Uncovering the lexicon of Haryana’s revenue and land tenure systemsUpdated: Jan 18, 2020 23:59 IST
Recently, on January 14, I had reported on the sale of disputed Aravalli land in Faridabad. The story is peppered with terms such as ‘gair mumkin pahar’, ‘shamlat deh’, ‘kanal’ and ‘jamabandi’, which are part of an age-old lexicon related to land use, revenue, and land tenure systems dating back to the pre-Independence era. They have been in use for centuries, but, until recently, were unfamiliar to me.
Instead, having grown up in Mumbai, I was familiar with a different kind of officialese, centered around modern real estate. From an early age, I knew about floor area ratio, mortgages and amortisation, and about Maharashtra’s notorious rent control system. But the language of land tenure itself wasn’t something I ever came into contact with, perhaps because land itself is such a scarce commodity in India’s financial capital.
In 2017, as a student in Chennai, I was introduced to the word ‘poramboke’, a category for land owned by the government, but which does not typically generate any revenue. The word has acquired a pejorative meaning in Tamil as a ‘wasteland’, and is even used in a derogatory sense for people who are considered ‘worthless’. However, poramboke lands are far from worthless. They perform important ecological functions and are free to be used by all and sundry. Poramboke lands have been encroached on heavily by real estate in recent years.
In 2018, when covering a story of encroachments on Gurugram’s Ghata lake bed, I came across the word ‘shamlat’, which refers to common village lands in Haryana. Similar to Chennai’s ‘poramboke’ areas, they are equally susceptible to threats from real estate, while holding immense ecological worth. It was the same pattern of urbanisation I had seen in the South, and I have tried, since then to familiarise myself with the terms of regional land use and tenure.
One of the first words I became introduced to while reporting on the Aravallis was ‘gair mumkin pahar’, which is a land use category, denoting hilly areas where agriculture is not possible. Similarly, the word ‘bhood’ denotes another land use category, referring to the sandy foothills of the Aravallis that serve as important groundwater recharge zones. Yet another interesting word is ‘banjar kadim’ (or ‘old fallow), denoting agricultural land which has not been sown in at least four years.
Then there are terms like ‘shamlat deh’, ‘panchayat deh’, and ‘malkan’, which denote revenue categories. Panchayat and shamlat both denote common lands, while the latter implies private ownership. In land records, one also finds words like ‘mushtil’, ‘khasra’ and ‘khewat’, which are suffixed with numerals. Laid out on a map, these numerals (akin to GPS coordinates) denote the exact geographic location of a particular parcel of land. Other words like bigha, gaj, kanal, and marla indicate size. One kanal is equal to 0.125 acres, for example.
The meanings of these words were taught to me, not by brokers or property lawyers, but locals from Aravalli villages where land is becoming a more contentious commodity by the day. More than anything, though, I love the sound of these words as they roll off the tongue. Here are a few I have learned:
1) Jamabandi: Refers to comprehensive land records in Haryana, Punjab and other northern states. A jamabandi contains the name of the landowners, the area of land, the shares of each owner, and other rights that they may exercise over the land.
2) Chakbandi: Refers to the process of land consolidation, used to maintain agricultural productivity by pooling together smaller fragments of agricultural land and affirming their private ownership.
3) Shajra: Refers to the map of a village which is carved into smaller, individual plots, each of which is assigned a unique number.
4) Bhood: A land-use category referring to the sandy foothills of the Aravalli range.
5) Gair mumkin pahar: A land-use category denoting hilly areas where agriculture is not possible.
6) Banjar kadim: Translates to ‘old fallow’ and refers to land that was once agricultural but is now barren.
7) Girdawari: An exercise conducted by the revenue department twice a year to maintain a record of land under cultivation, which takes into account the crops, source of irrigation, rate of revenue and so on.
8) Khasra: A plot number assigned to a specific parcel of land.