Encroachers may be barred from contesting panchayat poll

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Tribune News Service
Dharamsala, December 17

There are apprehensions that around 1.5 lakh people, who are settled on government land, may be disqualified from contesting the forthcoming panchayat elections. Most of them, who are likely to be disqualified, belong to the SC/ST communities and are either settled on village common land or forestland. However, they will still be eligible to cast their votes.

HC had stayed govt policy

In 2002, the state government had framed a policy to regularise land in the names of people who were settled there for decades. About 1.5 lakh people applied for the benefit, say sources. However, the Himachal High Court stayed the policy. Almost all these people can now be disqualified from contesting the panchayat elections.

As per Section 122 (C) of the Panchayati Raj Act of Himachal, if a person or any of his family member has encroached upon land belonging to the state government, municipality or a panchayat or a cooperative society, he shall be disqualified from contesting the panchayat elections.

Sources say that in 2002, the government framed a policy to regularise land in the names of people who were settled there for the past few decades. About 1.5 lakh people in the state applied for the regularisation of government land in their names. However, the Himachal High Court stayed the policy. Almost all these people could now be disqualified from contesting the panchayat elections.

The sources say that lakhs of people, who have Nautor rights over forestland, can also be disqualified. In many cases the government rehabilitated people on forestland who were displaced from their homes due to natural calamities such as landslides. In some cases, many such people comprise entire villages who had settled on government land before 1980.

The Forest Act came into force after 1980 and land was never transferred in the name of people who continued to encroach upon forestland. Such people are considered as having Nautor rights over the land they are settled on. About 44,000 cases of Nautor land to be transferred in the names of individuals are pending before various government authorities.

People allege that a large population may get disqualified from contesting the elections just because of the revenue anomalies. Secretary of the Election Commission Surjeet Rathore says that the provision to disqualify those who have encroached upon government land from contesting the local bodies elections has been in force since long. However, the returning officers of the elections have the discretion to disqualify a person on this ground, he adds.

Ashay Jasrotia, a social activist, alleges that the provision for disqualification from the panchayat elections on the basis of encroachment upon government land has been vaguely stated in the Act. This leaves discretion with the returning officers to disqualify a person or not.

“The government should exempt people having Nautor rights and those, who had settled on common land long ago and do not have any other land, from the definition of encroachers for the purpose. In case the Forest Rights Act of 2006 is implemented in the state, many such issues may get settled,” he said.

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