On June 8, 2019, the village assembly of Tolewal in Sangrur district passed a resolution to lease out 5.25 acres of reserved land, or shamlat land, to the Dalit community for cultivation at an annual rate of INR 500 per acre for 33 years. But the Block Development Panchayat Office (BDPO) that conducts the annual auction of shamlat lands rejected the resolution. The BDPO insisted on the auction at the usual rate of INR 20,000 per acre for one year. The price of Shamlat lands range from INR 15,000 to INR 20,000, depending on the location. The Dalits claim they cannot afford land at the governments current rate. They also claim that any land on which the village assembly has passed a resolution cannot be auctioned according to the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Rules, 1964. The 1964 Rules do not allow Shamlat land to be given on lease for more than seven years. Even that can be done only under special circumstances. How can we agree to 33-year fixed leases?, financial commissioner and administrative secretary of the Department of Rural Development and Panchayat, asked the media. The stalemate is likely to affect the livelihood of Dalit families in Tolewal village. They had planned to cultivate paddy on the land, but the uncertainty over the lease rate and period has delayed the cultivation, and the sowing season is over now. Meanwhile, the auction of the shamlat land is yet to take place. There has been strong opposition from the Zamin Prapti Sangharsh Committee, which protests every time the auction happens. In July 2019, one such protest led to a clash between the Dalits and the upper caste, in which 10 persons were injured and 15 were arrested.
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