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Minister in trouble for excess land purchase

Dhanbad deputy mayor has exposed documents that say Mahto and family has 18 plots of land in Dhanbad district alone, minister claims allegations baseless, dares Singh to drag him to court.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2012 21:18 IST
B Vijay Murty

It's yet another startling case of protectors of law turning out to be law breakers in Jharkhand.

The state's land and revenue minister, Mathura Prasad Mahato, has fallen into fresh trouble that allegedly makes him an accused of two charges-violation of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act, 1908 and Disproportionate Assets case. Ex-chief minister Madhu Koda and four of his ex-cabinet colleagues, Kamlesh Singh, Enos Ekka, Harinarayan Rai and Bhanu Pratap Sahi are already languishing in jail on disproportionate assets charges for the last couple of years.

According to documents released to a section of media by Dhanbad's deputy mayor Neeraj Singh, Mahto and his family that includes his wife, Pobia Devi and son, Dinesh Mahato have purchased at least 18 plots of land in Dhanbad district, sans prior permission of the deputy commissioner. As per the documents in HT's possession, which include few sale deeds, most of these purchases have been done in the last five-six years.

While six plots are in his name, his son owns eight plots and wife has five plots in her name. The minister in the assets declaration submitted before the election commission during 2009 assembly polls had said that he owned only 6.16 acres of agricultural land in two different places of Dhanbad district. "We are simply demanding a probe against the minister's assets and whether he has violated the CNT Act while purchasing the land," said the deputy mayor, threatening to take up the case in court, if the custodian of the land and revenue department in the state failed to clear his stand.

Mahto has often claimed to be a strong advocate of the CNT Act that among other things allows a member of the Schedule Caste or backward class to transfer with the prior permission of the deputy commissioner his right in his holding by sale, exchange, gift, will or lease to another member of his same caste only within the local limits of the district. The objective of the act has been to prevent transfer of land from the weaker section to the capitalists and upper castes, generally considered affluent caste.

Mahto, as per a notification issued by the Bihar government on June 23rd, 1962 and later adopted by the Jharkhand government, belongs to the Kurmi caste, which has been enlisted as a backward class. Going by the CNT Act, the minister cannot purchase land from backward class member of another district except his home district that too with prior permission of the deputy commissioner.

Singh, who has formed Jharkhand Bachao Sangharsh Morcha to press for suitable amendments in the CNT Act, said that while on the one hand, the minister has been advocating for complete ban on sale and purchase of tribal, SC and backward class land, he is constantly increasing his land bank. "Now that he has been exposed, he should quit," the deputy mayor said.

Mahto has overtly declined having violated the CNT Act or amassing disproportionate assets. "The allegations are baseless," he said, adding, as secretary of Binod Bihari Mahato Inter College, Dhanbad, he had been the signatory during purchase of land for the educational institution. "I still stand by the declaration I had made before the election commission," he said. "Let people drag me to court. I will come out clean."

What is CNT Act?

The Chota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act 1908 is a 104-year-old legislation to protect land held by or for the benefit of tribal population. It was originally enacted by the British to settle tenancy-related issues in the Chota Nagpur plateau region. on January 25, Jharkhand High Court amended the tribal land rights protection legislation so that the Deputy Commissioner (DC), Jharkhand's equivalent of district magistrate, would have to accord his permission for any land transfer of adivasi land as well as land belonging to other backward castes (OBC).

The law also provides for restoration of alienated land to the tribals or when converted for urban use, to give them equivalent lands. A division bench of Jharkhand Chief Justice Prakash Tatia and Justice Aparesh Singh scrapped the December 11, 2010, order of Jharkhand land and revenue department, challenged in a PIL by former Mayurbhanj MP Salkhan Murmu.

Murmu had alleged in his PIL that chief minister Arjun Munda and land and revenue minister Mathura Prasad Mahato had exerted their influence to allow widespread illegal land transfers.