Tuesday, October 18, 2011

COVER STORY: Land Reforms: The Unscripted Saga



Land Reforms: The Unscripted Saga

Since the British left the Islands, Revenue Department has been trying to set right the anomalies in the land records. Lack of willpower as well as knowledge to rectify the archaic Regulations and Rules has turned the department into a den of corruption.

By Basudev Dass

Seven years have passed after the islands witnessed the dreaded Tsunami. The country in general and the islands in particular exhausted almost all its strength to assist the affected tribal brethren in connection with the reconstruction of A&N Islands. The people in South Andaman are still in a catch-22 situation and the islands' Administration is in a fix whether to compensate the affected farmers and other villagers whose land has been permanently engrossed by sea or to give them land in lieu of their loss! The Revenue Department has no land with them since large portion of land falls under deemed forest and is banned by the Forest Department and the rest have been encroached by encroachers with connivance of the Revenue authorities.
Whether the Revenue authorities have record of its own land encroached or not, the fact remains that if a proper survey is done and all post 1978 encroachment are evicted, the Island Administration will not only be in a position to rehabilitate all the tsunami victims by allotting land but also will be left with surplus land for future use.
The Administration in fact is not sincere in its effort to have its land area surveyed and to prepare proper land records. Having a considerable fleet of human resource, the Administration has outsourced the survey of land work in Ferrargunj Tehsil of South Andaman District to determine the area occupied by each tenant - allottee or encroacher. "This is an impossible task since the occupant may have occupied excess land than that of the allotted area," said Sethumadhavan a retired Revenue Officer and presently the President of Island Forum for Development, Justice and Protection of Environment, A&N Islands.
The boundaries were recognised some 40 years back in rural areas of South Andaman by conducting a survey in accordance with the Notification issued by the A&N Administration at that point of time on the basis of Andaman and Nicobar Island Land Revenue and Land Reforms Regulation 1926. But in respect of urban area (area under PBMC), the Revenue Department of the Islands is still working on the basis of land records prepared by British India Government as per the provisions of A&N Land Tenure Regulation 1926, which has since been repealed after promulgation of A&N Islands LR & Land Reforms Regulation 1966.  Later, the Rule was repealed in 1968. No land records as specified under the new regulation has yet been prepared by giving opportunity to the tenants as required under the section 91 of 1966 Regulation.
On 19th March 1968, the then Chief Commissioner Mr. Mahavir Singh had directed the Revenue Authorities to undertake revenue survey operation in South Andaman, Rangat, Mayabunder and Diglipur Tehsils. The South Andaman Tehsil then had both Port Blair and Ferrargunj Tehsil together.
The process of undertaking the survey and settlement activity is termed as Time of Settlement and once the activity is completed and the result is notified it is defined as Term of Settlement. The Government of India has fixed the Term of Settlement for a period of 30 years. After the expiry of the Term of Settlement the Land Records should be reconstructed every 30 years by carrying out fresh survey and settlement operation.
The people of South Andaman even today fully depend on the old revenue records prepared in Urdu language during the period between 1926 and 1929. The then Lt. Governor Mr. Vakkom Purushotaman in a seminar on "District Revenue Machinery" organised by the  Revenue Department in October 1993 exclaimed, " I am surprised to know that the land records in many parts of Port Blair town area which were finalized in 1929 are still in use and no new records have been prepared till date. These records have become very shabby, defaced, worn out and are in bad shape. Such records also give ample opportunity to the mischief-mongers to manipulate and distort the facts". The situation remains same as on date. It is also worth-mentioning that a 12-point suggestive direction was listed by the Lt. Governor in the seminar to be one "without delay" lead by the  points such as 'Survey and Settlement operations where pending are expedited' and 'computerization of land records to be taken up on a War Footing.' 18 years have since passed and the things are still in a state of disarray.
It is reported that the Administrator's Advisory Council under the chairmanship of the present Lt. Governor in its meeting on 17th of this month had kept on its agenda to discuss the finalization of survey of land record of Port Blair. Reports say that the work will be taken only once the Settlement operation of Ferrargunj Tehsil recently taken up is over. This will require another 4-5 years through outsourcing and by the time the present bureaucratic set up will be transferred back to NCR and the issue will remain pending forever. This dilly-dallying activity is in practice since time immemorial and the worst sufferers are law abiding citizens of the islands who would neither dare to encroach nor involve in any gratification activity.
It is not that the present Chief Executive of the Revenue Department does not exert enough interest in delivering results. In many cases he even has asked explanation from his deputies for non compliance of his directions of not registering a sale deed, non submission of report concerning grant of Bar License to resorts. He could have focused his attention on the basic work of "Survey and Settlement" of Land Records of Port Blair Urban area, which having began in 1967 is still in 'Time of Settlement'!
Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in one of his addresses had expressed, "For a poor person, for a small person, for the weak person, a Land Record is a weapon. It is not just a record, it is not just a piece of paper or not one entry tucked away somewhere in the Tehsil Office, but is a weapon to him. You are giving a weapon in his hands. If he has no weapon, he has no way of fighting the more influential sections of the society………..Therefore, giving him land should also be followed by giving him the right in the shape of a 'Record' ……"  

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