Ambedkarites Demand Overhauling of Act Prohibiting Transfer of SC/ST Land in Karnataka
Bengaluru: Ambedkarite songs in Telugu blared from speakers in the first floor conference room of the Maurya Hotel in the state capital on Wednesday with followers of BR Ambedkar geared up to discuss ways to get around a Supreme Court (SC) ruling on the Karnataka Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Lands) Act, 1978, (PTCL Act).
With the arrival of Gyan Prakash Swamiji, also known as Samvidhana Swamiji, the seer of the Urilinga Peddi Mutt, Mysore, the proceedings got under way. He is known for his fiery speeches against Brahminism and usually invited to speak at Ambedkarite gatherings. The meetings was attended by more than hundred people from several districts of Karnataka.
The PTCL Act aimed to ensure restoration of granted land (to dalits and tribes) unlawfully transferred by members of dominant castes. Manjunath, a High Court (HC) lawyer present in the audience, said that he fears 90% of Dalit land have already been lost.
The Act prescribes the procedure for the transfer of granted land and also empowers AC/DC to restore them. Section 4 of the Act also covers instances of land transfer prior to its commencement. The question before the participants of the meeting was how to ensure the Act can provide retrospective relief after the apex court imposed statute of limitations on PTCL cases (Nekkanti Rama Lakshmi vs state of Karnataka).
Mentioning the history of the Act, Dalith Sangarsha Samithi leader Hennur Srinivas said, “Lakhs of lands were distributed among Dalits and tribes in the erstwhile Mysore state for their economic uplift. It was also specifically mentioned that these land should not be sold. However, in due course, the land were acquired by people belonging to dominant castes.”
One of the earliest land movements, according to Srinivas, took place at Sidlipura village, in Bhadravati Taluk of Shimoga district, when a dalit-owned land was taken over by a Lingayat. “When Dalit academic and professor B Krishnappa learned of this, he launched a large-scale protest which lasted more than a year. Soon, news of the protest reached the government,” he said.
Subsequently, the late B Basavalingappa “pressured then-chief minister D Devaraj Urs to introduce an Act to protect land belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes. That is how the PTCL Act was introduced”, Srinivas added. “But in in the Nekkanti Rama Lakshmi case in 2017, the state’s advocates did not argue their case well and the Supreme Court ruled against us. After this judgement, at least, verdicts in 2,000 cases have been against us in and around Bengaluru city only. To protect Dalit land, the government must immediately pass an Ordinance.”
Dr M Venkataswamy, state president, Republican Party of India (A) and the Samata Sainik Dal, said that he had a conversation with CM Basavaraj Bommai regarding the issue. He is also known to be close to the ruling BJP.
“Our failure is that we have not made this issue a priority in the dalit movement. Many people claimed to be part of the struggle but worked as brokers to sell off dalit land. Some people are holding files with more than 1,000 cases pertaining to PTCL Act disputes. They assist in transfer of dalit land to the purchasers,” Venkataswamy alleged.
Besides, there are many loopholes in the Act but no government is interested in addressing the issue, Venkataswamy said. “Now, we are caught up in the Nekkanti Rama Lakshmi case. Every AC, DC, the High Court and the Supreme Court is ruling against us. This issue cannot be solved with amendments. After discussions with various lawyers, I have come to the conclusion that this Act has to be completely overhauled. I set up a committee and prepared a draft law.”
Venkataswamy demanded a special session of the Assembly to legislate on the issue and alleged that “revenue minister R Ashok is the main obstruction. Our struggle should focus on applying pressure on him to accept our demands. We need to ensure the preparation of a Cabinet note. Once the Cabinet approves, a new Bill can be introduced”.
B Dasappa, a retired deputy tehsildar from Tumkur district, had filed a PIL in the HC in 2020 regarding maintenance of records of granted land. “When land is granted, a list must be prepared and sent to the sub-registrar in the revenue department. When documents come for registration to the sub-registrar, he must verify whether that land is a granted land and if all the conditions of the grant have been followed. However, there is no list available with tehsildars or sub-registrars anywhere,” he told Newsclick over the phone.
Following Dasappa’s PIL (WP 14746/2020), the HC had directed revenue department officials to follow procedures as per the PTCL Act and maintain records of granted land. The state government in its reply to the court said that if the sub-registrar/registering authority enters details of a property into the Kaveri software, he/she can ascertain whether the land is a granted land or not.
However, the HC was not satisfied with the state government’s reply and directed that an updated list should be made accessible at the click of a button. The Chief Justice passed the following order on August 12, 2021: “We direct the state government to ensure that updated lists of granted land are furnished to all the registering officers under the Indian Registration Act, 1908, in the state within a maximum period of four months from today”. However, Dasappa claims that the court order was not complied with.
Gyan Prakash Swamiji assured support of all the SC/ST seers in the agitation and invited all the leaders for a conference on August 18 and 19. “Lawyers within the Vokkaliga community are very active in helping their people in civil and criminal cases. I appreciate this. SC/ST lawyers are not easy to mobilise. The need of the hour is to have a strong intellectual team comprising lawyers. Babasaheb has asked us to agitate, and all the SC/ST swamijis are with you in the agitation,” he added.
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