Punjab government purchases common lands of a Dalit village without consulting the Gram Sabha

Reported by

Vivek Gupta

Legal Data by

Anmol Gupta, Mukta Joshi

Edited by

Radhika Chatterjee

Updated by

Published on

June 22, 2022

June 22, 2022

Updated on

July 20, 2022

June 22, 2022

Location of Conflict

Sekhowal

Adjacent to Mattewara forest area

Ludhiana

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Industrial Park

Environmental/Ecological Damage

(

)

People Affected by Conflict

Households Affected by Conflict

70

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

168

ha

Starting Year

2020

State

Punjab

Sector

Industry

On July 8, 2020, residents of Sekhowal village, in Ludhiana district of Punjab, were rattled when the state's government announced its plans of setting up an industrial park over 955 acres of land in the Mattewara area, out of which 416 acres comprises Sekhowal village's Shamlat (common) panchayat land.

Most of the 70 households of Sekhowal village are Mazhabi Sikhs, a notified schedule caste (Dalit) community in Punjab and rely on the village common land for their livelihood. They are now waging a lone battle to take back their common land that the previous Congress led Punjab government ‘purchased’ from them in 2020 for a textile industrial park. A village resident, Gurdev Singh said, "If this land is taken away from us, we will be forced to do menial jobs as daily wagers. At least now we have a dignified life. It will also affect the local ecology, given that the boundary of our village is adjacent to the Mattewara forest area on one side, and the other side is next to the catchment area of the Sutlej river."

Kashmir Singh, another affected villager, told LCW that instead of following the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act, 2013), the then state government purchased Sekhowal's common land through a resolution signed by the village Sarpanch, without informing any other stakeholder. “Once word came out about this, we contested the resolution by calling a Gram Sabha meeting. But the state government overlooked the concerns of the Gram Sabha and bought the land through the Greater Ludhiana Area Development Authority (GLADA) against a compensation of INR 80 crore that is still lying unused in the official account of village panchayat,” Singh alleged.

Holding village Sarpanch, Amrik Kaur responsible, Kashmir Singh further alleged that though the village Sarpanch claimed she was misled by government officials, it was she who got the sale deed executed in favour of GLADA on October 2, 2020. “The sale deed was also signed by one of her panches, Khajan Singh and panchayat secretary, Harpal Singh Randhawa,” Singh added. When contacted, Amrik Kaur told LCW that, “I had no idea all this would turn out to be a sham… I am with the villagers in their ongoing fight to take back the land,” she said.

Senior journalist Hamir Singh, who has been associated with the matter, told LCW that in 2019 an amendment was made to the Punjab Village Common Land (Regulation) Rules, 1964, by the Amarinder Singh led Punjab government. This amendment allowed the government to bypass the LARR Act, 2013, and purchase village common lands directly through the village Panchayat, without consulting the village residents. It was brought in for the creation of land banks in rural areas for industrial development in the state. Shamlat land of Sekhowal village was purchased through this amendment, without taking the consent of village residents.

Environmental activist, Amandeep Singh Bains, told LCW that another amendment which facilitated the purchase of panchayat land for this project was the one made in the Master Plan for Ludhiana. Earlier, according to the plan the area around Sekhowal village and Mattewara forest was declared as a no-manufacturing zone. “But the state government amended the Master Plan in July 2021 to facilitate this project despite the objection of local residents,” he added.

On June 21, 2021, there was an attempt by GLADA to take possession of the land with the help of local police. But it was foiled when the whole village assembled against the move. Kashmir Singh said that after that episode, GLADA officials visited multiple times to pressure them to vacate the land. Sandeep Kumar, Chief Administrator, GLADA could not be reached for comments and even Additional Chief Administrator, Shikha Bhagat did not respond to LCW.

Kashmir Singh, along with other village residents, have also initiated a legal challenge in the Ludhiana civil court seeking to quash the sale deed signed between Sekhowal village panchayat and GLADA. Advocate AM Thind, representing Kashmir Singh and others, informed LCW that they have filed three lawsuits: demanding a stay on the sale deed, challenging the sale deed executed between GLADA and Sekhowal Panchayat, and claiming ownership rights over the panchayat land as they have been cultivating it for several years respectively. All three suits are pending in the Ludhiana civil court till date.

According to Kashmir Singh, the village residents approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court through a writ petition in October 2021, seeking action against the Deputy Commissioner (DC), Ludhiana. The residents had written two letters to the DC on May 21, 2021 and July 16, 2021, with the request to cancel the purchase of their common land by GLADA as the transaction had been conducted forcefully. They also informed the DC to take note of the fact that Sekhowal's Gram Sabha had passed a resolution asserting that the land should not be sold. However, the DC took no action in response to their letters. On November 17th, 2021, the High Court ordered the Ludhiana DC to dispose off their representations and also pass an oral order within two months. Following this, the DC passed an order on February 10th, 2022 giving a clean chit to GLADA. Kashmir Singh has challenged the order of Ludhiana DC in the High Court through another petition. On May 30, 2022, the High Court issued a notice of motion seeking GLADA's response on the matter. The next hearing is scheduled on November 3, 2022.

In June 2022, Bhagwant Mann, the newly elected Chief Minister of Punjab announced in the Punjab Assembly that his government will go ahead with the textile park in the area. This led to protests by the community including Sekhowal's residents, environmental activists, and political parties. Forcing the Chief Minister to announce that he is scrapping the project.

Residents of Sekhowal village have celebrated the latest announcement as they expect that now their panchayat land will be transferred back to the village. A government notification on this matter is yet to be published.

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Demand to cancel the project

Demand to retain/protect access to common land/resources

Demand for legal recognition of land rights

Opposition against environmental degradation

Other Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Region Classification

Rural

Type of Land

Common

Type of Common Land

Non-Forest (Other than Grazing Land), Forest and Non-Forest

Total investment involved (in Crores):

1600

Type of investment:

Cost of Project

Year of Estimation

2020

Page Number In Investment Document:

Has the Conflict Ended?

No

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Legislations/Policies Involved

Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Rules, 1964
Section 3 (2) [Panchayat may make use of land in shamlat deh vested in it under the Act for multiple purposes. Including industrial, commercial, educational or professional purposes], Section 12 [Purposes of which common land may be sold, with prior approval of the government, include any industrial or commercial concern]
Punjab Regional and Town Planning and Development Act, 1995
Chapter V [The chapter deals with provisions relating to land acquisition by government authorities.], Section 93 [Local authority, including Gram Panchayat or Gram Sabha of the area, to give consent to scheme in respect of any planning area within 12 months from date of declaration of such planning area]
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  4. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

  5. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

  6. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

  7. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

Yes

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community?

The affected community invoked Punjab Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 and summoned a meeting of the Gram Sabha on July 22, 2020 to revoke Sekhowal Sarpanch's resolution based on which state government purchased 416 acres of the village common land for the industrial project. They also wrote two letters to the Deputy Commissioner of Ludhiana seeking action against Greater Ludhiana Area Development Authority (GLADA) as Sekhowal's Gram Sabha had already passed a resolution stating that the land should not be transferred to GLADA.

What was the Decision of the Concerned Government Department?

The Deputy Commissioner's office did not find any irregularity in the transfer of land to GLADA and upheld the sale deed executed between Sekhowal Sarpanch and GLADA.

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Non-consultation with stakeholders

Violation of free prior informed consent

Lack of legal protection over land rights

Legal Status:

In Court

Status of Case In Court

Pending

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

No

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

Ludhiana District Court

Case Number

CWP 23318/2021 (O&M), CWP 11991/2022 [Punjab High Court] CS/2005/2021, CS/2209/2021, CS/3066/2021 [Ludhiana Civil Court]

Main Reasoning/Decision of court

The case filed by Kashmir Singh before the High Court was referred to the Deputy Commissioner, Ludhiana to be considered. Meanwhile, in another case, notice was issued and matter was posted for November, 2022. The multiple cases filed before the Ludhiana District Court (CS 2209/2021, CS 3066/2021, CS 2005/2021) are pending as of now. They are all in the stage of pleadings being filed.

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

No items found.

Whether criminal law was used against protestors:

No

Reported Details of the Violation:

Date of Violation

Location of Violation

Nature of Protest

Complaints/petitions/letters/memorandums to officials

Protests/marches

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Punjab Urban Development Authority and its subsidiary Greater Ludhiana Area Development Authority (GLADA)

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Sandeep Kumar, Chief Administrator, GLADA Shikha Bhagat, Additional Chief Administrator, GLADA

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

No

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Communities/Local Organisations in the Conflict:

Punjab Action Committee (PAC) for Sutlej and Mattewara (https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ludhiana/medha-patkar-sutlej-bachao-punjab-pollution-green-rights-7634394/)

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:

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