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Akhilesh's law amendment will leave UP Dalits vulnerable to land sharks

Rohit Ghosh | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:35 IST

The law

  • UP\'s Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950, protects Dalit land-owners
  • It prevents non-Dalits from buying a Dalit\'s last 1.26 hectares of land

The amendment

  • The Samajwadi Party govt in Uttar Pradesh wants to amend the law
  • It wants to make it legal for anyone to buy a Dalit\'s land

The fear

  • The Akhilesh Yadav govt says this will allow Dalits to get a good price if they want to sell land
  • However, Dalits fear this will leave them vulnerable to land sharks and musclemen

The Uttar Pradesh government is set to amend a stringent law that checks upper caste people from grabbing land owned by Dalits.

Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party government has proposed amendments in the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950, which prohibits people of upper castes from buying land from Dalits.

And while the government claims this will benefit people belonging to the scheduled castes, Dalits say this amendment will simply make it legal for musclemen and land mafia to usurp their land.

The 65-year-old law

The 1950 law allows a non-Dalit to buy a Dalit's land, but mandates that the last 1.26 hectares of the seller's land cannot be sold to a non-Dalit.

According to advocate and land laws expert Ashish Tripathi, "The intention was to let Dalits have at least some land under all circumstances. Under the provisions of the law, a Dalit could sell his last piece of land, measuring 1.26 hectares, only to another Dalit, but after a thorough scrutiny by the district magistrate,' said Tripathi.

But the government, in a recent cabinet decision, decided to amend the 65-year-old law to enable people of any caste to buy land from a scheduled caste.

The Uttar Pradesh Zaminidari Abolition and Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill will now be tabled in the Vidhan Sabha in the coming monsoon session.

"According to the amendments proposed in the act, sale of land owned by members of the Dalit community will now be easier than before. Dalits will be able to sell their land to a person of any caste, without any inspection by the district magistrate," said a government spokesperson.

Appeasement or threat?

While this choice of wording would sound appealing to Dalit people, the fact remains that anyone will now be free to buy land from a Dalit.

Tripathi said that due to stringency of the law, Dalits who were willing to sell their land did not get a good price.

"The SP may have thought that Dalits who wish to sell their land will be happy with the proposed amendment. The government's decision can be seen as an attempt to please a section of Dalits in the run up to the 2017 assembly elections," said Tripathi.

However, Badri Narayan Tiwari, a professor at the GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, says this move will leave Dalits vulnerable.

He told Catch, "With the change in the law, Dalits will become more vulnerable to land sharks. Dalits own very small pieces of land and they do not want to sell them. But the law, if amended, will give the right to land grabbers to usurp the land from Dalits."

Dalit response

The Dalit community itself is unhappy about the government's proposed amendment.

Farmer Dharmendra Rawat said, "For ages, the rich and powerful have been robbing Dalits of their land, either through lure or muscle power. Now that the stringent law might get diluted, the rich and powerful will become unstoppable.

"Many Dalits will lose their only source of livelihood, that is farming, and may be forced to move to cities as construction workers or rickshawpullers."

Though an apolitical person, Rawat said Dalits will unite and fight against the government's decision.

Swami Prasad Maurya, a senior Bahujan Samaj Party leader, told Catch, "The policy of the Samajwadi Party government is anti-Dalit. The rich and the musclemen will get the licence to deprive Dalits of their land.

"Dalits are poor and powerless and the stringent law shielded them against the machinations of the powerful eyeing their land. Dalits will become defenceless."

A legislator, Maurya said his party will fight tooth and nail against the amendment in the upcoming Vidhan Sabha session.

First published: 8 August 2015, 7:30 IST