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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014

Purnia in Bihar on boil as landless resort to land grab

Anirban Guha Roy , Hindustan Times  August Nagar, November 28, 2013
First Published: 19:11 IST(28/11/2013) | Last Updated: 20:06 IST(28/11/2013)

"I want a piece of land where I can build a home," says Jagan Turi, a tribal based in Purnia, who ekes out a living by doing odd jobs as a labourer.

Last Independence Day, he along with hundreds of other landless tribals stormed a vacant tract of private land running into hundreds of acres, 12km from Purnia town.

The occupants christened the site "August Kranti Nagar", an allusion to what they preferred to describe as a "revolution" in the month of August.

Five more attempts were made by landless people to grab land on the same day, but were foiled by the administration, giving rise to a perception that the area, known for its large estates owned by landowners, was witnessing a repeat of the land tussles of the 1960s and 1990s.

In 1967, 14 tribal sharecroppers were massacred at Rupuspur Chandwa in Purnia. It was Bihar's first big massacre and the region has been volatile since.

On May 24 this year, a group of tribals burnt alive one Jai Narayan Mandal, a local land dealer and the husband of a woman sarpanch at Kukrail in Dhamdaha block, over a land dispute.

In 1998, nine tribals were killed in a clash with powerful landowners in Nikrail.

Purnia Sadar sub divisional officer Raj Kumar describes land-grabbing incidents as the handiwork of the "miscreants who are trying to create law and order problems".

"We are carrying out a drive to flush the encroachers out of August Nagar. They are living there illegally," he said. But the residents are defiant.

"The state has not settled the land ceiling issue, allowing a few powerful people to own excess land. We are just trying to have our right to live a life with dignity," said Naveen Mahto, leader of the landless settlers of "August Kranti Nagar".

Mahto already has about a dozen cases against him. A few attempts made by the police to arrest him had been resisted by the occupants.

He claims he is backed by a Left party and wants the government to implement the D Bandhopadhyay Commission's recommendations on land reforms. The state government is loathe to implement the recommendations.

The "land grab" believed to have the blessings of Left leaders has instilled fear among those with big landed properties and threatens to snowball into a major political issue.

A Imam, director of Millia trust, whose land has been illegally encroached upon by tribals, blames the administration for not doing enough to get the land vacated.

Uday Singh, BJP MP from Purnia, blames "administrative failure" for the encroachments.

A senior official wishing anonymity said hundreds of land dispute cases were pending, mainly in two Purnia blocks - Dhamdaha and Rupauli - both infamous for gang wars over land occupation.

Frustration among the landless, including Santhal tribals, has been growing over the past decade. They are upset over the eviction of a large number of tribals by the middlemen-officials' combine.

The evictions occurred despite the fact that tribals had sharecropping rights. Evications have increased during the past few years due to real estate boom triggered by rising land prices.

With landless tribals in no mood to give up, the future appears tense.

"We will fight till the end," said Dumar, a tribal living in a settlement that has not a single tap for drinking water, not to speak of sanitation and roads.

"There is a design to evict the landless from their settlements. This has created lot of resentment among the poor," said CPI- ML (Liberation) state secretary Kunal, warning the situation was becoming "alarming".

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