The Punjab and Haryana high court has held that village merger in a municipality does not divest the identifiable villagers of ownership of common land (shamlat land) and civic bodies will have to compensate owners to use such land. The order will have ramifications in Punjab too even as the verdict was on 100 odd petitions by residents of Haryana.
The judgment from a five-judge bench presided over by justice SS Saron came on bunch of petitions, challenging provisions of Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, and Haryana Municipal Act, 1973, which provided that if a gram panchayat is included in a municipality, it shall cease to exist and its assets and liabilities shall vest in the municipality.
The petitioners had argued that without paying compensation for the village common land (shamlat), it could not be transferred to municipalities. Detailed judgment is awaited.
“It is a landmark victory for farmers. Their rights on village common land, which illegally were usurped by the state, have been resurrected by the high court,” senior advocate Puneet Bali and advocate Vibhav Jain, who appeared on behalf of some petitioners, said.
The high court also ruled that the Jumla Mushtarka Malkan land of villages merged into the civic bodies also belong to its proprietors and municipalities would have to pay compensation for its acquisition. Jumla Mushtarka Malkan is a variety of common land created during consolidation after applying a pro-rata cut on the holdings of proprietors under the Consolidation Act.
The management and control of such land vests in a gram panchayat whereas ownership continues to vest in proprietor. The provisions of these two Acts were challenged initially in 2001 and as government included more and more villages into civic bodies, by 2013 over 100 petitions were filed.
In September 2013, high court division bench of then justice Rajive Bhalla had referred the matter for consideration of a five judges’ bench stating that matter was of general public importance. Shamlat land came to vest in a gram panchayat, under Section 2(g), read with sections 3 and 4 of the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961, as applicable to the Haryana as well.