectares of farmland in Karamdi village on the outskirts of Ratlam city in Madhya Pradesh. On paper, the land belongs to the government and is classified as grazing land.
A silver lining for the farmers came in the form of a Supreme Court ruling on April 29, 2019, which upheld the temporary stay on their eviction issued by the Ratlam civil court in 2016.
In January 2019, the farmers filed another petition before the Madhya Pradesh High Court, stating that under a 1984 state law, they should receive titles to the grazing land. On January 9, the High Court ordered a stay on the industrial cluster. The petition is being heard.
The Madhya Pradesh government had, in 2015, proposed to set up a namkeen industrial cluster for the production of Ratlami Sev (a popular snack in the city) over 18 hectares of grazing land, which included approximately 12 hectares of farmlands belonging to the Bhils. In 2016, the government began excavation on the site, damaging the standing crop of the farmers. Twelve Bhil families are now landless and work as daily wage earners to make ends meet.
In the past three years, the farmers have filed cases at all levels of the judiciary. In February 2016, they filed a suit in the Ratlam civil court, seeking protection from eviction. The court granted an immediate oneyear temporary stay on the eviction. But the stay order was overruled in March by an appeals court in Ratlam and then by the state High Court. The farmers appealed this before the Supreme Court, which, in November 2016, ordered a stay on the construction of the cluster. However, in April 2017, the government resumed construction, leading the farmers to file a contempt petition, which is still being heard. The cluster has been constructed and more than 50 plots have been allotted for commercial purpose, according to the state governments website.
Ratlam district collector Ruchika Chauhan declined to comment when contacted by Land Conflict Watch.
In an application to the Union Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, the state government claimed that the cluster is necessary to support the citys namkeen makers who are losing market share to largesized competitors. In affidavits to the local courts, the government has claimed that the land is rocky and that the Bhil farmers are merely encroachers.
Shailendra Gandhi, president of the Ratlami Sev Evam Namkeen Mandal, dismissed the Bhils claims as bakwaas (bogus). This is just a saazish (agenda) by the Indore namkeen lobby and opposition politicians because they dont want our industry to grow, he said.
Ankit Luniya, an entrepreneur setting up the first namkeen unit in Ratlam, said the land was rocky and that the cluster did not take up farmland.
The Bhils, on the other hand, claim to have been cultivating on this land for the last 70 years and to have been recorded in revenue surveys dating back to 1967. The farmers claim that their forefathers worked hard on the rocky land to make it cultivable and that they should be given patta or permanent lease so that they can continue to cultivate. The Bhils are landless and grow food on their farms.
The origin of the conflict between the Bhils and the state can be traced back to 2009, when the government proposed a foodprocessing park over 32 hectares of the grazing land, including the entire area cultivated by the Bhils. The district officials had attempted to evict some farmers then, but they returned to the land and the government did not pursue the project.