M A I N   N E W S

65,000 hectares of forest land freed conditionally in Punjab
Maneesh Chhibber
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 30
In what could be a major relief to farmers and landowners of about 470 villages in Punjab, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has excluded over 65,670 hectares of cultivated and habitation land from the land covered under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900.

However, the decision would not help land dealers and property developers as the Centre has not allowed any commercial activity in the areas. Forest Department officials also point to the fact that the Centre's communication also amounts to a major setback to the efforts of the Punjab Government to free the areas from the clutches of various Central Government laws.

The lands that would be de-listed fall in the districts of Ropar, Nawanshahr, Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur. Some portion of the proposed Nayagaon Notified Area Committee (NAC) is also part of this land.

The decision follows a proposal in this regard submitted by the Punjab Government, seeking prior approval of the Central Government to exclude the area from the area covered under the PLPA.

As per the order, a copy of which is available with The Tribune, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) constituted by the Union Government examined the proposal and found that the area which was sought to be excluded also included private and community land which was under cultivation/habitation prior to December 1996.

The FAC held that the areas in question were forest land only on account of the technicality as they had been included in the administrative reports of the Forest Department as forest land.

The order, while clearing the Punjab Government proposal "in-principle" and allowing the de-listing of the land, also puts certain conditions on the government.

Apart from other things, the Punjab Government would have to ensure that no commercial activity is permitted on the de-listed land and it would be used only for bona fide agriculture purposes and for sustaining the livelihood of the owners of the land.

The State Government has also been asked to furnish a detailed list of the de-listed lands, the land use and status of the lands before October 25, 1980, and after December 12, 1996.

Also, the State Government would not be able to de-list the lands till a final order approving the same is issued by the Central Government.

It may be recalled that the inclusion of these areas in the land covered by PLPA had been found to be a huge blunder committed by officials of the Punjab Forest Department and top revenue authorities, leaving the owners of these land high and dry. Neither could they raise any constructions on their land nor carry out proper agricultural activity in the fields owned by them.

After the mistake came to light, the Punjab Government on February 6, 2006, wrote to the Union Government seeking exclusion of the lands in question.



Punjab farmers seek job quota in industrial projects
Manoj Kumar
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 30
Opposing the “indiscriminate” acquisition of farm land by the Punjab Government for industrial projects, hundreds of farmers from the state staged a protest march here today. They submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding employment quota for the rural youth in all proposed projects.

They also demanded a ban on import of wheat amid the government’s fresh announcement to import 15 to 20 lakh tonnes of more wheat in addition to import of five lakh tonne Australian wheat already in the pipeline.

In a memorandum submitted to the PM, the Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta), Punjab, and other farmer unions questioned the role of the state government as a “property broker” in acquiring hundreds of acres of agricultural land at a cheaper rate to offer it to industrialists at subsidised rate. It amounted the farmers subsidising the industry which was unfair, it said.

“In the name of public interest, the state government is acquiring land from farmers at the cheap rate, and providing it to private industrial units at higher rate. Instead of working as a middleman, the government should ask industrialists to purchase land directly from farmers at the market rate,” said Mr Pishora Singh, President of the union.

Talking to The Tribune, he said: “We are not opposed to the industrialisation of the state, but want that on the pattern of the Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala, our boys should at least get jobs in the proposed projects. Further, the industry should purchase land directly from the villagers.”

He said the government should make farmers stakeholders in industrial projects by making it mandatory for the industrial unit to offer employment to farmers families, besides giving them a share in equity of the projects.

He wondered how could the state government offer land to the industrialists without ensuring that they would not sell it to other parties to make a quick buck. “No industrial unit has submitted a blueprint for the requirement of land for its project,” he said. The Bharti Group was asking for 2,000 acres without any project plan, he added.


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