The landless Dalit labourers of Eludesam village in Kanyakumari district are a worried lot. They have been waiting for the last six years to receive free lands distributed by the government as a private temple and a group of non-Dalits continue to fight a legal battle claiming ownership over the property.

The issue dates back to October 10, 2003 when the temple management purchased the property. However, the revenue officials rejected a request to grant ‘patta’ (land ownership document) on the ground that it was a Government ‘poromboke’ land. Immediately, the management instituted a civil suit before the Kuzhithurai sub-court.

Resisting the civil suit, the then Collector stated that land was classified as ‘Harijan Kudiyirruppu’ (Dalits residence). Even as he was taking steps to distribute the land to landless Dalits, the temple management filed a writ petition in the principal seat of the High Court in Chennai against the proposed distribution.

The High Court on April 20, 2004 disposed of the petition with a direction to the Collector to take action by following the due process of law.

However, pending adjudication of the case, the government officials granted ‘patta’ in favour of 10 people by mentioning a wrong survey number.

Thereafter, the beneficiaries filed a writ petition in 2005 to correct the survey number in the ‘patta’ issued to them. The petition was disposed of with a direction to the government officials to consider petitioners’ request subject to the decision in the civil suit filed by the temple management.

Even as the matter stood thus, the Vilanvancode Tahsildar passed an order on July 15, 2008 correcting the survey number in the ‘patta.’ This forced the temple management to move the Madurai Bench of the High Court challenging the Tahsildar’s order on the ground that the civil suit was still pending.

The management also claimed that the 10 beneficiaries had obtained the land by falsely claiming to be Dalits. Stating that all these beneficiaries were also parties in the civil suit, the temple said that they were not landless poor also according to an affidavit filed long back by the former Collector.

Disposing of the case, Justice T.S.Sivagnanam said: “A scramble for a Government property has resulted in the present litigation. The Government has evolved a scheme of granting free ‘pattas’ to alleviate the landless poor from the pangs of poverty and to ensure a decent living. This laudable object has been abused which has resulted in various disputes between the parties herein thereby defeating the very purpose of the scheme.”

Holding that the revenue officials have no authority to decide the title of the property, he directed all parties concerned to wait until the civil court passes a decree.

The Judge also directed the Kuzhithurai sub-court to expedite the trial and conclude the proceedings within the next six months so that, the true landless poor Dalits could be benefited.

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