Whose land is it anyway?

Land Rights
Last Updated : 19 April 2010, 09:24 IST

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The original inhabitants of Kodagu have been subject to regular pinpricks by successive governments in Karnataka over the ‘ownership’ of Jamma lands, the principal tenure in the district.

Even though a full bench of the Karnataka High Court has given its judgement on the rights of the Jamma land holders, the confusion over ownership issues have persisted. Jamma is derived from the Sanskrit word “Janma”, meaning “hereditary by birth”.

According to Sir J B Lyall, a British expert on tenures in Coorg who traced the origin of Jamma, it was originally a military tenure held on payment of half the assessment in consideration of military service.

Granted by Coorg Rajas

Jamma was granted under sannads largely by the Coorg Rajas (1600 AD to 1834 AD) and to a smaller extent by the British till 1895 to the local inhabitants – Kodavas, Amma-Kodavas, Heggades, Airis, Koyavas, Moplas and Gaudas. The Jamma-holders were liable to be called out to repel external aggression or quell internal disturbances, and to be deployed as treasury guards.

The system of land tenure prior to 1812 is not clear for want of authentic records. The first authentic revenue records were prepared by Lingaraja and Chikkaveeraraja between 1812 and 1824. The Jamma lands consisted of the wetland for growing paddy and the adjoining highland called Bane land, initially used for cattle grazing and held free of assessment, which have now been converted into coffee estates.

It may be of interest to note that Jamma-holders never in the past had any rights over the standing trees on the Bane land, except for private use like firewood and house-building.

Cultivation of Jamma land

For generations, the lives of the local inhabitants, centered around the cultivation of the Jamma lands. The Jamma lands could not be alienated as there was no provision for transferring the title of the property. The ownership was jointly held by the clan and it was managed by the head of the clan (Pattedara).

The fact that one hardly came across a beggar among the local inhabitants of Kodagu was because all the residents had a share in the Jamma land. Moreover, the members of the community had a right to live in the ainemanes (ancestral houses) built on Jamma lands. In the olden days, the Jamma tenure provided social security to the inhabitants.

However, the problem started after the original inhabitants began to dispose of the timber grown on Bane lands in the last few decades. The government stepped in and prevented the sale of timber on the ground that the Jamma-holders had ‘limited rights over the land as they did not have proprietary rights.”

The issue was taken to the Karnataka High Court and a full bench of the Court held in its judgement delivered in October 1993, that Bane landholders had limited privileges for grazing, supply of firewood and timber for the domestic and agriculture purposes, but had no right to exploit the trees for commercial purposes, unless the holder had paid full timber value to the government. The Court also held that the land-owner had no right in the sub-soil.

Further, it was reiterated by the Court that Bane lands could not be alienated without paying nazarana to the government. In short, the Court opined that Bane holders did not have proprietary rights. It is estimated that the extent of Jamma Bane land is around 2.55 lakh acres.

The Karnataka government has been issuing circulars at regular intervals on the issues involving the ownership of Bane lands. The latest circular was issued by the Revenue Department in February 2010, which has stated that Bane lands belong to the government.

Way back in October, 2006, the Revenue Department had issued a circular which stated that holders’ rights over “Bane” lands were limited and no conversion of these lands would be allowed. Applications for conversion which had been granted should be annulled, it said.

A clarification was issued in January 2007, stating that such restrictions would not apply to “redeemed Bane” land in the district, for which the owner would have paid the value of land and trees to the Government.

There was an agitation in Kodagu last year which was spearheaded by the Bane Hakku Rakshana Samiti and Kodagu Asthitva Horata Samiti. The Jamma-holders protested against the circulars and demanded their revocation.

Time to review Jamma tenure

The time has come to review the Jamma tenure and strengthen the institution, rather than abolish the tenure altogether. In the past, Karnataka politicians have threatened to scrap the Jamma tenure on the contention that the land belonged to the government. Such announcements would only encourage forces that are fighting for a separate Kodagu state.

The sentiments of the inhabitants of Kodagu, which was an independent state, prior to its merger with Karnataka following the Re-organisation of the States on linguistic basis in 1956, needs to be taken into account.

According to Kalengada M Madaiah, an advocate, the Jamma tenure in the past was the foundation on which the social structure of Kodagu evolved.   The Jamma-land holders were considered a privileged class by the government, unlike those who migrated from outside.

Even to this day, all the Jamma-holders have been exempted from the Indian Arms Act to possess guns without obtaining licence. The exemption is for those who are “Kodava by race or Jamma-holders”. The continuous interference in the tenure by successive governments has been the cause for the weakening of the tenure.

It is a fact that most of the Jamma-holders want absolute ownership of the land, so that they could sell the timber and their properties with a view to migrate to the cities. However, this is nothing but selfish thinking for short-term gains. Ideally, the government should not allow the alienation of the Jamma lands.  Any move to the allow the sale of Jamma lands would destroy the culture of the people and lead to the extinction of  indigenous communities. 

Published 19 April 2010, 09:24 IST

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