Freezing has triggered a controversy with Punjab CM raising the issue with Narendra Modi

The Gujarat Government is learnt to have last week decided to de-freeze agriculture land accounts of over 50 Sikh farmers in Kutch district, whose land was frozen due to alleged violation of revenue laws.

The issue of the State Government’s freezing of agriculture lands of Sikhs in Kutch became controversial to the extent that Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal spoke about its resolution with his counterpart Narendra Modi in August, 2013.

Kutch district officials, led by Resident Collector D.B. Shah, said the recent decision was taken after scrutinising land holding documents of the Sikh farmers. Officials said it was not only Sikhs whose lands were frozen. They only constituted 245 out of a total 784 such cases.

According to sources in the State Revenue Department, post the 1965 India-Pak war, nearly 1000 Sikh families migrated to the Kutch district and started tilling land and some of them bought agricultural land. “The issue was raised from a 50-year-old policy in Gujarat. Going by the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Land [Vidarbha region and Kutch area] Act, 1958 agriculture land cannot be purchased or retained by a ‘non-agriculturist’.”

An ‘agriculturist’ is defined in the Act as a person who owns and cultivates land in Gujarat.

According to the provisions of this Act, the then Congress Government ruled by former Chief Minister Ghanshyam Oza issued a circular ordering that the sale of any non-agriculturalist’s land in Gujarat should be examined immediately.

“In fact, 454 Sikh farmers were given land in Kutch for cultivation by the State Government. The exercise of freezing the accounts does not apply to them. They are bona fide cultivators authorised by the Government itself,” he added.

The issue was raised in August this year by the Punjab Chief Minister who was in Gujarat to attend the Vibrant Gujarat Global Agriculture Summit. Mr. Modi had then told him that the issue was a result of the Act brought in 1973 by the then Congress Government. He, however, had assured that his government would not allow injustice to the Sikh farmers.

Apart from Mr. Badal, the issue was taken up by North American Punjab Association (NAPA), the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and others.