KCR's Dharani land registration app could hold lessons for Jagan in AP
KCR's loss in recent election being attributed to farmer and tribal anger over loss of land due to Dharani portal; AP could be staring at a similar problem
In the last week of November, Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) leader Kalvakuntla Kavitha was addressing an election campaign meeting at Yanampalli village in Telangana's Dichpalli constituency. It is a remote village situated far from the main road, with no transport facility available in the evenings.
Kavitha arrived with a fleet of cars and addressed the villagers from the party's campaign vehicle. Most of the village residents, who were largely farmers, had turned up at the meeting. The BRS leader spoke for half an hour emphasising that her father K Chandrashekar Rao's (KCR) administration had paved the way for a golden future for the state. She left after that, fleet in tow.
The villagers were reluctant to leave the venue. They looked worried, frustrated and unhappy with the turn of events.
Dharani portal woes
When The Federal Telangana reporter asked a small group of farmers the reason for their frustration, a 65-year-old woman farmer said, “We did not come here to listen to the BRS leader. We came here to lodge a complaint about the discrepancies in the Dharani portal.”
According to her, the portal, which is an Integrated Land Records Management System, shows her land as belonging to another person, even though the papers are in her name. “I wanted to request the BRS leader to rectify the mistake in the portal and ensure our names are correctly registered against our land,” she pointed out.
Most of the farmers who had turned up for the meeting wanted to approach Kavitha and discuss their predicament. But they could not get a chance to meet her.
The Dharani portal and app were developed to digitise all the land records in the state. The idea was to reduce human intervention and to weed out red-tape in the maintenance of revenue records. It was also meant to check corruption, delays and irregularities in land registration. However, the opposite has happened and the farmers are facing multiple challenges. These include wrong entries, patta (registered) land getting categorised as forest land and so on. Moreover, such errors prevent farmers from accessing welfare schemes that they are eligible for.
Farmers living in fear
According to sources, lakhs of people are gripped by fear that they may lose their land due to errors in the Dharani portal. Sources told The Federal Telangana that over five lakh applications seeking corrections in land owners' names are still pending.
At Kavitha's meeting, some of the victims of the Dharani portal had brought their land documents along, since their name was missing in the Dharani app. They felt helpless as they were unsure how those errors had crept in, and how they would be corrected.
There are lakhs of Dharani victims across the state. Moreover, no local official is empowered to correct the anomalies, which makes matter worse, said activist Manne Narasimha Reddy.
In the recently-concluded Telangana Assembly elections, the BRS under the leadership of KCR was routed. Political analysts believed that the chaos generated by the Dharani portal could have played a role in KCR's defeat.
Dharani shadow hovers over AP
This particular Telangana story is now unfolding in Andhra Pradesh as well, although in a different form. In AP, in the name of a comprehensive land resurvey, farmers fear that when revenue officials visit their villages, they will register the land in other people’s names.
This land resurvey is being criticised for the alleged injustice meted out particularly to the tribals in non-scheduled areas. It is feared that tribal land may get confiscated by politically influential people.
Last month, a meeting was held with tribal cultivators at Butla Jalampalli village in Anakapally district to discuss their grievances. The tribals alleged that they were losing their land due to the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government’s Integrated Land Survey. Representatives of the All India Agricultural Rural Labour Association of Madugula Mandal and neighbouring mandals participated in this meeting.
PS Ajay Kumar, leader of the association, told The Federal Telangana that village revenue officials who visit the village in the name of land resurvey were supposed to record the names of the land cultivators in the survey, whether they possess the documents or not. However, the adivasis complained that the officials often recorded other persons' names as cultivators of tribal land.
They gave examples of cases in which the surveyors ostensibly took the cultivator's name but the land was recorded in the revenue office in the name of a political strongman. Later, court cases can be filed claiming the ownership of the land and adivasis can be evicted from these lands, said Kumar.
No notice or receipts were given to the cultivators before or after the survey. When the tribals checked the records a few months later, they found that their names were missing in the records, explained Kumar.
Vulnerable tribals worst hit
Some others alleged that the local ruling party leaders are making arrangements for food and accommodation for the survey staff and changing the entries. The demands of tribals are as follows:
a. The details recorded in the resurvey should be provided to the cultivators/farmers in advance with a certified copy signed by the concerned officer.
b. The farmers should be informed before the officials visit them for the land survey. The authorities are currently said to be landing up at villages without any prior notice.
On November 12, a farmers' march was staged to the local tahsildar's office to protest against these irregularities.
The vulnerable Gadaba tribes of Visakha district seem to be the worst hit by this survey, claimed Kumar.
The state government had identified the Gadaba tribes as a particularly vulnerable group. They reside in the Konam Revenue Village, which is a non-scheduled area. This means that the special tribal safeguards given by the Constitution to the adivasis are not applicable to them. Instead, the area comes under the jurisdiction of a civil court.
It is alleged that these tribals are being systematically harassed in an effort to grab their land. It has become a norm in the non-scheduled tribal areas for some politically influential people to file civil cases against the tribals using pleaders to claim ownership. Dragging tribals to court causes a lot of suffering financially and emotionally. The revenue officials, who are supposed to protect the adivasis, threaten them to vacate their lands by accepting the bribes given by the non-tribals, said Kumar.
He further accused the authorities of trying to favour ruling party leaders without respecting the rights of the cultivators who have been cultivating these lands for generations.
Learning a lesson from Telangana
A similar situation played out in Telangana, where tribals were allegedly chased away from their cultivated land with the help of corrupt forest officials four years ago.
In Siripur constituency, the forest official evicted tribal cultivators from thousands of acres stating that the land belonged to the government. Cases were filed against the tribals when they protested against the land grabbing.
The then Chief Minister KCR had promised to give pattas to all of them but failed to keep his promise. This played a significant role in BRS losing Siripur to the BJP in the recent assembly polls, it is suspected. Koneru Konappa lost to the BJP’s Harish Babu largely because of the bottled-up anger of the people in the area against the KCR government.
According to Kumar, Andhra Pradesh farmers, like their Telangana brethren who lost their lands, may revolt against the ruling dispensation and express their anger electorally.