(Dr EAS Sarma” letter to the Governor, Telangana)
I am writing this letter to express my concerns at the Telangana Government processing the Telangana Rights in Land and Pattadar Pass Books Bill, 2020 in the State Assembly without the necessary safeguards to protect the interests of the tribals in the Scheduled Areas of the State. As a former Commissioner for Tribal Welfare in the erstwhile State of Andhra Pradesh and as a person familiar with the problems of the tribals in Telangana, I wish to seek your intervention to direct the State Government to review the Bill so as to incorporate the provisions relevant to the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act [PESA] and the other laws that regulate land transfers to non-tribals so as to safeguard the interests of the tribals.
In this connection, I enclose here an excellent article on the subject authored by Shri Palla Trinadha Rao, a lawyer who has studied the Bill from the point of view of the Scheduled Areas and provided useful inputs.
Administration in the Scheduled Areas is governed by the provisions of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution. The President of India and the Governor of the State have a special role to play in ensuring that the tribals’ interests are fully safeguarded. Several laws and regulations have been enacted under the provisions of this Schedule to protect the interests of the tribals.
One of the important laws that have been enacted in this connection is the land transfer law that confers a presumptive right on the tribal to own land in the Scheduled Areas. If a non-tribal comes into the occupation of any land in the Scheduled Areas, the onus to prove that he/ she has not violated the land transfer law rests on the non-tribal. The intention underlying this is to recognise the illegal money-lending and other land-grabbing practices adopted by non-tribals to occupy the tribals’ lands. There are stringent restrictions on non-tribals registering land alienations. The land transfer law has an overriding effect over all other laws including the law on registration.
In the Scheduled Areas, the District Collector entertains applications submitted on behalf of the tribals in matters pertaining to lands. Under the existing land transfer law, permission from the District Collector is essential for registration of any land transaction in the Scheduled Areas. As per the rules, the Tahsildar shall strictly comply with the provisions of the land transfer law to check for any potential illegal land transactions and scrutinise documents produced by applicants for registration of any land in the region, before sending remarks to the District Collector. The Tehsildar has no legal authority to register any land transaction. But the new Bill confers powers on the Tehsildar as the registering authority, a provision that contravenes the land transfer rules and opens the floodgates to illegal land transfers to the non-tribals. This will also allow unregistered sale deeds to be recognised readily to the detriment of the tribals.
Under the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act or PESA which is a Central legislation, the tribal Gram Sabhas have a statutory authority to have a say on any matter that affects the tribals’ interests including the matters that concern land alienations. The Bill makes no mention of this.
Apparently, the Tribal Advisory Council (TAC) of the State, constituted under Clause 4 of the Fifth Schedule, had no opportunity to discuss the provisions of the Bill in so far as they relate to the Scheduled Areas.
I would earnestly appeal to you to seek an independent legal opinion on the Bill with special reference to the administration of the Scheduled Areas and direct the State government to amend the same to safeguard the tribals’ interests.
E A S Sarma,Former Secretaty to GOI, Visakhapatnam