Tribune News Service
Shimla, August 24
Despite the Himachal Pradesh Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, 1972, prohibiting the use of land under tea cultivation for any purpose other than agriculture, the Tourism Department has invited proposals from private investors for promoting tea tourism in Kangra and Mandi districts.
The brochure on “Rising Himachal Global Investors Meet”, which has been put on the website to invite proposals for the meet in Dharamsala on November 7 and 8, makes the mention of tea tourism when the revenue laws do not permit it. The mere mention of tea tourism on the site, despite the Cabinet at its last month meeting turning it down, has taken everyone by surprise.
“The construction of eco-tourism activities and eco huts/tented accommodation shall be allowed in tea tourism farms and relevant changes in revenue laws will be carried out accordingly,” announces the invitation by the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation on the website, specially created to invite private players to invest in Himachal.
It is significant to mention that some tea estate owners have violated the norms by selling land under tea garden for the construction of hotels, while some have raised structures with the purpose of starting hotels, which rules do not permit. These structures are illegal and ways and means are being explored to somehow legalise them.
It was under Section 5 of the Himachal Pradesh Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, 1972, that exemption had been granted to tea estates, state and Central governments, re-registered Cooperative Farming Societies and HP Agriculture University to retain more than 150 bighas. However, through the Himachal Pradesh Ceiling of Land Holdings (Amendment) Act of 1999, a ban was imposed on the sale of land under tea cultivation and gave the government the power to acquire it, if put to use other than agriculture.
Tea cultivation is primarily confined to Kangra district and a small area of Jogindernagar contiguous to Palampur, which has some of the biggest tea estates. Despite best efforts of the government to increase the area under tea, at present only 1,800-bigha land is under tea cultivation in HP and the production stands at a mere 800 quintal with issues like labour problem and old plantations.
An attempt had been made during the previous BJP regime in 2011 and by the Congress government in 2015 and later in 2016 to find a way out by which the sale of land under tea could be made permissible or its use for other purposes allowed. However, a major controversy had erupted even then and the issue had to be dropped. Similar attempts were made during the Virbhadra regime in 2017 so that decks could be cleared for the construction of hotels.
As per Section 6(A) of the amendment, if the tea estate is put to other use, it will be treated as surplus land and deemed to have been acquired by the government. Similarly, Section 7(A) seeks to impose a ban on the transfer of whole or even part of the land under tea estate by way of contact, agreement, custom or usage.
What the Act says
It was under Section 5 of the Himachal Pradesh Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, 1972, that exemption had been granted to tea estates, state and Central governments, re-registered Cooperative Farming Societies and HP Agriculture University to retain more than 150 bighas. However, through the Himachal Pradesh Ceiling of Land Holdings (Amendment) Act of 1999, a ban was imposed on the sale of land under tea cultivation and gave the government the power to acquire it if put to use other than agriculture.
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