The death of Bagair Hukum cultivator Thimmaraju at Mekerahalli in Sira taluk of the district on Wednesday has rekindled the agitation in the Bagair Hukum farmers (those cultivating land sans legal ownership).
Thimmaraju had consumed poison along with three other farmers who are demanding that they be given title deeds of the land they have been cultivating for over two decades now.
While the land of many farmers at Mudigere Kaval in Sira have been regularised, 20 other farmers are not so lucky. Officials of the Town Municipality had even announced that the civic body would take over these lands. Thimmaraju and the three others are among these 20 farmers.
The statewide movement by the Bagair Hukum farmers, demanding that they be given ownership of government land cultivated by them, is two decades old. These farmers face an uncertain future following recent efforts by the government to reclaim the land.
Of the 30 districts in the State, the highest number of Bagair Hukum cultivators are in 20 districts that include Mandya, Hassan, Chikmagalur, Tumkur and Shimoga. The problem is not so severe in Bangalore, Mysore, Belgaum and other districts.
The verdict by a two-judge Bench of the High Court regarding gomaala lands (grazing lands in government control), ‘gundu thopu’ and other State-owned lands has only complicated the matter. The Court said land should be earmarked in each village in proportion to the number of cattle and the rest of the land could be granted to farmers. Given that the number of cattle population is exceeds land availability in many places, the Bagair Hukum farmers have been deprived of land.
It was in 1986 that the agitation by the Bagair Hukum farmers began, under the Prantha Raitha Sangha. The government called for applications for regularisation of land in 1991 and 1997 and a total of 30 lakh applications were received.
Of these, the government identified 16 lakh farmers as Bagair Hukum and till date land has been transferred to 12 lakh farmers. That leaves four lakh farmers still waiting for the title deeds.
Five acres is the upper limit for land distribution under Bagair Hukum. But most farmers seeking regularisation are cultivating land between an acre and a half and two acres. Farmers’ organisations allege that the dreams of the Bagair Hukum farmers were shattered when the Prevention of Land Encroachment Act was enacted by the JD(S)-BJP government in 2007, following the submission of the report of the A T Ramaswamy Committee on government land encroachment.
They said that the panel could not distinguish between rich landlords, the land grabbers and Bagair Hukum farmers. The panel branded all those holding government land as encroachers, the organisations alleged.
Implementation of the reports of the A T Ramaswamy Committee and Balasubramaniam task force has sounded the death knell for farmers (most of them belonging to the oppressed classes), pushing them to commit suicide, they said.
Maruti Manpade, president of the Prantha Raitha Sangha, has sought that the issue must be resolved by amending the Land Encroachment Prevention Act. He said the Bagair Hukum committees under the leadership of the MLAs was of no use.