Condemning Friday's baton charge on the Dalits of Balad Kalan, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) parliamentarians Dr Dharamvira Gandhi and professor Sadhu Singh said the state government was suppressing a justified struggle of the workers. It exposed the anti-Dalit face of the Punjab government, the MPs said in a joint statement on Saturday to the press here. "About 1.75-lakh acres in Punjab are village common land known as 'shamlat deh', which the gram panchayats owns and manages.
The Punjab Village Common Lands Act allows them to lease it out to farmers for development works. The law requires a third of the area to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes for socio-economic empowerment of the Dalits and fulfilling their food and fodder needs," reads the statement.
The MPs said the law provided the Dalits with many relaxations for uplift but in 60 years of the Act, the Punjab government had not formulated any policy to protect their right to shamlat land. Supporting the demand for reduced auction rate, the parliamentarians said the step was necessary so that the Dalits could buy the land reserved for them.
"In the absence of Dalit-friendly policy, about 60,000 acres of shamlat land reserved for the Scheduled Castes is leased to a few big non-Dalit farmers," reads the statement. The MPs suggested that the reserved land be leased to the Dalits collectively in the name of either self-help groups or co-operatives.
"Leasing it out to individuals allows big farmers to grab it in the name of dummy bidders," said Dr Gandhi, advocating that the reserved land be sold for only half the price of the other land and lease money recovered in two six-monthly instalments.
The MPs demanded that auction of the Balad Kalan reserved land be conducted again in a transparent manner and the auction price be lowered. "Abolish the ceiling of leasing out shamlat land in 10-acre plots, if the Dalits lease it collectively. The ceiling should be only for individual bidders," reads the statement.