Plight of Sikhs in Gujarat

Mukul Sinha

Sikhs from Punjab and Haryana went to Gujarat in 1965-66 when Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister, had given priority to farmers from Punjab, Haryana, to settle in the border areas for security purposes—like Kutch in Gujarat. The farmers with permanent ownership of the land have all the relevant official documents such as the residence proof, land ownership papers, voter's identity cards, ration cards, electricity bills, mortgage deeds, and nationality and birth certificates of their children to make a claim.

Since 2010, however, the Kutch district collector had frozen the lands of more than 1,000 Sikh and Haryanvi farmer families and had taken all their records into his custody. The Gujarat government said the action was taken under the provisions of the 1972 Kutch Area Tenancy Act and the Gujarat Tenancy Act that prohibited tillers from outside Gujarat to own farm-land in the state.

Around 30 non-Gujarati agriculturists who have been living in Kutch since 1966 had approached the Gujarat High Court in 2008. The court, in a landmark judgement in June, 2012, ruled that a farmer from anywhere in India could purchase agricultural land in Gujarat. The court quashed a 1972 state government circular that barred farmers from outside Gujarat to own land in the state as an agriculturist as reported by Mahesh Trivedi in the Khaleej Times. The Gujarat Government however moved the Apex Court challenging the order of the High Court and the sword is still hanging over the heads of the Sikh farmers. The Sikh farmers thereafter had started their agitation in support of their land which they had owned and tilled for half a century.
Moreover, as recent as December 2013, the Kutch collector has stated on record that he is not in a position to defreeze lands of a majority of the 800 farmers. He stated:

"We have defrozen the land of 52 farmers after it was found that the state government had given them Santhani (given to landless labourers for farming) land. However, we cannot defreeze land of other claimant farmers as they are not farmers or Santhani land holders as per the government records".

The people have to therefore judge the two tweets of Narendra Modi that he sent immediately after his Ludhiana meeting on 23rd February, 2014, trying to make it appear that Government of Gujarat had taken no action to deprive the Sikh farmers of their land but the entire story was created by "vested interests to mislead people":
Tweet 1 : 'Farmers from Punjab have done excellent work in Kutch! Sadly, some people with vested interests are more interested in misleading the people'.

Tweet 2: 'Our nation is one! No Sikh farmer will ever be asked to leave Kutch. They are an integral part of Gujarat & the state belongs to them'.

Quite apart from the shameless hypocrisy involved in the U-turn by defreezing land of a selected 52 farmers, Gujarat Government continues with their case (Special Leave Petition) against the Kutch farmers in the Supreme Court. Also, whose "vested interests" is Mr Modi talking about? It was Gujarat Government that had frozen the land of the Sikh farmers. When the Gujarat High Court ruled in favour of the Sikh farmers, it was Gujarat Government that had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the Gujarat High Court judgement.
If Mr Modi, really values the 'excellent work' of Sikh farmers and wants to help them, let him do one thing, withdraw the case (Special Leave Petition) filed by the Gujarat Government against the order of the Gujarat High Court which had upheld the land-rights of the Sikhs of Kutch.


Vol. 46, No. 39, Apr 6 - 12, 2014