An entire Dalit settlement was razed to the ground at Leela Bigha in the Obra block of Aurangabad district, Bihar. The action was taken in a tearing hurry following a High Court order. Eighteen houses of Dalits were demolished, forcing 150 members of 39 families to live under the open sky, on the road or in the fields. Were they were criminals? Does the administration take action against encroachments by criminals or those coming from the well-off, dominant sections of society with equal alacrity?
A notice signed by CO Anil Chaudhary on 27 March was served on them on 28 March and on the night of 29 March, the administration threatened to demolish their houses. On the morning of 30 March, when a team of local officials reached the settlement to pull down the houses, the residents mounted a strong protest, forcing the team to turn back. On 1 April, the team returned, this time accompanied by a heavy police force. First, they removed the residents from their houses and then flattened their houses. The victims of this administrative high-handedness had attended the Janata Durbar of the chief minister once and of the district magistrate four times between 18 July 2013 and 26 February 2015 with a plea for resettlement. They had demanded that resettlement precede removal of encroachments. However, their demand was not accepted. After the demolition, the administration assured them that 18 families will be allotted 3 decimals of land each. However, these poor people have no faith in the administration. And why should they when their application for resettlement on 90 decimals of land was not acted on for 19 months?
All of them have to work hard to eke out a living and they hardly have the time and the resources to make rounds of government offices and plead before officers. Arjun Paswan is standing by them in their hour of crisis. He says, “It’s been more than a month since this incident but resettlement has still not been done. Let the officers spend one night in the open and they will realize what a curse poverty is.”
The sociopolitical angle
Of the 18 houses that were demolished, 15 belonged to families of the Paswan caste. The Nitish Kumar government has carved out a separate category of Mahadalits by excluding Paswans. All other Scheduled Castes have been put in the Mahadalit category. Political parties say that this is a classic case of divide and rule. All these Paswans are LJP voters and supporters. Besides them, one demolished house belonged to a Lohar family and two to Manjhi (Bhuiyan) families.
About 150 people inhabit this settlement. They have been living here without any problem for the past many decades. Now that this 100-year-old settlement has been uprooted, they want the government to provide land and Indira Awas to all the 39 families so that their lives can get back to normal. Bihar has witnessed a political change. Those who promoted encroachments are now close to the powers that be. They are neo-feudals. Had the encroachers been Savarnas or OBC musclemen, would society, administration and political parties have adopted the same attitude? Instead, the village may have become a political pilgrimage centre. Just see what politics does. No political party cared to fight on their behalf. A few leaders turned up to wipe the tears of the victims only when this correspondent wrote against all of them in a daily newspaper. Society has no sympathy for this Dalit settlement.
What is the issue?
When it was decided that a road from Ub Bhatti to Dihra would be built under Prime Minister’s Rural Roads Scheme, problems cropped up in the stretch up to Kathbari. The Dalits of Lila Bigha decided to cooperate. The road could have been built by acquiring fields or its width could have been reduced. But Ramdev Singh and others of Kathbari filed a case in the High Court (Case number CWJC 13868/2014) against the Bihar government. The petitioners contended that the illegal encroachments by Dalits was coming in the way of the construction of the road and the irrigation through canals was also getting affected. The court ordered that either the government submit an affidavit with proof by 3 April that the encroachments have been removed or the DM personally appear in the court on 6 April. Instead of appearing in the court, the DM chose to deprive Dalits of the roofs over their heads.
DCLR Manoj Kumar says that as the High Court was involved, the administration was helpless. The administration tried to persuade the Dalits to remove encroachments. They were also offered land to relocate to. But they were adamant that they would only accept land of their choice. He said that a proposal would now be sent to the government to allot land to the victims. Obra CEO Anil Chaudhary said that it was proposed to allot 3 decimals of land each to the 18 families. The confrontation arose because they all were demanding “aahar” land, which the resettlement guidelines don’t allow. That is why they are being given “gairamjarua” land.
Questions that beg answers
Of the 18 houses that were demolished, eight were built under the Indira Awas Yojana. One of the conditions for the grant of assistance under this scheme is that the houses will be built on land owned by the beneficiaries. If the land was encroached upon, why did the administration allow houses to be built under the scheme? The government first finances the construction of a house and then demolishes it! In a democratic dispensation, shouldn’t the administration be accountable? According to the victims, in 2008-09 eight residential units were constructed under the scheme. The beneficiaries were Musaphir Paswan, Shiv Paswan, Domni Devi, Ram Kumar Ram, Koleshwar Paswan, Mahavir Mistri, Sikendra Paswan and Kauleshi Kunwar. Of them, Musaphir was given Rs 32,000 by the government. With that amount, he could only build his house up to the height of the door by 2012. Shiv got Rs 35,000. He put in Rs 45,000 from his own savings to complete the construction. The houses of Domni and Koleshwar were incomplete. Mahavir, Sikendra and Ram Kumar completed the construction by complementing the government grant with their own savings. Isn’t this a clear case of administrative lapse or corruption? How and why money was sanctioned for them under the scheme when the land did not belong to them? Surely, the officials would not have shown them to be owners of the land on humanitarian grounds. They must have extorted money from them. Corruption is so rampant here that if you are ready to part with money, you can become the owner of anybody’s land in official records or you can change the use of a piece of land from commercial to agricultural. The question that arises is why the government allowed these poor people to spend their hard-earned money on illegal constructions.
Notices to 12 but 18 demolished
Obra CO Anil Chaudhary gave notices to 12 people but houses of 18 were razed because the remaining six houses were also built on the same plots. In the encroachment case no 3-2013-14, the names of Ram Sahai Ram, Musaphir Ram, Mahavir Mistri, Dhaneswar Ram, Ramvineshwar Ram, Shivpujan Ram, Ram Kumar Ram, Bhuneshwar Ram, Dudeshwar Ram, Vishun Sahai Ram, Ramasheesh Ram and Ganesh Bhuiyan are listed. Besides them, the houses of Heera Mistri, Rajaram Bhuiyan, Dhananjay Paswan, Jawahar Ram, Virendra Paswan and Dhirendra Paswan were also demolished. The 12 people against whom notices were issued were directed to appear before the CO on 25 July 2013 in his office with documents to prove their ownership of the land. In the notice, the land was described as a “gairammajrua” thoroughfare and it was said that their houses came in the way of the construction of the road and irrigation canals. The villagers want to know why 18 houses were demolished when notices were issued only to 12. CO Anil Chaudhary said that notices were served on all 18 and signatures of all of them were obtained.
Published in the June 2015 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine