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Gandhinagar : Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal who is slated to visit the Rannotsav festival under way in Kutch, is likely to carry back heartening news as the Gujarat government has decided to defreeze the agricultural land of 52 Sikh farmers in the district.
Though a final decision has not been taken since the matter is subjudice in the Supreme Court after the Gujarat High Court ruled in favour of the farmers and the state government appealed against the verdict in the apex court, the bonafides of these 52 farmers have been verified. In their case, it has been found that they had been given agricultural land by the Gujarat government under the ‘landless labourer ‘category.
Kutch being a barren region, bordering Pakistan with human population less than that of cattle, the Gujarat government had, as a matter of policy, invited ex-servicemen from Punjab and Haryana, largely Sikhs, to settle down here in the aftermath of the 1965 war with Pakistan. Kutch had seen aggressive Pakistani forays as a prelude to the war then and this led to the birth of the Border Security Force (BSF) thereafter.
As a strategic move thereafter, ex-servicemen and farmers from Punjab were encouraged to settle down here. These farmers played no small a role in the greening of Kutch and revolutionized agriculture in the desolate barrenscape that Kutch was then with a few takers for the largely salinity-ingressed areas bordering the Rann. However, with increasing industrialisation as the price of land shot up to dizzying heights, a sense of envy engulfed people leading to complaints and social tension, triggering a chain of events that led the government to ‘freeze’ the land of over 800 farmers who were suspected to have come from other states and bought land for agriculture.
Government rules do not permit purchase of agricultural land by non-agriculturists even if they are of Gujarat origin and the government used the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act 1948 to freeze the land holdings of these farmers whom it suspected to have infringed it.
However, the affected farmers knocked the doors of the High Court which ruled in their favour. The state government then went in to appeal to the Supreme Court where the matter rests for now.
The issue however acquired a political colour in Punjab where the Congress began using it as an issue to attack the SAD government, an ally of the BJP. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal had also interceded with Chief Minister Modi who had promised all possible help. A case-by-case review is learnt to be underway and those who have produced relevant records are likely to benefit. There are a large number of agricultural-land owning farmers from Punjab and Haryana in Kutch.