Himachal Pradesh is among the few states in India where strong land ownership laws have protected the interests of local people. But with rapid industrialisation the state has been going through tremendous pulls and pushes from various interest groups, affecting the livelihood of a common resident. Read on to know how the government may try a balancing act…
By: Kulbhushan Upmanyu & Guman Singh
Himachal Pradesh legislature passed the HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act in 1975 to safeguard the interests of local and indigenous residents of the state. The said Act proved pro-people and achieved the objective of land distribution quite satisfactoraly. Secondly, this Act under Section 118, also protected the land within the state from being sold to rich non-Himachalis. This is the reason why there are still very few landless households in this state and developmental benefits could reach to the majority section.
The government is now in the process of bringing about radical changes in the procedure of land transfer to non-Himachalis on the premise of facilitating the development processes in the state. The recent governments have been enthusiastic about promoting industrial, business activity and fulfilling the dream of making HP an educational hub, which is being justified on the plea of faster development for the state but the way in which the provisions of the HP Tenancy and Land reform Act 1975, especially Section 118 and rule 38(A), are being relaxed, needs urgent rethinking.
While the state needs welfare and business activities for development, the simplification of the procedure for purchase of land by non-Himachali business entrepreneurs will surly attract large number of interested people for residential purposes and large amounts of land will get transferred to outsiders. This trend will render more and more Himachalis landless and their long term livelihood security will be undermined, which was the basic concern of the above said Act and can also change the demographic balance of the state which has the potential to create problems, as demonstrated elsewhere.
Even in the past, permission has been granted in thousands of cases by similar relaxations in the provisions of the Act, but in many cases the lands have been used for other than declared purposes. Also, there are numerous instances of plots allotted within the industrials areas lying vacant or being used for residential purposes of the allottees. It is also feared that the people who have purchased lands in the state through benami transactions would try to get their possessions regularized through the new opportunities created by the proposed relaxations in the said Act, i.e. through opening dubious business and welfare ventures that are going to operate in name only.
The solution to this dilemma can be found in not allowing sale of land for doubtful business and welfare ventures. Instead, the land should be leased out for these activities without changing the ownership of the land. When the project life is over and the project is wound up, the land should be reverted to the original owner in whatever condition is specified in the lease agreement. The period of the lease agreement should not exceed 40 years with provision for renewal of lease after the elapse of this period. This should be strictly enforced and it should be ensured that the leased lands not be used for any purpose other than the one specified at the stage of seeking permission from the state government. In the case of violations, the lease agreement must be treated as cancelled. This will facilitate the entrepreneurs to come to the state and invest and also safeguard the interests of the people of the state as envisioned in the Act of 1975.