Under new land rules, Rajasthan govt pushes development at expense of cows | cities | Hindustan Times
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Under new land rules, Rajasthan govt pushes development at expense of cows

It will now be easier for private companies and government bodies to build properties on pastures.

cities Updated: Oct 07, 2017 14:54 IST
Urvashi Dev Rawal
A cow subjected to an inspection by Rajasthan’s Gau Raksha Dal. The group’s vice president told HT that he opposes the state government’s decision this week to it make it easier to build on land that cows use for grazing.
A cow subjected to an inspection by Rajasthan’s Gau Raksha Dal. The group’s vice president told HT that he opposes the state government’s decision this week to it make it easier to build on land that cows use for grazing.(AFP)

Under pressure to complete development projects before next year’s assembly election, the Rajasthan government eased its land use rules regarding unoccupied pastures on Thursday.

The announcement was made on behalf of the state cabinet by parliamentary affairs minister Rajendra Rathore. It provoked legal challenges and accusations of hypocrisy from the political opposition and a wide array of civil society groups.

The state cabinet decided that pastures in cities and towns can now be used for other purposes. So-called “charagah” land had previously been subject to changes only in exceptional circumstances, after a specific order of the state government, and with the proviso that land of an equal area be opened up to grazing elsewhere in the same panchayat. This week’s rules will allow the compensatory allotment of new land to be opened up anywhere in the same district.

Amra Ram, the land revenue minister, said that the decision would help the local economy and government without serious repercussions.

“Development works are important and necessary for progress of the state,” he said. “The land will be acquired only for government projects like setting up government offices. Where land is taken, we will set apart land in the same or adjoining panchayat. Not an inch of gauchar (pastureland) land will be lessened.”

Another official in the land revenue department, who requested anonymity, said that the land would also be used for commercial purposes. “Land is growing scarce due to increasing population and urbanization,” the official said. “Government has to strike a balance between development and social concerns. For instance, when government grants mining leases, the land is a huge tract and sometimes pastureland falls in between. In such cases, it becomes imperative to acquire the pastureland.”

The tradition of reserving pastures for cows has had legal support in Rajasthan since the 1955 Rajasthan Tenancy Act. This week’s announcement was not the first time that the current dispensation has tweaked the rules. Last December, the government ordered pastures within urban limits to fall under the jurisdiction of municipalities, who were empowered to use the new land for commercial or residential projects.

The official in the land revenue department said that all land within city limits can now be used by municipal authorities for any purpose.

Opposition to the government’s move is diverse and passionate.

Babulal Jangid, vice president of the Gau Raksha Dal, a self-proclaimed cow protection outfit, said the new rules will imperil cows. “Traditionally charagahs used to be near water bodies so that grass and water was available. Will government ensure that the in-lieu land has these facilities?”

Jangid, who said his organisation would challenge the rules in court, also questioned the feasibility of allowing replacement plots to come outside the villages where land was being taken. “How will cows and other animals go to graze to a far off place?”

People outside the world of cow vigilantism also saw hypocrisy in the new rules. “There is so much talk of cow protection,” said Nikhil Dey, founder of the civil rights group Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, “and now the basis of cow protection is being taken away.”

Both the former Rajasthan high court judge Panachand Jain and state Congress president Sachin Pilot said the new rules violate state law. “Change in land use of charagah is not allowed under the Tenancy Act,” said Pilot. “This land is for a specific purpose. We will challenge the government’s decision in court.”