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Dalit Activists Storm DC Office in Bengaluru Over Land Rights

The Dalitha Sangharsha Samiti has demanded amendments to the Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Lands Act.
Mavalli Shankar, President, DSS (Ambedkarvada)

Mavalli Shankar, President, DSS (Ambedkarvada)

Over 100 activists of the Dalitha Sangharsha Samiti (Ambedkar Vada) laid siege to the Bengaluru deputy commissioner’s (DC) office on Friday demanding land rights for the community and amendments to the Karnataka Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Lands) Act, 1978.

The activists, led by Samiti president Mavalli Shankar, wanted to present their list of demands to the DC. Since the DC was not available, the additional deputy commissioner (ADC) received the list and agreed to consider their demands.

The PTCL Act, which prevents Dalit land grantees from being duped out of their land by upper castes, states that no person can transfer ‘granted land’ during the non-alienation period or without the permission of the government. Section 5 states that if the land has been transferred to another individual in contravention of the rules, the DC can take possession of the land and restore it to the original grantee or his//her heirs.

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The 2017 Supreme court (SC) judgement in Nekkanti Rama Lakshmi vs State of Karnataka is having wide-ranging implications today. In this case, a Dalit land grantee called Kariyappa had received a parcel of land in 1965. He sold it in 1977, a year before the PTCL Act came into force. The buyer subsequently sold it to Nekkanti Rama Lakshmi in 1984.

In 2004, the legal heirs of the original land grantee filed an application with the assistant commissioner (AC) for the restoration of the land. The AC rejected the application. However, on appeal, the appellate authority rendered the sale null and void and restored the land to the heirs. The High Court upheld the decision of the appellate authority.

Lakshmi, the aggrieved party, appealed the decision in the apex court. In 2017, the SC ruled that the application for restoration of land (by the heirs) had been made after an unreasonably long time, i.e. approximately 25 years after the Act came into force. Citing the statute of limitations, the court ruled that the property cannot be returned to the original grantee or his heirs.

Activists now allege that the SC order has, in effect, nullified the Act because a large number of granted land parcels were transferred 25 years ago. Since 2017, at least, 6,500 cases have been disposed of citing the statute of limitations while 18,000 cases are still pending, they say. Interestingly, Section 5 allows the restoration of granted land transferred before the Act came into force. However, there is no mention of a statute of limitations.

Manjunath MH, of PTCL Horata Samiti, told Newsclick, “For special Acts, the statute of limitations does not apply. Section 11 of the PTCL Act clearly says that all other Acts (that may be inconsistent with the provisions of the PTCL Act) are overruled. The PTCL law was enacted on the basis of social justice. However, citing the statute of limitations, all courts and ACs/DCs are now ruling against Dalits. We want the law to be amended by legislation or ordinance.”

The activists have been protesting for an amendment to the Act for the last four years. In December 2021, they organised the Belgavi Chalo rally to protest in front of Suvarna Vidhana Soudha in Belagavi.

There cannot be a sale of land before the non-alienation period. Moreover, from 1979 onwards, Dalit lands cannot be transferred without the government’s permission. We are only asking for those lands to be returned where there is a violation of law,” Manjunath added.

The DSS activists have also identified various regions in the state where the government is in possession of land meant for Dalits and demanded those be allotted to landless members of the community.

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There are several housing projects constructed by slum boards in Bengaluru. For example, 2,000 homes built in Jayanagar 9th Block are meant for locals. However, every house has been taken over by Tamils and Telugus, who have rented them out to members of their community,” Lakshmana, a DSS member, said. “There are so many landless Dalits struggling for existence here. The DSS has demanded houses for these Dalits.”

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