Demand for stricter land laws gains force in Uttarakhand; youth launch a campaign and hit the road

The Uttarakhand youth, supported by land rights activists and environmentalists, are demanding reinstating a land ceiling of 250 square metres for purchase by the ‘outsiders’, which was revoked in 2018.

Deepak Rawat
| Updated: July 22nd, 2021

According to the youth, an indiscriminate buying and selling of land in the hill state by the ‘outsiders’ has triggered demonstrations for stricter land laws.

Dehradun, Uttarakhand

Two decades after the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, the youth of the hill state have launched a major campaign demanding stringent land laws so that ‘outsiders’ cannot buy farmland in the state. This, they believe, is crucial for safeguarding the land, culture, language and the identity of the residents of the state.

It began as a movement on social media last month, but on July 18, in the state capital of Dehradun, young people gathered at several crossroads in the city and in front of the Vidhan Sabha, carrying placards, posters and banners, demanding more stringent land laws in the state. ‘Uttarakhand maange bhoo kanoon’ [Uttarakhand demands stringent land law] is slowly spreading like wildfire in the state. 

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“Pushkar Dhami, our new chief minister, is young himself, and he has to address our demands in order to bring about progress and development,”  Manish Raturi , one of the demonstrators at Vidhan Sabha, told Gaon Connection.  

“The state government should take heed of what the youth want. Otherwise, it will have to face the consequences in the 2022 Vidhan Sabha elections,” warned Ashish Nautiyal, another young demonstrator.  

According to the youth, an indiscriminate buying and selling of land in the hill state by the ‘outsiders’ has triggered demonstrations for stricter land laws. Land rights activists and environmentalists in the state are also supporting the demands for strict land laws.   

“In Mukteshwar-Ramgarh belt, in Dhari block, Nainital district, more than half the land is bought by outsiders,” claimed Chandan Nayal, an environmentalist from Nainital. A few years ago, Nayal was praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann Ki Baat radio programme for having planted more than 40,000 tree saplings in the district. 

According to the environmentalist, resorts have come up everywhere and worse, borewells are being drilled in the water-strapped hilly terrain. “Because of this, the farmers in surrounding areas are facing severe water shortage in their farms,” Nayal told Gaon Connection.   

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“We have no problem with people from outside coming to Uttarakhand, however we have a big problem with them, if they mess with our culture, land, forest and water sources,” he added. 

Uttarakhand’s diluted land laws

In 2002, people of the newly formed state had voiced their concern to the then Congress Chief Minister, the late ND Tiwari about land laws in the state. In 2003, the ‘Uttaranchal (UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reform Act 1950 – Adaptation and Incorporation) Amendment Ordinance 2003’ dated 12 September, 2003 was brought in which prevented outsiders from buying more than 500 square metres (sq m) of agricultural land in Uttarakhand. 

In 2007, under the Bharatiya Janata Party government, Chief Minister BC Khanduri reduced the area of land that could be bought in the state by the outsiders to 250 sq m. However, these restrictions did not apply to urban areas.  

A decade later, in 2017, the people of Uttarakhand, once again, voted in the Bharatiya Janata Party and Trivendra Rawat was sworn in as the chief minister of the state.  

The following year, in 2018, Rawat set aside the 2003 amendment paving the way for outsiders to buy any amount of land in the hill state. Agricultural land could be purchased and put to any non-agricultural use. This, claimed the state government, would attract investment and bring employment opportunities to the local people. But the move caused much resentment in the state’s population. 

Predictably, land law has also become a political issue.

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Politics around bhoo kanoon

“The same old excuse of changing the land rules in order to attract investment, is trotted out by the state government,” Indresh Maikhuri, member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) based in Dehradun, told Gaon Connection.  

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Dhami

However, no significant investments had come about, he pointed out. “Only, the land mafia will benefit from this unregulated and unrestricted buying and selling of land in the hill state,” said Maikhuri. 

“Former chief minister, Trivendra Singh Rawat , had claimed that the new law would bring about big investments in the state. I request the present government to furnish a white paper on what investments have come about in the state as a consequence of the relaxed land norms,” Congress Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), from Kedarnath, told Gaon Connection. “We also need to know what impact the new rules had on the serious matter of migration of people from the states in search of livelihoods,” he added.    

Meanwhile, Harish Rawat, who was chief minister of Uttarakhand from 2016 to 2017, also indicated on social media that the matter would be brought up in the days leading to the 2022 Vidhan Sabha elections.  

Power to people through land law 

“Nine per cent of the state’s total geographical area is agricultural land that needs protection. Also, the people of the state have the right over the remaining ninety one per cent of land,” Kishore Upadhyay, former Congress state president and a forest rights activist, told Gaon Connection

Upadhyay informed that 72 per cent of the hill state’s area was forest land. “We also need strict enforcement of the forest rights law. Once that is done, it will automatically empower the land act,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Vipin Ghildiyal, one of the young demonstrators from Pauri Garhwal, said that the youth was running the protest campaign to help the state’s farmers. “We have to do something about strengthening the land laws. The existing laws only encourage the land mafia. Our intention is to help farmers and the land laws must side with the farmers,” he said. 

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Uttarakhand wants the 2003 law back

The protesting youth want the Uttarakhand government to bring in strong legislation like in the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh, where since 1971, it is impossible to trade in agricultural land. According to section 118 of the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, 1972, agricultural land cannot be sold to be used for non-agricultural uses. Also, no non-Himachali person can buy land in the state, though he or she can rent land for commercial purposes. 

“We have no enmity with people of other states. People from our state also live elsewhere. Everyone is welcome to Uttarakhand,” Anil Joshi, environmentalist and Padma Shree awardee, told Gaon Connection. “All we want is to stop the land mafia, and stop indiscriminate construction activities in the sensitive environs of the mountains,” he added. 

“We must know that only if the land, forests and water sources are protected, are we protected,” Joshi said. He reiterated that the ecology on the mountains was very different from the plains, and anything that damaged the balance of nature there, like indiscriminate building and felling of trees,etc., would be disastrous. 

“We want the 250-square-metre rule of 2003 to be reinstated,” Pradeep Kukreti, district president of Rajya Andolankari Manch, Dehradun, told Gaon Connection. The manch is made up of all those who had agitated for a separate state for Uttarakhand in 2000. “We met the new chief minister, Pushkar Dhami, and he has assured us that he would do everything for the development and welfare of the state,” Kukreti said.   

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