Movement on rights over `bane' land gathers steam

MADIKERI, NOV. 15. Why did the Government procrastinate over its assurance to confer occupancy rights over "bane" lands in Kodagu, including the trees on them, despite agreeing to do so five years ago?

The Government's stand on the issue was clear, thanks to its two letters to the district administration in 1998 and 1999. A circular issued by the Forest Department restricting landholders from felling trees on "bane" land and saying such land was government land created a row recently, and led to the agitation launched by landholders in Kodagu.

The Government wanted to confer full rights of occupancy to the landholders and constitute a special survey team for the purpose. The landholders' movement has gathered steam. A.K. Subbaiah and M.C. Nanaiah, former MLCs, and C.S. Arun Machaiah, MLC, and the support of all the elected representatives have lent credibility to the agitation.

The contention of the landholders is that when the Karnataka Land Revenue Act of 1964 came into being in Kodagu, repealing the Coorg Revenue Regulation (CRR) of 1899, there was no need to treat Kodagu separately. The order of the High Court of Karnataka in 1993 (pertaining to WP NO. 11752/1993 and WP No. 3939/1988) said that cultivated bane land, after coming under full assessment, should be considered as "alienated bane" land and the landholder acquired the right of an occupant as envisaged in the Land Reforms Act of 1964. If the "bane" land was uncultivated the landholder would have the right to fell timber for bona fide use, for cattle grazing, collection of leaf litter for manure and so on.

"Bane" land is land attached to "warg" (paddy fields or wetlands, which are of "jamma" tenure) from the time of the rulers of Kodagu and continued during the British occupation.

Tenures, privileges

While forms of 35-odd land tenures (peculiar to Kodagu) were done away with after enacting the Land Reforms Act, certain privileges attached to "jamma" tenure had been retained with the "jamma" holders, Mr. Subbaiah has said. These privileges included exemption from gun licence. A person should be a Kodava by race or a "jamma" holder to be eligible for such an exemption.

B.J. Chinnappa, president of the Madikeri Bar Association, said the Kodavas would have no problem even if they sold their "jamma" land with regard to the exemption from holding a gun licence. Again, the "bane" land was attached to "jamma" land (also called "Jamma Bane") as service land and the "alienated bane" would get detached from the "jamma". In the event of a non-Kodava selling his "jamma" and "alienated bane", he would be deprived of the privilege. This was being debated. Mr. Chinnappa said the nomenclature "jamma" should stay even with the "alienated bane".

While defining "bane", the British said they were forest lands granted for the benefit of wetlands, but the word forest never meant it was a reserved forest or government land, said T.C. Thammaiah, a retired tahsildar. When the Government had decided to confer proprietary rights to the landholders as per Section 79 of the Land Reforms Act, why should the Forest Department think of taking action over it, he asked.

The proof of the changes in the revenue system being consistent with the Land Reforms Act was the introduction of the Revenue Transfer Certificate (RTC) in Kodagu, replacing the old jamabandhi register. The RTC was introduced in a hurry without adhering to certain norms under Chapter VII of the Karnataka Land Revenue Rules of 1966 and also without conducting "hissa" (part by part) survey in Kodagu, Mr. Thammaiah said.

Landholders said no land tenure that existed in the CRR of 1899 should be entered (as it was in the jamabandhi register) in the RTC. In place of it, entries should only pertain to whether the land was "khushki" (dry), "tari" (wetland or jamma), "bagaithu" (garden land) or "plantation" (coffee and others).

The Land Reforms Act had brought Kodagu on a par with other districts of the State (where landholders are the proprietors).

At present, 90 per cent of the "bane" and "hitlu" (land granted for construction of house, garden) had been brought under various forms of cultivation in Kodagu, said Mr. Thammaiah.

This meant they were "alienated bane" (or "paradeena" in the words of the landholders). However, the issue of rights over trees that existed before the "bane" became "alienated" would have to be clarified by the Government.

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