In a landmark judgement, the Orissa High Court has stated that any farmer cultivating on government land for 30 years will be entitled to get the ownership right. The Odisha government should come up with a relevant policy in this regard, said the High Court.
The court’s direction came up with the directive while hearing a petition filed by several cashew farmers from Balikuda block in Jagatsinghpur district. The farmers, who have been cultivating since 1983, had moved the court against the encroachment case lodged by the administration.
The High Court has directed the State Agriculture Department to prepare the policy within six months. The State government should bring out the policy before February 23, and till then, the status quo should be maintained on the concerned land, the court’s order read.
It is pertinent to mention here that the petitioners had alleged to have received the land for cashew plantations under the rehabilitation scheme of the Centre some 30 years back. The scheme was implemented by the State government. However, they had moved court after they were asked to vacate the land.
In its affidavit, Balikuda Tehsildar had mentioned that around 52 acres of land in Keupada, Brahmanidihi and Tentulipadari villages was identified and the district soil conservation department had decided to go for cashew plantations. Out of the total land, 2 acres of land each was allotted to 26 beneficiaries in February 1986 and since then the farmers have been cultivating cashewnuts on the land.
The Tehsildar had stated in his affidavit that the concerned beneficiaries do not have any ownership right on the patch of the land and the claim by them is not acceptable. The Tehsildar had also prayed to the court for registration of an encroachment case and collection of penalty from the beneficiaries. Later, the High Court had ordered a status quo on the land while hearing the petitions in March 2003. The court in its previous hearing had directed to formulate a policy on how the land can be registered in the name of the beneficiaries.
In its response, the State government had argued that if the land is registered in the name of the petitioners, there will be similar requests by several others, who may have been granted land for cultivation by the Government. The government can use the land for other public welfare works. However, the court had quashed such argument.
"If in fact there is no such supervening public purpose for which the land is required, then the Government should seriously consider whether in all such cases, where the persons have been cultivating the land for well over three decades, a scheme can be formulated, which would be beneficial both to the persons undertaking such cultivation as well as the Government," the order read.
The Court further directed that till such time the policy decision is taken, the status quo as ordered by the Court earlier vis-à-vis the Petitioners will continue. The policy decision should be taken within a period of six months from today and in any event, not later than 1st February, 2023.