Members of the Dalit community in Barnala district have protested against irregularities in the auction of at least 14.5 acres of village common land (shamlat land) that is reserved for them. The land spans across three villages in the district - Pakho Kalan, Dhilwan and Ramgarh. According to the Punjab Village Common Land (Regulation) Rules, 1964, about 33 per cent of shamlat land is reserved for Dalits and can be auctioned only to them. This land is owned by the village panchayat and is mainly used for cultivation. The annual open auction of shamlat land is usually held in April. The Dalits of the three villages allege that the auction this year was not fair as some influential people tampered with the auction process by placing their helpers or dummy buyers so that they are able to use the land. Five Dalit youths in Pakho Kalan village protested against the irregularities in the auction for 10 days by climbing atop a water tank. They retreated when Punjab State SC Commission member Raj Kumar Hans visited the village and requested them to call off their protest. He also directed the Barnala sub divisional magistrate to hold a magisterial inquiry into the matter. The district administration declared the earlier auction null and void and cancelled further auctions of the shamlat land in these villages till the inquiry is complete. Punjab has about 1.4 lakh acres of shamlat land across nearly 8,000 villages. Of this, one-third is reserved for Dalits.
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