Bill set to blow up in government's face

State Dept of Law says the bill piloted by the Dept of Law violates 2 Central laws

The State Department of Law and Parliamentary Affairs is preparing to refer to the President for her assent, the piece of legislation that sought to hand over thousands of landed properties of original land owners (Mulagars) in the urban areas of the twin coastal districts - Dakshina Kannada and Udupi, to tenants (Mulagenidars).

The department is of the view that the provisions of the legislation - The Karnataka Mulageni Athava Volamulageni Genidararige Malikathvavannu Pradhana Maduva Vidheyaka, 2011 (giving ownership to tenants), are repugnant to two pieces of Central legislation - the Registration Act, 1908 and the Transfer of Property Act, 1857. 

Therefore, the Bill has to be considered by the President under Article 200 of the Constitution, the department has said in its submission to the Governor’s office as well as in the letter it is set to  dispatch to the Union Home Department on March 21, sources in the secretariat said.

The bill was hardly debated when it was piloted by Revenue Minister K Karunakara Reddy and was rushed through in both the Houses of the legislature in January. With both the Houses in pandemonium most of the time, the ruckus came in handy for the government to get bills passed without debate.

It is learnt that the Law Department officers argued that the provisions of the bill would violate the Constitution, but cowed down in the face of pressure from two prominent ministers from the coastal districts. The bill has been passed, but the land owners’ association has decided to contest it in a court of law. Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts are said have nearly 14,000 Mulagars (original land owners) and 17,000 Mulagenidars (tenants). The Mulageni system was prevalent in South Kanara (now Dakshina Kannada and Udupi) that was part of the Madras presidency in 1860.

The landlords had alienated their lands on a permanent basis to the tenants for a meagre annual rent. There is no provision to increase the rent or take over the land or sell the land or take up construction unless both the parties agree. While some are in possession of agreement documents, in some cases a mention of the land lease are made in the records of churches or temples.

 The revenue department is in the process of computerising the land records. Hence, the number of land owners and tenants is not known. The Dakshina Kannada Tenants’ Association president Maxim D’Silva said that there were at least a couple of lakh tenants spread across the two districts.

Clarence Pais, advocate and president of the Mulagars’ & Land Owners’ Association of Mangalore says the Act will be ultra vires of  Article 300A of the Constitution. The government’s intention is  to gift the landlords’ right to the tenant. Agricultural tenancies have been wiped out under the Land Reforms Act. 

Dharmendra Mehta, a retired Indian Revenue Officer and a member of the owners’ association, said the government was trying to grab the land worth crores of rupees from the land owners to help the tenants. “The government says the compensation will be 500 to 1000 times the rent the owners are getting, but the majority of the owners are getting just Rs 10 to 20 as annual rent which was fixed centuries ago for properties that are now in urban areas,” he said.

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