Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 30
A Trickster Extraordinaire—Sordid tale of the Hathua Raj
Saturday 14 July 2007, by
The Bihar Land Reforms Commission visited Gopalganj on March 23, 2007. The mission was to hold a Jan Sunwai at Thave (near the Durga temple). On arriving at Gopalganj the Commission went to the Circuit House to have a broad view of the land reforms measures undertaken by the Collector.
Gopalganj is the area in which the famous (perhaps not so famous) Hathua Raj had his estate. Folklore has it that he was one of the most ruthless and cruel zamindars of Bihar. So much was his oppression on his peasantry that the peasants were at the point of open revolt against him soon after independence. When Shri Vinoba Bhave visited Bihar in 1952, the Hathua Raj donated by one simple letter one lakh acres of land for the Bhoodan Yagna. It was a very cunning move by the Hathua Raj to take away the wind from the sails of his rebellious peasants. By one stroke he declared himself having no land. But his diabolical move became clear when he did not send any supporting documents giving details of the land supposed to have been donated to the Bhoodan Yagna Committee. Thus he cheated Vinoba Bhaveji, evaded the ceiling law and silenced the resentments among his mutinous peasants.
That the donation of a lakh of acres of land was not a folklore was substantiated by the District Gazetteer of Saran by P. Roychoudhary (1959-60), in which it was recorded:
Reports available from the said office (Bhoodan Yagna Committee) indicate that till the end of April 1959-1, 03,902 acres of land have been donated in this district.
Thus the fraudulent donation of a lakh of acres of Hathua Raj was taken into account in this figure.
The land data given by the Collector of Gopalganj gave a completely different picture. It showed that the total land received in Bhoodan was 21,237.48 acres of which revenue officers could confirm 12,263.25 acres. An area of 13,921.60 acres was distributed among 50,688 beneficiaries. The above figure of 13,921.60 acres included some element of double counting. The ill-effect of that stupendous fraud committed by the Hathua Raj still continues.
The Commission was in for a shock. The Collector informed that the total amount of land above ceiling vested in his district was 2694.80 acres of which 1003 acres were distributed among 2057 beneficiaries. What was strange was that this district was known to have many more big zamindars other than the Hathua Raj. Where had all those lands gone? The Hathua Raj declared donation of one lakh acres of land without giving any detail. That area obviously was the surplus land of the Raj. If the Bhoodan Committee did not get it, the Collector should have taken steps to ensure that this surplus land should have vested in the state. No such attempt was made in the last half-a-century. As a result, we have in our hand today, shimmering discontent of the deprived peasantry, which may take violent form any time in future. Instead of leaving it to the violent insurgents to enforce the ceiling, it would have been much more civilised and enduring if the administration took the ceiling laws seriously and tried to enforce them vigorously. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
Though everyone said that bataidari was widely prevalent, there was no bataidari case in any revenue court of the district. It did not mean that everything was honky dory with the bataidars. It only meant that the bataidars were so oppressed and overawed that they were unable even to express their resentment over the exploitative system of which they were the victims.
THE Commission then moved to Thave for the Jan Sunwai. It was very well attended meeting. Large numbers of women were present. The Commission was pleasantly surprised by the independence and dignity shown by the women in presenting all their grievances in an open public meeting. The meeting went on for about three-and-a-half hours during mid-day. There was a lot of enthusiasm among the participants. The points raised were mainly the following:
Mr Ramkaran, General Secretary of the Bihar Khet Mazdoor Union, stressed the point that the Hathua Raj did not file the zamindari return and out of the alleged donation of one lakh acres only 27,000 bighas of land could be confirmed. Still a number of plots in Naulakha, Maniara, Sipiar were lying fallow and unused and these were in the possession of the erstwhile owner. The revenue records could be compared to find out how much land was still with him. That should be vested and distributed. Mr Ramkaran cited many examples of illegal settlement of land by the zamindars, which could be cancelled under Section 4-h of B.T. Act and finally distributed to the needy and landless people. He raised the issue of exemption of land up to 100 acres for the sugar mills from the ceiling limit. He alleged that the sugar mills, on the pretext of utilising for research or some such purpose, held large chunks of agricultural land much beyond 100 acres which were not necessary. A sugar factory did not require a backward linkage of a sugar cane plantation of its own. Given proper price it could get the best possible canes from the farmers. Those surplus lands should be taken over and distributed to the landless people without creating any social tension. One of the important points raised was that section 15(3) of the Bihar Bhoodan Yagna Act 1954 should be amended, which empowered the Bhoodan Yagna Committee to allot Bhoodan land to anybody. It should be made compulsory to allot land to the most downtrodden section of the society so that maximum number of poor and assetless could benefit.
Mr Kumar Shubhmurti, Chairman, Bhoodan Yagna Committee, suggested that the spirit behind the Bhoodan movement should be linked to the laws relating to land. Only then, this movement would be effective. He stressed on mutation of the Bhoodan land distributed, which gave legal title to the allottees. Mrs Kalpana Shastri, a social activist, called upon the women to fight for their right on land and suggested that the government should allot land in the name of women only to empower them and to stabilise family relationships.
Many women present in the meeting complained that even after having parchas of the land given to them, they were unable to cultivate their land because some other persons were in illegal possession of the land. Some of the women complained that they were in possession of land but had no paper/document for that.
One of the persons informed that some parchas/documents were stolen from the office of Bhoodan Yagna Committee and those stolen parchas were being fraudulently issued to some persons. He urged that the rent fixation of those lands be stopped immediately.
One of the speakers informed that the Hathua Raj donated land after abolition of zamindari, hence they did not have right to donate land. However, if the zamindar undertook not to claim compensation, such donation could be valid. Land in possession of such landholders, who were ineligible to possess land and donated them to Bhoodan, did so only to cheat both the landless and the authorities. Hence, appropriate legal steps should betaken against them.
Many persons complained that two parchas were issued on the same plot of land, which was creating confusion and social unrest. Actually, the Hathua Maharaj donated land to Bhoodan Yagna Samiti and the Samiti gave parcha of some lands that came to their possession to some persons. In the meantime, the Hathua Raj had fraudulently settled those lands issuing rent receipts to other persons which was totally illegal. Corrective measures should be taken to allot those lands to the genuine persons. Unless appropriate legal actions were taken, the simmering peasant disaffection may take a violent turn in the near future as it had happened in the past. Much of the disaffection, dissatisfaction, resentment and anger of the poorer sections of the peasantry arose out of the apathetic attitude of the administration in taking punitive action against the landlords who defiantly violated the laws of the land to keep control over the land resources and exercise utter domination over them. Absence of any sustained mobilisation of the masses against such injustices created conditions for incursion of militancy and violence.
The author is a former Secretary, Rural Development as well as an erstwhile Secretary, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance. Subsequently, he was the Executive Director, Asian Development Bank, Manila. Earlier as an administrator in West Bengal he played a crucial role in implementing ‘Operation Barga’, the Left Front Government’s biggest achievement in its 29-year uninterrupted rule in the State that vastly contributed towards changing the face of rural West Bengal. He is currently the Executive Chairperson of the Council for Social Development, New Delhi.