Sarma, in his letter, said that the new Bill could potentially lead to illegal transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals.

Former bureaucrat and environmental activist EAS Sarma is urging Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan to intervene into the matter of the Telangana Rights in Land and Pattadar Passbooks Bill 2020 and incorporate the provisions relevant to the Panchayats (Extension to the Schedule Areas) Act [PESA] and other laws to safeguard the interests of tribals in scheduled areas. Sarma, in his letter, said that the new Bill, which confers powers to Tahsildars, could potentially lead to illegal transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals, violating the existing rules and laws in place in Scheduled Areas.

In a move to bring reform in Revenue administration, the Telangana government, led by K Chandrasekhar Rao, passed the Telangana Rights in Land and Pattadar Passbooks Bill, 2020 after abolishing the Village Revenue Officers’ system last week. The Bill is expected to be passed in the Council on Tuesday, following which it will need the Governor’s assent to become an Act.

However, several civil society activists, organisations and experts in land laws have opposed the Bill, stating that it did not offer inclusive consultation before framing. Many have claimed that the Bill would have far-reaching implications for vulnerable sections of farmers who are dependent on assigned lands.

Citing similar interests, EAS Sarma said the Bill would legitimise irregular land appropriation by non-tribals in scheduled areas, by affecting the rights guaranteed under Fifth Schedule of Indian Constitution and other laws.

Sarma said, “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.”

He stated that the Bill would violate the protections given to the tribals under the land transfer law, which confers a presumptive right for tribals to own land in the Scheduled Areas and restricts occupation of tribal lands by non-tribals.

The former IAS officer has also further highlighted that the present Bill excludes the exercising of Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act [PESA] in the matters related to land alienations.

EAS Sarma has also cited an article by activist and lawyer Palla Trinadha Rao for The News Minute, in which he discussed potential violations the Bill would cause to land rights of tribals.

He also expressed concerns that the Tribal Advisory Council’s (TAC) role in discussing the provisions of the Bill may be undermined. “Apparently, the Tribal Advisory Council 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.”

EAS Sarma urged the Governor 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.”

Courtesy The News Minute