NEW DELHI: It may sound bizarre, but you can actually own a dense forest, a lake such as Damdama or Dhauj, a hill top or a drain in the Aravalis of Haryana. Even a part of Mangar Bani, the largest surviving sacred grove in the NCR. That’s because a major portion of this ecological hotspot, which was once common land, has been privatized in the past 30-35 years.
Former revenue officials told TOI that lured by real estate players, several gram sabhas were allowed to convert common land, including forested hills and water bodies, into private properties. Legal loopholes in the Punjab Village Common Lands Act of 1961 were used to facilitate these transfers.
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Private players guided and drove the process, attracted by the prospect of picking up huge patches of land next to Delhi for a pittance. Once the undivided common lands were privatized and sold, these were then partitioned into plots etc by a misuse of the Consolidation Act.
These transfers were not good in law and can be challenged, the officials added.
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“Uncultivable tracts outside habitable areas were traditionally kept as panchayat land, meant for common use such as grazing. Later, the gram sabhas passed resolutions to convert them into another form of collective property called shamlat deh, giving villagers the right to sell these lands to individuals,” said a retired revenue official, who was posted in Gurgaon and Faridabad when private developers were making inroads into the area.
Retired IAS officials, who were posted in these districts in the past two decades, said private developers and land sharks first approached the gram sabhas to move such a resolution.
“After the resolution was passed, there would be no objection from the local level administrative officer including block development officer and even the district collector. So, subsequently, villagers got ownership over the undivided land, which they later sold to private players. In many cases the entire process was funded by private parties,” said a formal official.
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State government officials said the local revenue officials played a key role in this entire exercise. After villagers got the right to sell their share of the common land, revenue officials even recorded different khasras in their names. “Then they sold these parcels to private players. But the biggest problem for the present land owners is to get possession of the land to start their projects,” said a serving official, who did not wish to be named.
However, a few retired revenue officials who served in the area felt that all such privatization and fragmentation of land were illegal since land laws stipulate that common land cannot be used for any other purpose.
They added that even the Supreme Court has held that all panchayat lands must be returned to the gram sabha and cannot be used for any other purpose. Several rulings, including the Jagpal Singh judgment of January 2012, have made this clear.
Villages with non-agricultural privatized common lands include Mangar, Kot, Mewla, Maharajpur and others in Faridabad, and Raisena and Roj ka Gujjar in Gurgaon. In a few villages such as Bandhwari and Ghata in Gurgaon, privatized common lands have been returned to panchayat/government ownership.
Real estate firms have built up large land banks in these areas. There are reportedly name and benami holdings of real estate companies.