Have you ever heard of any region where the landed properties are left unsettled for years, even since 18th century? If not, here is an example of those people, who have hectares of landed properties, but remain landless. Though living in their own homes, they are recorded as illegal forest-dwellers in government records. They are treated as refugees on their own homestead lands. This is the melancholic story of innocent Vanvasis of Kondhamal district of Orissa, who still run pillar to post to get their land claims settled.
Kondhamal is the prime tribe-dominated district of Orissa, where more than 95 per cent of the population is Vanvasis, particularly the ancient tribe, Kondhas. Though the government repeatedly claims to wipe out the tears of these forest-dwellers, they are still rotting within the vicious circle of corruption and mental tortures, towards which the state administration allegedly maintains a studied silence, resulting 10,12,19,895 hectares of landed properties left unsettled.
According to historical sources, it is revealed that Kondhamal has a special place in Orissa'shistory. As the complete information regarding the landed properties is not available, it is undisputed that nobody knew about this unique region till 1836. In 1836, a platoon of British force rushed here to rescue the Merihas kept for sacrifice. In those days, the local Kandhas were accustomed to man-slaughter in the name of sacrifice and the victim was called Merihas. However, the British government stopped this evil practice. In the course of time on February 15, 1855, Mr. Samuels, the then British superintendent, merged the region with the British Empire and named it as ?Kondhistan?. In that year, a police station was firstly stationed there to maintain law and order.
But the amazing and astonishing fact is that this region never fell under any landlord, zamindar or any princely crown. Only those persons called muthadars would collect the revenue and deposit it in the treasury of the British government. The natives possessed the lands.
The British government had chalked out few plans for land settlement during 1924-28, 1930 and 1944-47. But none of them solved the problem. In 1948, the state government took an initiative and Kondhamal was declared a revenue district comprising of 892 villages of three blocks and one township. However, it was then estimated that about 9,93,46,620 hectares of cultivable lands and 18,73,275 hectares of homestead lands remained unsettled in the whole district. In the year 1983, the state government firstly attempted to solve this problem, settling the land holdings. But, surprisingly the operation failed to reach a successful solution. Experts say that it failed due to the faulty policy of the administration in which the previous settlement scheme prepared by the British government was ignored. The corrupt officials vehemently manipulated with the kisam or category of the land holdings and recorded them as other than their actual category. As a result, the cultivable land was wrongly recorded as ?fallen land? and the homestead as ?forest land?. It affects even those people who live in the townships, as their housing plots are recorded as ?forest land? and they are being ordered to quit the land under the provisions of Forest Conservation Act, 1980. ?Different courts are flooded with such cases because of the faulty policies of the administration,? says Shri Jagadish Chandra Das, a senior advocate and social worker of Kondhamal.
The administration committed another big mistake. After the failure of settlement operation in 1983, the government took another such step in 1997. But again the previous faulty policy was followed up. The beneficiaries were told to show their Record of Rights (RoRs) in order to get their holdings settled. But it is ridiculous to demand the RoRs from those who have no written document of their possession. Hence, the move was crippled.
Now, the state government has filed more than 1200 encroachment cases in the court of local tehsildar of Phulbani to evict the illegal dwellers.