President's Pranab Mukherjee's approval to remove a clause in the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Act (BTAA) 1948 needing prior approval of the Collector to sell or transfer the land mandatory is being greeted with both shock and surprise by many given how close to the elections this has happened.
“There was a long standing demand for removal of this clause from the farming community as it led to bureaucratic delays. This is part of the government's initiative to make the government more people-friendly,” defended revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat. “Many of current land holders are tilling these lands for over a decade now.”
The first move to get the clause removed came in May 2012 when Maharashtra cabinet gave its nod and it was subsequently presented in the monsoon assembly session that followed. After the legislative council approved the proposal to amend the BTAA, it was sent to the President for approval since the Act comes under the ninth schedule of the Constitution.
Activists like Ganpat Bhise of Dalit equal rights advocacy group Lal Sena which across Marathwada point out how the move has surprised the largely Dalit landless who had been given these land plots by the government. “Either the government should admit it made a mistake while giving tracts of land to landless poor or it is wrong now,” says Bhise whose organisation has been fighting to revert such tracts of land that have been usurped by upper-caste rich farmers. “Now that the government has officially removed the only check in place, the land ownership will change hands so many times that there will be no hope of the landless getting the land allocated to them back.”
Echoing him Brian Lobo of the Kashtakari Sanghatna which works in the tribal belt of rural Thane wondered why the proposed amendment was not given wide publicity by the government. “If the government wants to throw the doors wide open for the landless adivasi's land to not only be usurped but sold away, shouldn't s/he have the right to participate in the decision making process?” he asked.
Thorat, on his part, says the government will intervene if a complaint is made but refuses to specify how. Meanwhile the state government has already come out with a GR announcing the amendment, which has been sent to district collectorates.