In a significant turn of events, the legal tussle over the ownership of the land housing the Murasoli building, the official mouthpiece of the DMK, has escalated within the corridors of the Madras High Court. The Murasoli Trust, claiming ownership, faces allegations of misusing Panchami land, stirring a complex legal dispute with implications for Scheduled Caste (SC) individuals.
The case was initiated by the Murasoli Trust, represented by its trustee, RS Bharathi, seeking to restrain the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) from pursuing a hearing or adjudicating a complaint filed by R Srinivasan, the BJP state secretary. The controversy, dating back to December 2019 when the NCSC issued a notice to the DMK, revolves around the delay in providing evidence by the DMK to prove its stand.
The petitioner, supported by credible evidence, asserts that the land in question originally belonged to an SC individual but was later transferred to non-SC individuals before being acquired by Anjugam Publications, the predecessor of the Murasoli Trust. The issue gained prominence when MK Stalin, the opposition leader in 2019, lauded the film “Asuran,” drawing attention to Dalit land rights.
Senior counsel P Wilson, representing the trust, argued that there is insufficient evidence proving that the Murasoli Trust’s land qualifies as Panchami land. Wilson highlighted a statement made by the late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in the State Assembly, asserting that there is no Panchami land in Chennai. He contended that the NCSC, lacking adjudicating authority, does not have the jurisdiction to decide the land’s title.
Wilson further stated that the land in question was legitimately purchased by Anjugam Publications, with the sale deed and patta (land document) submitted to the court. He questioned the legitimacy of the complaint filed by Srinivasan, asserting that he lacks standing as a non-member of the Scheduled Caste.
The counsel raised concerns about the political bias of the former vice chairman of the NCSC, L Murugan, who is now a Union Minister of the State, suggesting that the case is politically motivated. Citing Article 338 of the Constitution, Wilson argued that a commission’s report cannot be treated as a court decree.
On the other side, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) ARL Sundaresan, representing the NCSC, contended that the commission has a duty to investigate any complaint related to the deprivation of SC individuals. Sundaresan clarified that the NCSC’s intention was not to make findings on the title of the property but to probe the alleged misuse of Panchami land.
NCSC director Sadhu Ravivarman filed a counter in the case, emphasizing the commission’s role in verifying whether the land belonged to the SC community, even if it cannot delve into property rights.
The legal battle took another step as the Madras High Court, hearing the writ petition filed by the trust in 2020 challenging an inquiry ordered by the NCSC, granted time until January 5th. Additional Advocate General (AAG) R Ramanlaal submitted that Anjugam Publications purchased the land from Parvathi Madhavan Nair, who had acquired it from a German firm.
Senior counsel P Wilson reiterated that the commission was misused for political purposes, accusing the respondents of prolonging the matter for publicity.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) ARL Sundaresan, representing the NCSC, maintained that the national body has the authority to verify the land’s ownership concerning the SC community, even if it cannot address property rights directly.
After the extensive arguments, Madras High Court Justice SM Subramoniam reserved the orders, signaling a crucial phase in the legal saga over the Murasoli Trust’s land ownership. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications on land rights, Scheduled Caste welfare, and the broader political landscape.
Know What Happened In The Past
In a renewed bout of political tension, BJP state vice president VP Duraisamy and SC wing president Tada Periyasamy led a delegation to Governor RN Ravi on April 25, submitting a memorandum outlining three key issues. The BJP delegation raised concerns about the retrieval of Panchami land, alleging the state’s failure in the proper utilisation of the SC special fund, and sought the cancellation of the Assembly’s resolution on quota for Dalit Christians.
The Panchami land issue gained prominence when PMK founder S. Ramadoss accused the DMK of occupying headquarters situated on Panchami lands, which, legally, can only be occupied by individuals from scheduled caste communities. In response, DMK President M K Stalin expressed willingness to produce the sale deed and documents dating back to 1985.
However, senior BJP functionary Tada Periyasamy countered with a strongly worded rejoinder on Facebook. Periyasamy asserted that original documents, including the 1923 Permanent Register, RSR (Re-settlement Paisal Register), SLR (Settlement Land Register), and the Gazette Copy from 1935, conclusively prove the land’s status as Panchami land. He alleged that the land, initially designated for Dalits, was unlawfully transferred to non-Dalits before being acquired by the DMK in the fourth transaction from the original allotment.
Origin and Significance of Panchami Land: A Historical Perspective
In 1891, during the Madras Presidency, the Collector of Chingleput District, J. H. A. Tremenheere, undertook a study on the conditions of the depressed classes, the term used for Scheduled Castes at that time. The study revealed that a significant factor contributing to the systemic oppression and backwardness of these castes was their status as landless agricultural labourers.
In response to this finding, the British administration enacted the Depressed Classes Land Act of 1892. Under this legislation, nearly 12 lakh acres of land were allocated across the province to the depressed classes. Notably, these lands came with specific conditions to address the historical inequities. They were granted under the category known as Panchami land.
Crucially, Panchami land had restrictions on its transfer or sale for monetary gain. The title of the land was to remain vested solely with the original allottees and their descendants. This strategic allocation aimed to empower the depressed classes by providing them with a tangible means of livelihood and addressing the longstanding issue of landlessness among these communities.
Understanding the historical context and significance of Panchami land sheds light on its role in promoting socio-economic equity and rectifying historical injustices faced by the Depressed Classes during the colonial era.