64 families living in Bahura, Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh received a sudden notice from a District Magistrate under the Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department, saying that their homes have been built on illegally encroached upon government land, saying that if they fail to respond within 7 days, legal proceedings will be started against them.
This was prompted by a letter written by Kedar Nath Singh, a BJP Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) in Uttar Pradesh. On February 17, he lodged a complaint through Uttar Pradesh Government’s Integrated Grievance Redressal System, against illegal occupants encroaching on around 3.470 hectares of government land belonging to Bahura Gram Panchayat, requesting for boundaries to be made around the land so that it could be secured for government use. The next day, he wrote to the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, saying that the land had been sold by local goons for 10 lakh rupees and was illegally possessed, mostly by “Muslims from outside”. He further wrote, that it is located on SH-5A and is valuable land registered in the name of Government of UP, and it necessary to collect money from the illegal occupants in the form of land revenue and to register an FIR against them, saying that all of this is in the public interest.
The government enquiry of this matter took place in an expedited manner due to MLC’s letter. According to the enquiry report made by the Deputy District Magistrate of Robertsganj Tehsil on 6 March, the land area of 3.7470 hectares in Bahura is recorded under account number 5 under the name of the UP Government, which is managed by the Canal department, but there is a dense population of 64 families on the land. The Tehsil administration sent a separate report to the concerned Canal department for the necessary action in the case as well.
However, unlike what has been mentioned in Singh’s letter, if we look at the social composition of the 64 families, it can be seen that Bahujans belonging to Kol, Chamar, Bahliya, Bind, Nai, Bhant, Beir, Fakir, Kahar, Lohar, Koiri, Kurmi, Ahir, Momin-Ansar castes live in Kutchha houses that have been constructed on plots of half-bigha to five-bigha, where one bigha is around 1,350 sq. ft. in UP. 21 families out of those who have received the notice are Muslim families, and the other 43 are Hindu. Out of these, 18 families belong to Scheduled Castes, and the rest belong to Other Backward Classes. Only one family, belonging to the Pathan caste, is an upper-caste family. In other words, none of the families who have received the notice belong to MLC Kedar Nath Singh’s caste or community.
Although this land is now being called illegally encroached land, earlier, all the houses in the area had been given a government electricity connection. Dozens of houses have been built in the area under the Indira Awas Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, and Mukhyamantri Awas Yojana, and in most of the houses, the government has constructed toilets as well. Clearly, multiple departments have spent money on the development of this area. If the land was indeed illegally encroached upon, why did the district administration sanction all these construction projects on this land, and why was the Canal block or the Irrigation department sleeping till now?
Meanwhile, we must pay attention to Kedar Nath Singh’s previous activities since assuming the post of MLC. Singh, who is also the Chief Whip of the BJP in the UP Legislative Council, made 2.692 hectares of agricultural lands out to his son, Amit Kumar Singh in Bahura Gram Panchayat, and 0.253 hectares of land to his daughter-in-law Pragya Singh’s company ‘Jeevak Medical and Research Centre Pvt Ltd’ in Teentali Gram Panchayat. The UP government declared both of these lands as ‘non-agricultural’, hence exempting them from rent, although the land is still under cultivation.
According to evidence accessed by the Vananchal Express, Singh spent lakhs of rupees from the MLA fund in order to develop the land owned by his daughter in law, including for the construction of paved drain, electricity line, RCC road, culvert, etc. He also spent money from the MLA funds to till the land owned by his son, and establish a power line of about one and a half kilometers from the Teentali turning point. The land has an RCC road, transformer, and a public hand pump has also been installed using MLA funds, in spite of the fact that there are no houses in the area.
The 64 families received a sudden notice on June 19, in the midst of the pandemic, creating panic and distress amongst the people. In the midst of the pandemic, they have been trying to talk to leaders and officials to ask for help for saving their homes but have received no relief yet. 60-year-old Nirmal Kole, who lives there with his family of 8, said that their family has been residing in this land for seventy years, and they have no other place to go. Geeta, who belongs to the Chamar community, says that they are angry that they have been given this sudden notice, and they will fight the authorities, but not leave this land on which they have lived for years.
The 64 families who received the notice have sent a written reply to the District Magistrate and demanded a withdrawal of the notice and said that taking any legal action based on the notice is a misuse of power.
A human rights activist from Benaras, Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi found out about the incident and sent a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission. Further, Congress candidate Singh from Varanasi (Graduate Constituency) Legislative Council has opposed the notice and demanded that the State Government stop this entire process. He has demanded an enquiry into the corrupt practices evident from the fact that MLA funds have been used for providing land, electricity, water, and concrete roads to Singh’s family members.
This article is translated and edited from an investigative report by Shiv Das, published in Vananchal Express.