'Bane' landholders may soon be on terra firma

When it comes to drawing up legislation, the State Legislature is always in a tearing hurry. One bill with far-reaching ramifications was passed without much debate in the Assembly on December 16.

The bill in question is the amendment to the Land Revenue Act, which facilitates assessment of acres and acres of ‘bane’ lands in Kodagu (earlier Coorg) and Dakshina Kannada districts.

The bill was discussed for less than 30 minutes in the House. The stated objective of the Karnataka Land Revenue (Third Amendment) Bill, 2011, is just one line — “conferring rights”, including assessment of ‘bane’ (pronounced ba-nay) land, in Kodagu district. This also means giving away bane land classified as forest land to holders of wetland.

As per an assessment, bane land is spread over nearly three lakh acres in Kodagu and Dakshina Kannada districts. If bane land is forest land, why is the government trying to give away such land on a platter to those who have absolutely no rights over it?

The bill was introduced in the Assembly by none other than Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda as the matter had bypassed the State Cabinet. Interestingly, the Law Department and the Revenue Department have strongly opposed the amendment to the Land Revenue Act of 1964, as it would be repugnant to Central legislation pertaining to forests, which fall under the Concurrent List, the secretariat sources said.

It is said a political lobby from Kodagu worked so hard to get the bill passed that eventually the ruling BJP had to give in to pressure. One MLA even threatened to resign from the high post he was holding if the bill failed to sail through.

There are few land holders, including politicians, in Kodagu who have not encroached on bane land for cultivation. With the government buckling under pressure, eventually the Law Department prepared the bill, knowing fully well that it would have to get the presidential assent to become a law, even if it was passed in the Legislature.

No property rights

Official sources said the Karnataka High Court, while dealing with a number of bane land-related matters, had ruled that bane land fell under the forest category. People cultivating in bane land do not enjoy property rights.

In case they have records of rights as occupants of unalienated government land, they will not have rights over the property. In other words, they will remain encroachers, the court had observed.  

In 2006-07, when S M Jaamdar was the revenue secretary, he had issued a government order stating that bane land adjoining forest land, also known as ‘warg’ land (wetland), cannot be equated with Jamma land (agriculture land). But this had not gone down well with politicians who own acres upon acres of plantations in Kodagu, as they have encroached on vast tracts of bane land. They had even pulled out all stops to get the encroachments regularised for all these years, but in vain.

But the present government, through the current amendment bill, has made a provision for assessment of ‘bane’ land. As the State has no jurisdiction over forest land, the question of the Revenue Department assessing bane lands does not arise.

Records clear

‘Bane’ land forms at least 25 per cent of the total forest land in Kodagu, it is said. But there is no record to show the total extent of such land. According to the Forest Department, the total extent of forest land in Kodagu is 16,000 ha or 2,000 sq km. Forest land encroachment cannot be regularised like encroached revenue land.
Yet, as politicians have vested interests when it comes to bane land regularisation, they may succeed in getting the nod for the bill. But such laws will cause a loss of several thousand crore rupees of rupees to the exchequer, official sources said.

As per records like the Coorg Manual, the Karnataka Revenue Survey Manual and the Coorg District Gazette, bane is forest land granted for the service of ‘warg’ or holding of rice fields to which it is allotted. It should be free of revenue for grazing, leaf manure, firewood and for timber required in the wetland.

Even during the British regime, bane land was considered as forest land granted as appendage to ‘warg.’ It has no independent existence. ‘Bane’ lands are statutorily recognised forests as per the provisions in sub-section (2) of Section 2 of Karnataka Forest Act, 1963 (Act 5 of 1964) and sub-section (3) of Section 94-B in the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964.

Senior advocate A K Subbaiah, a native of Kodagu, argued that bane land was governed by the State Revenue Act. “The bill will only help the government to assess the extent of bane land as well as tax collection. Many RTC holders are not paying tax though they are cultivating the land. Once the assessment is done, the government’s tax collection will improve.”

The Law Department is yet to forward the bill, passed by the legislature, to the governor for his assent.

The legislature had rushed through the Karnataka Mulageni Athava Volamulageni Genidararige Malikathvavannu Pradhana Maduva Vidheyaka, 2011 (giving ownership to tenants), though the provisions made were repugnant to two pieces of Central legislation - the Registration Act, 1908, and the Transfer of Property Act, 1857.

The bill is pending President’s assent for the last six months.

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