Chandigarh, Punjab: It was after the India-Pakistan war in 1965 that Sikh farmers from Punjab migrated to Bhuj area in Gujarat’s Kutch district. The proposal to move Punjab farmers to Kutch was mooted by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who said that Sikh farmers would not only make the land cultivable but also help guard the country’s border.
The Sikh farmers, numbering 5,000, say they have been systematically targeted by the Gujarat Government and the land mafia during the past some years.
Most of them had migrated to Gujarat from Punjab’s Malwa region and Haryana’s Karnal district.
“Revenue officials have been tampering with the records to show that we are no longer occupants of the land. The girdawari has been changed to show that nobody cultivates the land owned by us,” alleged farmer Surinder Singh. He said this was aimed to dispossess them of their land.
“Those hand in glove with the land mafia issue threats to Sikh farmers asking them to sell their land. Intimidated, some farmers have sold part of their land-holding at throwaway prices,”Surinder Singh alleged.
The Gujarat Government sent eviction notices to the Sikh farmers under the Bombay Tenancy and Agriculture Lands Act.
The affected farmers challenged the notices in the Gujarat High Court. “After a five-day hearing, a three-Judge Bench ruled in our favour, stating that there was no mention in the Act that Gujaratis alone could own agriculture land and that the Act only forbade non-farmers from owning land,” explained Dr Ajaib Singh, member of the National Commission for Minorities, who spent five days in Bhuj.
However, the Gujarat Government challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court. The case is listed for hearing on August 27. Dr Ajaib Singh said that most of the affected farmers we camping in New Delhi, seeking help of senior leaders from Punjab,” he said.
Surinder Singh recalled that when they moved to Gujarat in the 1960s, the almost barren land was available for less than Rs 1 lakh per acre. “Now a fertile belt, the land rates have soared to Rs 10 lakh – Rs 12 lakh per acre. We produce about 50 quintals of cotton from one hectare. We also grow wheat, groundnut and guar,” he said. “We have raised mango orchards and grown the world’s best dates with the help of tissue culture,” Surinder Singh claimed. Most of the Punjabi farmers are settled around Kuthara town in the Nalia subdivision.
Source: The Tribune