The Bihar government today suspended Raniganj (Araria) Circle Officer Ramvilas Jha, who is facing a probe for engaging middlemen and his relatives to purchase land plots at Kajra and Bistoria from farmers at dirt cheap rates and selling the same to the government at three to four times the price for its Mahadalit land scheme.
Revenue and land reform department joint secretary Vijay Kumar Singh said the vigilance department had also been told to conduct an inquiry into alleged corruption and irregularities in land allotments in Araria.
After The Indian Express’s first report on the land racket on June 6, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had ordered a probe.
The revenue and land department has been working on ways to cut down the role of middlemen in the JD(U)-BJP regime’s flagship Mahadalit Vikas Yojana. Under the scheme, three decimals (or 1306.8 sq ft) of land was to be distributed to landless Mahadalit families (comprising 21 shortlisted Scheduled Castes). The state government has so far allotted land to 70 per cent of the 2.18 lakh Mahadalit families surveyed.
The Indian Express has also discovered discrepancy in the Bhoodan land allotted to Mahadalit families. In some cases, previous occupants have claimed possession of the land, in others, the new beneficiaries have not got mutation because of state government records do not match with those of the Bihar Bhoodan Yagna Committee (the autonomous body in control of Bhoodan land). Mutation is the recording in revenue records of transfer of a title from an old to a new owner.
During public hearings held in 10 districts so far, the Bhoodan committee has received 1,204 complaints of Mahadalit beneficiaries not being able to get land mutation.
Madhubani, Darbhanga, Purnea and Gaya reported 489, 211, 201 and 159 cases respectively in which beneficiaries were not able to get mutation from the office of the respective deputy collector, Land Reforms.
In over 500 other cases reported to the Bhoodan committee, new allottees were forced to fight previous occupants also claiming to possess daan patras.
Admitting the complaints, Bihar Bhoodan Yagna Committee chairperson Kumar Shubhamurti told The Indian Express: “We are yet to travel to 28 other districts to hear such complaints. Plus, circle officers have been also getting numerous such complaints.”
Revenue and Land Reforms Secretary Hukum Singh Mina said that while they tried their best to give “litigation-free” Bhoodan land, “We do have to vacate it at several places. It is the job of circle officers to do careful physical verification of land plots before allotting them.”
Take the case of Parmanandpur village under Raniganj, Araria, where then circle officer Vinod Kumar — now a sub-divisional officer — gave slips of land possession to 25 scheduled caste families.
Harkhi Devi, who claims to have papers for her five bighas of Bhoodan land allotted to 25 Dalit families, says: “I have Bhoodan daan patra showing possession of land for over 40 years. How can the government give it to anyone else? The government is using force against us. We are also Scheduled Caste and as poor. How can the government snatch away our land to give it away to others?”
Giranand Rishidev also has papers for his Bhoodan land given to two Mahadalit families. “Nobody is listening,” Giranand says. “We have also approached the Bhoodan committee but got no reprieve.”
Bhoodan committee chairperson Shubhamurti regretted that while there was nothing wrong with Bhoodan land allotment to Mahadalits, circle officers in-charge of the distribution were not ensuring that the land did not have previous possession or that records matched.
An ongoing land survey, being done after 1954, shows over one lakh acres of Bhoodan land in government records, said Shubhamurti. “In several cases, government records don’t match ours. The priority is to match our records and then allot land. Otherwise, land allotment will foment trouble and cause clashes,” he said.