Assigned lands are milching cows for unrestrained Telangana government

Narasimha Reddy Dhonti

Telangana government has been acquiring land for various purposes from private land owners, including farmers. To avoid responding to comprehensive relief and rehabilitation procedures, the government has been making efforts to acquire land through various other means, including illegal methods.

From 2015, these efforts started with dilution of provisions under national Land Acquisition Act, 2013. Many orders were issued by the government over a period of six years that have diluted the spirit of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. The government has also done away with the required procedures and rehabilitation and resettlement clauses while procuring land for various projects.

In June 2015, it enunciated the ‘Telangana State Policy for Acquisition of Land through Agreement’, formulated by a three-member official committee. However, another order issued in less than two months after that does not mention either the Act nor the first GO nor the negotiation committees, but spoke about the district level land procurement committee in which registrar of the district too was included as a member. The subsequent two orders with amendments came in October and November respectively, the first reducing the time frame for claims and objections to seven days from 15, and the latter doing away with payment of the rehabilitation and resettlement costs. Notable fact is that the Act mandates 30 days for objections.

As per provisions in LARR of 2013, compensation should be three times the market value for rural agricultural lands. A mandatory Social Impact Assessment had to be done before the land acquisition. Land could be acquired only if majority (70-80%) of the affected people agree to the project. To avoid this, Telangana Land Acquisition Act, in 2016, through a ordinance. This was subsequently amended and approved in 2017. Ever since, Telangana government has been bypassing all the mandatory procedures of social impact assessment, preliminary notification, rehabilitation and resettlement award and special provisions for SCs and STs, provided in the central Act. Using State Act of 2017, as a frame, Telangana started exempting all projects from the purview of the provisions of the national Act. The procedure for exemption was also made simple. Project proponent department or corporation makes an application for exemption, and within days, if not same day, orders for exemption have been issued.

Most government orders are not available in the public domain. Some are published after a long period of lapse. Some of the land acquisition practices match forcible evictions and illegal encroachments. Oustees are made to believe that they are being offered the best price, and if they refuse, the money will be deposited in court. Promise of jobs is a carrot that is dangled, but no such provision is mentioned in the order. Daily targets of acquisition are being set for officials and public representatives.

Assigned lands

The term ‘assigned land’ is that the lands assigned by the Government to the landless poor with the condition of non-alienation. Based on the availability of land the government will give 2-10 acres of land to SC/ST and other backward class farmers for their livelihood which is non-transferable to third party other than the family members.

Since 1956, it is estimated that 22 lakh acre of land was assigned to the poor across the State. Of this, only 14.28 lakh acre were distributed to those who deserve it. Over 98,000 acre of the assigned lands have changed hands in the State for the past few decades.

Most usual problem cited about assigned lands is that they are illegally transferred by the original assignees earlier. Though the previous governments made efforts to regularise or give rights to purchasers of assigned lands, it was not resolved. Telangana government promised a tangible solution to illegally transfer assigned lands in the State after consulting the experts in revenue matters. It is estimated that there are around 5 lakh acres of assigned lands which were not with the original assignees. As per government, this is against the TS Assigned Lands Act, 1977.

In the past, the Revenue officials, who went on door to door visit exercise, noted the assigned land issues. Telangana government had also constituted a Cabinet Sub-Committee in 2017 to recommend solution on difficulties faced in assigned lands acquisition and other issues pertaining to assign lands including payment of compensation. The sub-committee met and sought suggestions from District Collectors and department officials on acquisition of assigned lands and procedures to be followed. There is no report of this Cabinet sub-Committee so far, not at the least in public domain.

All these exercises by the Telangana government have led not to the resolution of assigned land issues, but have helped the government to bamboozle assignees to part with their land pattas. Government held the view that purchasers violate provisions of the TS Assigned Lands Act, 1977, and are claiming compensation for their lands being acquired. If they are not paid, they are obstructing the development works. But there is another dimension, with growth of real estate, assigned lands near urban areas, especially cities like Hyderabad, were forcibly ‘bought’ or encroached for housing layouts and commercial development.

Revenue Department Special Chief Secretary, B. R. Meena, issued an internal memo (no 24196/Assn I (3)2017-1) on December, 2018 asking district collectors, except Hyderabad, to regularize assigned land in favour of those who purchased them. Telangana government earlier announced LRS schemes to regularise government land in 2015 on which private houses had come up and regularised urban ceiling land in 2016.

Telangana government has directed District Collectors to regularize assigned land purchased by third parties from original allottees. This exercise was taken up as part of the Land Records Purification and Land Survey. It is estimated that about 2 lakhs acres has changed ownership from original allottees to third parties.

Importantly, in the case of land acquisition, compensation paid for assigned lands paid is less than patta lands. AP High court orders judgment in the case of Mekala Pandu vs Govt. of AP, rules that both assigned lands and patta lands should receive the same compensation. 

Assigned Lands in erstwhile 10 Districts of Telangana
Name of the DistrictNo. of AllotteesTotal Extent in acres
Ranga Reddy31,15297,714
Mahbubnagar3,50,0605,11,778
Warangal28,3351,55,080
Hyderabad40,393291
Adilabad1,71,0815,10,962
Karimnagar1,29,9591,35,396
Medak2,17,4743,01,326
Nizamabad1,81,5812,41,295
Khammam1,21,7822,34,789
Nalgonda1,95,4092,19,847
Total14,67,22624,08,570
Times of India, 21st December, 2017

Though the government memo issued overtly appears to help the landless poor who have purchased assigned land from other farmers as per the Telangana Assigned Lands (POT) Act, 1977, this ‘regularisation’ and the information generated from Land Purification exercise has been misused by government departments and corporations that have been tasked with land acquisition for industrial and irrigation projects.

Last year, to establish special economic zones (SEZ) for food processing units, government instructed officials to acquire land in four villages in Ranga Reddy district, namely Sidhapur (330 acres), Khanapur (365 acres), Tallapalliguda (473 acres) and Kothapally (246 acres). They were asked to acquire assigned lands and government acres.

Assigned lands in Hyderabad and Rangareddy districts

Assigned lands on the outskirts of Hyderabad, falling under Ranga Reddy district limits command huge real estate value and have changed multiple hands over the years, without the original beneficiary’s knowledge or gain. The assigned land was either bought from poor or encroached upon in Maheshwaram, Saroornagar, Balapur, Shamshabad, Rajendrnagar, Chevella, Uppal, Ibrahimpatnam, Qutbullapur and Medchal mandals. Buying assigned land is also illegal as per Assigned Land (Prevention of Transfer) Act, 1977.

In Ranga Reddy district, out of 87,064 acres assigned to poor, only 9,885 acres is in possession of beneficiaries while the rest 77,189 acres has changed hands. As per data available, in 1991, SC beneficiaries in Ranga Reddy were 42,473 and 50,059 in 1990-91 and 1995-96. Average land holding size was 1.38 acres, which reduced to 1.09 acres by 1995-96. If one goes by the market value of these lands, these families should have been wealthy and rich. But this has not happened.

Hyderabad Pharma City–Robbing the disempowered

Assigned lands are the first target of government officials in land acquisition. This is mainly to project achieved targets, as well as reduce compensation costs. This was the case, before and after the formation of Telangana State.

Government of Telangana proposed Hyderabad Pharma City, in 2015, with an initial plan of some 3,000 acres. But this area gradually increased to 19,333 acres. Suitable Plan was developed to demonstrate the need for such a huge area, even though only 35 percent of this is actual industrial area. Despite concerns, Government of Telangana has not given any economic, administrative, environmental and ecological justification for such a huge area to be brought under Hyderabad Pharma City.

As is the practice, initial acquisition was of assigned lands. Assigned lands acquisition was made using coercion and with misleading information to the poor owners of these lands. They were bamboozled that these are government lands, and compensation is being paid. This acquisition was made through GO no. 45 issued on 22-07-2015. However, subsequently, TS High Court gave a stay order and has specified that… till such time the final judgment is delivered in this case, the authorities should not take possession of the farmers’ lands.

A major portion of the land claimed as acquired by the Telangana government is assigned lands belonging to the SC and ST and BC communities. Majority of the land acquired by the government of Telangana which was done by issuing GO No.45 (5650 acres) and GO 123 (710 acres) is disputed. A total of 6,360 acres cannot be taken into possession by TSIIC because it is under legal dispute. Yet, Telangana Government is claiming falsely that it is in possession of about 7,500 acres.

In addition, a huge corruption scandal has emerged in the initial phase of acquisition of assigned lands wherein farmers have been cheated about compensation, while middlemen pocketed huge money for the land they do not have in the area.

Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi is a public policy expert. He can be reached at nreddy.donthi16@gmail.com.

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