Land : Mother of all Reforms

Chief Minister Harish Rawat needs to be complimented for sharing his government’s views on land –reforms, in particular about the state of land-settlement and issues related to land in this ‘mountain state’ ( Dainik Jagaran, 24 August). As it has been decided to entrust all related matters associated with land-reforms to a Committee of Experts and seek suggestions from the public this writer thought it appropriate to delineate some of the issues that this Committee may consider itself to engage with on a priority.  

One State Two Systems

Students of history are aware that it is now nearly 200 years since these mountain tracts came under the direct control of the East India Company in 1815 but it was as early as 1796 that it had been decided that the Permanent Settlement, as it operated in the rest of the Bengal Presidency provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, will not be extended to any new territories that would get added to its administration. In 1796, it would be remembered, that the Benares Raj received the benefit of a new land administration system under the Resident, Jonathan Duncan. Up to 1832, until Lord William Bentinck, the then Governor-General, decided in the Allahabad Conference of the revenue officials, various experiments were made in the newly acquired districts, then known as the Ceded & Conquered Districts. Periodical settlements, for a duration of 20 to 25 years, thereafter substituted for the earlier Permanent Settlement of Bengal. However, British Kumaon, between 1815-35 has had experimented with Annual, Triennial and even Quinquennial land settlements, as arranged by its second Commissioner George William Traill ( 1815-35 ). This writer has indeed credited Commissioner Traill as being far ahead of his other colleagues in experimenting with periodical land-settlements, which became fashionable later in the then North Western Provinces. It became feasible only because of yet another new administrative dispensation, commenced by the East India Company, namely administering newly acquired territories under a far more flexible administrative system, namely the Non-Regulation System. British India, let it be conceded, remained a country from the very beginning which implemented a principle known as ‘One Country Two Systems’. The latter became a popular adage after the Communist Republic of China received back Hong Kong from Great Britain. British India for a long time was administered under two systems, Regulation System and Non-regulation System. This technically or legally ended after British Parliament in 1858, after the Great Sepoy Mutiny. Later, however, British India was ruled directly as well as indirectly through the Native States. British Kumaon, it so happened, tasted both kinds i.e. earlier the first Non-Regulation ‘province’ and Regulation districts ( Dehradun, typically stands out ), and later direct and through the Tehri Raj, indirectly, with Commissioner Kumaon as the Political Agent of the Governor-General. Readers are advised, as is the Expert Committee, to consult this writer’s two books covering these developments, ( i ) Founders of Modern Administration in Uttarakhand ( 1815-1884 ), and ( ii ) Some Aspects of Administrative History of Uttarakhand. The third, Twilight of the British Raj ( 1933-49 ) is likely to be out by the second week of September.

Land Reform, Most Critical

That Uttarakhand’s Turai-Bhabar regions, US Nagar and Dehardun, as these districts have had a checkered history of administrative control, having been part of Regulation districts of Meerut Commissionery and Moradabad district have a land management administration akin to the rest of Uttar Pradesh while the mountain districts have had a beginning, which was quite distinct and with a unique administrative architecture, i.e. the Patwari system, a highly economic administrative innovation. Premier Modi has sought suggestions from civil servants and this writer would suggest Chief Minister Harish Rawat should present the Uttarakhand Patwari System, as one such economic system for all mountain states, rather than fall prey to the recurrent suggestion of abolishing the same as an anachronism ! Starting with John Hallet Batten, the first Settlement Officer to introduce what G-G Lord Bentinck commenced in 1830s, Uttarakhand has had land settlements regularly, the last being in 1962-63.

Without re-inventing the wheel the Expert Committee would be advised to go through the Settlement Reports of Becket-Ramsay, the last to cover both, Garhwal and Kumaon ‘Proper’, soon after the Great Mutiny of 1857 and most certainly they should re-print the Mother of all Settlement Reports, E.K. Paw’s Tenth Settlement of Garhwal, and distribute it amongst all revenue officers and those interested in knowing the intricacies of revenue settlements. Uttarakhand Academy of Administration at Naini Tal has also ‘re-printed’ ‘Directions for Revenue Collectors’ and if the Expert Committee is really serious they should also direct the Academy to re-print ‘Directions for Settlement Officers’. Both these Directions were printed during Lt Governor Thomason’s tenure by the Board of Revenue, Allahabad, in 1840s ! A close study of these, and some more, is a sine qua non not only for our current officers but the public at large as well.

No ‘Benap’ Land Exists Anymore !

There exists no greater fiction in land administration parlance than the fact that the expression ‘Benap’, standing for ‘un-measured’ land, continues to be used in official correspondence. The simple fact is that there exists no land in entire Uttarakhand that has not be measured ( Benap ). Its use indeed should be officially banned. Under repeated settlements all kinds of lands, under various systems of management i.e. private, community and government, have been measured ( however defectively, under whatever mechanism ). What a lay man needs to understand, as indeed he does in this state, that it was way back in 1823, corresponding to the San Samvat 1880 ( Assi Sala bandobast ), that Commissioner Traill got prepared land records, showing traditional village boundaries where the village community had its prescriptive rights and privileges. Within this bandobasti village records the recorded individual rights were also measured ( Nap ) and what remained outside, but within this recorded village boundary was termed ‘Benap’, i.e. un-measuerd. It is this ‘Benap’, within the known and recorded ‘village boundary’ drawn up in 1833 AD, that got gradually measured, as mentioned however imperfectly. After the Zamindari Abolition Act of Up got extended, partially, in the Hill District of Kumaon in 1960s, all private lands found place in what is well known as ( i ) Khatauni, or record of rights, revenue village wise, and ( ii ) in Non-ZA Khatauni, which is non-private. Like all Khataunis for privately held land there exists, for every revenue village, a Non-ZA Khatauni, where plot details of every piece of land is recorded, with plot numbers ( Khasra numbers )  

Obviously these Records of Rights ( Khataunis) are supplemented by Revenue Maps, which in revenue parlance are called Shajras, or maps, showing details of plots, marks indicating the type of land e.g. water channel, roads, waste lands etc. Thus, every village of Uttarakhand has two Khataunis, one recording private holdings and the other lands which are non-private, by default let us say ‘Government or Public ‘. And, there are supporting maps, showing each plot, whether private or government/public. 

Changes in Khataunis ( Record of Rights )

Land being a property, an asset, can change hands. Private land can be divided, sold or disposed off by any legal means permitted under the law. Land is a State Subject under the Seventh Schedule of our Constitution. Similarly, the land under the control of the State, can also be leased, allotted even sold or auctioned under any law enacted by the State. The Nayabad Act, that Chief Minister Rawat mentioned, was one such Act under which land was allotted to eligible categories. Nayabad means ‘newly cultivated or inhabited’ and it usually extended to either adjoin non-private waste lands or stand alone pieces of land allotted for various purposes, including for house-construction. The concept of ‘Nayabad’, however, Chief Minister Rawat and the proposed Expert Committee would do well to be informed, harked back to the days when wastelands far exceeded human population and the former was abundantly available. All changes in Khatauni can take place only under a set system, a competent revenue official ordering such a legal change-over, in writing, and recoding of the same again by a competent revenue official. Fortunately, now all Khataunis are available electronically and thus the task that could be assigned to the Expert Committee, including the follow up, should not be very difficult or opaque. All changes, called mutation orders are also listed in R-6, an inventory of all Mutations given effect to, kept in every tehsil.

Two Baggages: Forests & Population

Land, as one of the premier resources, others being forests, water and minerals, unlike others is not only being fixed, is under great duress. Two biggest causing it are the fast growing population, heightened by inexorable urbanisation, and demands placed on it by increasing infrastructure development and second, increasing restrictions on non-forestry uses and environmental protection measures, backed by legal pronouncements. The fast increasing population is both internal natural growth, reverse migration and immigration, as allowed by law. First mis-conception about liberal availability of land is caused by the area that is perceived to be under forest, forest of various kinds, government, community and even ‘private forests’. First point that must be taken note of by the Expert Committee is that the statistical ‘density of population’, as shown in the government statistical records is quite fallacious. As more than 64 per cent of physical area is covered by various ‘forests;, and no ‘forest’ can be used for ‘non-forestry use’ without obtaining permission, which is quite time-consuming, this impression about ’population density’ needs to be clarified. As a thumb- rule actual ‘population density’ is double the figure shown by official figures. Studies have shown that in Uttarakhand near the existing urban agglomerations the ‘population density; is as high, if not more, than several metropolises like Mumbai, Kolkata, Benguluru etc. Secondly, in most of the locations the land simply does not exists, leave aside being very expensive. This situation calls for City Planning through  Zonation and if any organisation calls for immediate strengthening it is state’s  City & Town Planning organisation. All Corporations need to be brought under Master Plans and all existing Master Plans deserve to be extended or Notified on a top priority, lest these urban cities are reduced into unmanageable slums.

No sooner a revenue area is declared as an urban area it follows that its land management should be taken away from the Revenue department and put under a different management which should be under Urban Development department. This legal aspect remains unresolved even through this writer as Chief Information Commissioner had questioned land management continuing with Revenue department, which regulates land in rural areas only. This is the second reform deserving of immediate attention.

Main confusion that requires top most attention of the legal and revenue department relates to clarity over control of department on lands which are part of Non-ZA Khatauni. The UP order that seemingly has caused confusion in the minds of some is the implementation flowing from the celebrated Gowdaburaman vrs Union of India ruling of 12 December 1996, which gave a definition of what can be called a ‘forest’. As all lands have now been measured and all non-private lands made part of Non ZA Kharuani, if at all the 1996 definition should be operating relates to those ‘forest’ pieces, under Category IX. Other than these ‘forest’ lands, most of the land listed in Non ZA Khatanunis of revenue villages should be available for public use, as decided by the State Legislature. This is what consists of Uttarakhand’s Forest Baggage.

New Central Dispensations

Several pronouncements have been made with regard to liberalisation related to mainly transfer of land for so called non-forestry uses, like roads, schools etc. Chief Minister Rawat should make the Principal Chief Conservator Forests ( PCCF ) and FRDC responsible for ensuring that each of these pronouncements are given effect to as soon as the MoEF has passed necessary orders. In fact, the Expert Committee and the related officials would do well to look up the recommendations that were made by a Committee constituted under BK Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission, which had suggested a slew of such relaxations, before the outgoing Planning Commission demitted office. This writer was one of the two private members of this Committee. If Premier Modi really belies in strengthening the Federal structure of this country what he should be advised to ensure is implement the recommendations made by BK Chaturvedi Committee, both the Green Bonus and the relaxations related to forest lands being transferred for infrastructure development. Indeed all eleven mountain states should join hands and demand immediate recommendations made in favour of these eleven mountain states.

Other Land Issues

Some other suggestions that the proposed Committee could possibly take on board for early action are:

( i ) Land Consolidation, one of the quickest land reforms that were taken up in parent state of UP, should be implemented in the mountain regions under ‘voluntary consolidation’ provision of the existing UP Act, here incentives could be provided for those voluntarily exchanging their personal land-holdings for converting them into bigger size smaller number of holdings. Rider, land belonging to SC and STs should be exempt and some part of village land kept separate for future development e.g. roads, socio-economic uses;

( ii ) Land consolidation in US Nagar, especially those in Khatima and Sitargunj tehsil has been put on hold for many years now, as it is quite contentious. Land records related to these villages are stated to be in very bad condition. A conscientious decision should be taken to proceed in those villages which have no existing problems. Blocking land consolidation in all villages does not make sense.,

( iii ) In mountain villages, one major issue relates to division, where possible, of so called ‘gol-khatas’. ‘Gol-khata’ essentially consists of lands where individual shares are in such a large number that it is well neigh impossible to parcel out and demarcate holdings, according to shares. With increasing population and pressure on land this is adding to court cases, where forcible possession is taken without a formal demarcation. The only solution of this issue can be through a ‘forced consensus’ under some law, which compels share-holders to come to some arrangement themselves, or devise alternatives and the share holders are forced to pick from those options. Quite like consolidation of land holdings, in the mountain villages, where no voluntary sharing and demarcation of holding in such ‘gol-khatas’ takes place after such an intent is notified by the competent authority, a way out should be suggested by the state through a competent authority. Resolution of such ‘gol-khatas’ are bound to reduce pressure as more land would be available and existing court caes will have an alternate route for resolution of on going dispute. In times to come such disputes are bound to increase. As population increases and land available shrinks further,

( iv ) As per the last count as many as 300 plus villages have been rendered uninhabitable. Thus the land available in such uninhabitable villages remains unutilized and the population that has migrated out increases pressure on other lands. Is it possible to declare all lands falling under such uninhabitable villages declare as ‘forests’, notified under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and this area swapped with forest lands, which are habitable and forest lands which are said to be not having forests over them ? As these are cases of swapping or revenue lands with forest lands there is no net loss of forest land and while such uninhabitable villages are now allowed to grow as forest the affected population gets lands to settle, which are safe and amenable to further development ? The population of such affected villages, which was included in the memorandum to Central Government soon after June 2013 disaster, automatically should be eligible for assistance under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and additional infrastructure assistance can be availed from other Central Schemes,

( v ) Through not strictly related to land reform domain Rawat Government should also evolve a Programme where a range of incentives, by pooling all existing development schemes plus more, should be offered to the residents of villages where the population is known to be out-migrating. These villages could be identified by camparing the Census data of 2001 with 2011 and identified. This New package, which could be called Back to Villages, should be offered to only such identified List of villages. Departments should also be directed to pay top most attention to such depleting villages and even NRIs and Non Resident Utttarakahndis should also be offered incentives for going back to their root-villages. This would also ease the increasing pressure on  limited land, 

( vi ) large scale violation of land laws and encroachments on public lands exist and there is evidence as the revenue officials are not taking care of government lands these lands have been seriously and extensively encroached. If such lands are not protected how lands would be made available to land-less people or for the developmental purposes ? Similarly, it is also well known that a very large number of past land –leases have not been used for the purpose these were given and have been mis-used. Strictest action should be taken against such mis-uses and leases should be terminated and resumed for future allocation to landless people or for development purposes. Lands under Military establishments, it is well known, have also either not been renewed for many decades or have also been encroached by the occupants, both Military and others. The Military-Civil Meetings have already taken a decision, before 2005, to cross check all details and regularise or return such lands which should revert back to civil authorities, and

( vii ) It is a recorded case that when BHEL was dragging its feet to allocate lands for Bahadarabad Industrial area, in 2003-04, they were asked by Uttarakhand Government to explain why the land which was allotted to BHEL for specific purposes and has not been used for the same should not be reverted back , only the they agreed to consider provide land to the state. The same applies to, let me sat today, to IDPL, ICFRE institutions and several other Central Government organisations lke the Central Soild & Water, and in many parts of the state, who were allotted huge pieces of land and which have not been used for the purpose. Legally, the State Government is the main sovereign owner of all lands and now that its population is increasing, it needs land for several development purposes it is time that all such surplus land made available to the various central organisations , including the Armed Forces, is reviewed quickly, and put to productive use.  .                                                                                                                             


The writer is convinced that even if the measures that have been suggested about the land which were once allotted to various central Government organisations and are currently not in the use for which these were allotted, coupled with strict removal of all encroachments on government and public land are implemented the physical availability of land for our immediate use and allotment to landless families should be available and the state government would also be in a position to have time for more innovative measures, that have also been suggested in this piece. Our 12069 Van Pan panchayats, spread over as many revenue villages, and the land that are under their management is yet another innovative area for our poverty alleviation programme that has the potential to transform our rural economy. But, that is our another Forest Baggage, to which this writer would like to allude later. 

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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