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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 30 New Delhi July 18, 2015

A Different Stroke: A Greenhorn in India’s Internal Emergency Administration (1975-77)

Monday 20 July 2015, by A K Biswas

The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie dispatched 150 of us—all 1973 batch IAS officers—to different directions all over the country to report to the respective State governments for duties. This brought an end to a two-year institutional and field training. The field training involved a fortnight of Army attachment starting December 27, 1973 under the tent in a sector where the temperature dipped to subzero in Jammu. From Mussoorie all of us proceeded to the places of our respective first posting. We, who were allotted to the Bihar cadre, began our careers as Sub-Divisional Officers (SDOs). By then India had done about a month under Internal Emergency, declared on June 26, 1975.

On July 26, I took charge as the SDO, Bagaha of the West Champaran district in the northwest corner of the State of Bihar that borders on Nepal in the north and northeast and Uttar Pradesh in the west. The river Gandak separates two of its blocks bordering UP from mainland Bihar. My headquarters was at Bettiah. About 26-km away begins the nearest boundary of my subdivision of seven development blocks of about 900,000 population comprising Hindus, Muslims, Thars, a tribe, and Bengali refugees from East Pakistan rehabilitated within it. A newly created subdi-vision, Bagaha, lacked infrastructure for civil, judicial and police establishments besides sub-jail, sub-treasury, sub-divisional hospital etc. which explains the reason for allowing Bettiah to retain the headquarters. Before we reached our station, the 20-Point Programme (TPP), formulated by the Central Government, was under implemen-tation in Bihar. The focus areas for the 20-Point Programme were: [[<> (3) better use of irrigation water; (4) bigger harvest; (5) enforcement of land reforms; (6) special programmes for rural labour; (7) clean drinking water; (8) health for all; (9) two-child norm; (10) expansion of education; (11) justice for SCs/STs; (12) equality for women; (13) new opportunities for women; (14) housing for the people; (15) improvement of slums; (16) new strategy for forestry; (17) protection of environ-ment; (18) concern for the consumer; (19) energy for the villages; and (20) a responsive adminis-tration.1

The 12th Chief Minister of Bihar, Kedar Pandey, from the West Champaran district was the Chair-man, Bihar 20-Point Programme Implementation Review Committee. He was Dr Jagannath Mishra’s predecessor Abdul Gafoor’s predecessor and hailed from Taulaha, a village under Ramnagar thana of my subdivision. I.N. Thakur, the Bihar Land Reforms Commissioner, was another son of the soil from Bettiah town. Repetitive review of progress of the district’s TPP implementation jointly or individually by both occupying high positions in the echelon, particularly for land reforms, suggests their intimate attention. Land reforms became the buzzword for the district administration. Almost every weekend either one or the other or both would drop by in Bettiah and review the progress of land reforms in particular.

The West Champaran district had a number of big landholders, the biggest, of course, being the Bettiah Raj, then under the Court of Wards. Most of the big landholders were politically influential and educationally progressive. MLAs, MLCs, MPs and Ministers were not rare from these families, some even since 1940. Widespread illiteracy coupled with backwardness of the masses in the district seemed to be the concomitant fallout of the bygone anachronistic feudal hangover leading to an ossified orthodoxy enveloping the community life. The rest of Bihar, by the way, ridiculed the masses of Champaran as ‘majhua’ referring to a Mughal era mouza, called Majhua, implying dim-witted.

The district had many big cultivators with considerable landholdings. Innumerable procee-dings for vesting of surplus land under the Bihar Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling and Acquisition of Surplus) Act 1961 were at various stages of progress. Action under this Act for declaring surplus land aimed at distributing among the poor and landless people is most time consuming, if not frustrating, particularly for the personnel drafted or engaged in it, though a virtual goldmine for legal practitioners. Land acquisition proceedings start at the subdivisional court. Every order of the subdivisional court, without exception, is challenged before the Additional Collector (LR). If rejected there, the appellant (landlord) moved the High Court and/or Board of Revenue or both. Instances are not rare when landholders agitate their cases before the Supreme Court. And on innumerable occasions, a case might be remanded from various higher courts to the lower ones, thereby rendering its disposal extremely procrastinatory. Nevertheless our ‘drive’ for vesting surplus land was vigorous.

Private land holdings apart, Bihar is rich in gair mazurwa land classified as gair mazurwa aam,gair mazurwakhas and gair mazurwa malik. Gair mazurwa aam land is public land that passed to the State after the abolition of zamindari. Gair mazurwa khas as also malik lands are fit for settlement with landless people who are very large in strength whereas gair mazurwa aam land cannot be settled likewise with any individual beneficiary. Gair mazurwa aam is community land and can be utilised in public interest, for example, construction of health centres, educational institutions, roads, power stations, community centres etc. In Bihar such lands, though aplenty, are unfortunately under widespread encroachment. Notoriety of big landholders or powerful people is reflected in the encroachment of big chunks of gair mazurwa aam, khas and/or malik lands. We had detected a case of about 100 acres of gair mazurwa khas land near the Valmikinagar (formerly called Bhaisa Lotan) Aerodrome encroached by a scion of a big zamindar. Another, a smuggler, had grabbed about 100 acres near the Madanpur Forests close to Valmikinagar. Recovery of all varieties of gair mazurwa lands from encroachers, who were not landless, occupied the priority for the land reforms ‘drive’ launched by the district administration within the ambit of implementation of the 20-Point Programme. The Emergency had rendered recovery of these lands from the unauthorised encroachment much simpler—every notice was satisfactorily complied with promptitude.

From the Bagaha subdivision our proposal for two innovations in land reform laws were considered favourably by the government to facilitate achievement. The first was the drafting of a form for voluntary surrender of gair mazurwa, khas/malik and aam lands. It had the stipulation that no claim for standing crops, or compensation in lieu, if any, would be entertained from the encroacher concerned. Secondly, an amendment in the Celing Act for voluntary surrender of ceiling surplus land. Provision for voluntary surrender of land was wanting in the Ceiling Act. Armed with these minor improvements/amend-ments in the land reform laws, we called separate meetings of big landholders and encroachers of gair mazurwa, khas/malik and aam lands and broached the measure to be adopted for voluntary surrender. Those landowners, against whom proceedings were already initiated under the Bihar Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling and Acquisition of Surplus) Act 1961 for vesting of surplus lands, were called in the meetings. We told them that the government would encourage them to voluntarily surrender surplus lands held by them so as to obviate the lengthy and tiresome process of court proceedings the Act entails. If so, they would be compensated promptly for their gesture. They were also told to surrender 30 per cent of the lands which, as per their own calculation, were surplus. The case of Dumaria Estate of Ramnagar P.S. is relevant here. One day the eldest son of the landholder came to me with the offer to surrender 776 acres. Out of curiosity and academic interest, I wanted to know the reason of his decision for surrender. With high labour and input costs, he told me in no uncertain terms, agriculture was no more a viable occupation. Hence the decision. His surrender of surplus land opened up a new chapter. Many in Champaran followed his example.

In the West Champaran district the landholders were alleged to defeat ceiling laws by adopting various dubious artifices. The Ceiling Act empowers both the husband and wife to hold individual unit of land if they are divorced. The district was agog with rumours that in order to retain two units of land under the provision of the Act, many couples would submit divorce papers to claim two separate units of land though they lived under the same roof and produced children, though divorced!

The encroachers of aam, malik or khas land were violators of laws and therefore, they had no right to enjoy the bliss and benefits accruing from the land. There was no law favouring the encroachers who often had grabbed land, triggering law and order problems by resorting to violence. The government had the right to utilise those gair mazurwa aam,malik or khas lands in public interest. They, therefore, were told to vacate and surrender those lands; else action to evict the encroachers would follow. The impact was palpable and immediate.

The Bihar Privileged Persons Homestead Tenancy Act, 1947, assented by the Governor-General on January 17, 1948, is a piece designed to promote social welfare. The State Government by order no. 5-L. R. 232/71-5805 R. dated 16. 8. 1971 defined the privileged persons to include (1) 21 Scheduled Castes; (2) 29 Scheduled Tribes; (3) 61 Backward Classes comprising 61 in Annexure-1, and Refugees from East Pakistan and Burma prior to January 2, 1964 and serving/retired Army personnel, including the families of those soldiers who died in action.2 This Act aimed to ameliorate the lot of weaker sections of the society, such as labourers and artisans etc. who live in either houses built by themselves on land given to them by landlords or houses built by landlords, and to provide them with greater security in the matter of their houses and occupation of such homestead. The idea behind the Act is to secure a piece of land for residential purpose. Any landless person of the above description having a house on any land—private or gair mazurwa—was entitled to a basgit parcha. Many poor and landless persons, living in huts and/or under thatched roofs, benefited. We issued and distributed thousands of parchas to the target groups as per the law.

All-out campaigns in the Bagaha subdivision for acquisition and distribution of ceiling-surplus and gair mazurwa aam and malik land were launched. In two years, we had pooled 45,000 acres of which parchas of 43,000 acres were distributed to the poor and marginalised people. Of these about 14,5000 acres were secured by surrender or enforcement of ceiling laws. The rest were mazurwa aam and malik lands recovered from unauthorised encroachments.

About 100,000 Bengali refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan were rehabilitated in Bagaha I and II, Ram Nagar and Lauriya blocks of my subdivision jointly by the Government of India and Bihar Government. Till then these Bengalis did not overcome their desire and dream, kept alive by leaders of the Left parties through surreptitious and insincere promises, for returning to West Bengal for rehabilitation. Agriculture being their occupation, they were settled initially with five acres of land per family but later the area was reduced. They were rehabilitated in the 1960s. But almost all the Bengali families had mortgaged their lands to local mahajans or moneylenders against paltry sums of loans. The nature of mortgage were usufructuary, which got extinguished automatically within seven years by the gains accruing from the lands. No mortgagee or moneylender had vacated the land to the owners even though the maximum limit of seven years had elapsed. By virtue of the rules of settlement, no settlee could transfer land without the express permission of the District Collector. But their land was transferred without compliance of this critical requirement. So we called the moneylenders in meetings and asked them to vacate the land without much ado. Their response was prompt and the results very gratifying. We got confirmation from the concerned Bengalis too. The incidence of rural indebtedness was not confined to the rehabilitated Bengalis only. The local poor too were neck-deep in indebtedness. We launched a drive for redemption of the poor people from the moneylenders and restored the lands to them.

Part II

People in Aid of Administration 

On the fourth day after taking charge, I moved out of Bettiah to see and familiarise myself with the subdivision, endowed with commendable networks of irrigation contributing richly to agriculture. One travelling in any direction is greeted by the rich crop of the season, for example, rice or wheat, maize, pulses etc. besides luxuriant sugarcane on the ryots’ field distinctively marked by tall seesam trees invariably on boundaries. The Ram Nagar and Bagaha Block-II had forests touching the Nepal border. The population comprised, besides Hindus, minorities, for example, Muslims and Christians, Scheduled Castes, Tharu tribals, and rehabilitated Bengali refugees.

 At the Lauriya, Bagaha I and II Development Block headquarters, I met officers and employees and proceeded to Harna Tran, populated largely by the peace-loving but backward Tharus, who, peculiar to the Himalayan terai region, claim to have been pushed out by invading warriors in Rajasthan. In the afternoon I had stopped at a roadside Dudhoura Bengali refugee settlement for talking to them. A group of four-five persons, running cross-country and wailing, reached and informed me that they along with their women and children were mercilessly assaulted and their huts destroyed. Tell-tale marks of violence on their persons left nothing to imagine. One Paras Tewari and his brother, Viswanath, aided by lathi-wielding goondas at a sleepy village Gobrahiya on the Bagaha-Valmikinagar State Highway, had encroached their land, including homestead land. In the next 30-35 minutes, we reached the place of occurrence. The victims travelled with me in the jeep. On arrival I saw at least 40 lathi-weilding men, guarding a three-acre plot under tractor for ploughing. Paras Tewari did not expect me there at that hour. He was shocked more than surprised. He obeyed every instruction from me. We took him along with his loaded DBBL gun in our possession and drove to the Bagaha P.S. The daroga, seeing Paras Tewari with me, was speechless when I asked him to lodge Paras in hajat or lock-up. Several rounds of cartridge were recovered from him, before he was pushed into the thana hajat.

A section of the police force was dispatched to Gobrahiya for apprehending the hired goondas along with Viswanath Tewari. The police returned with 18 of them and a load of lathis. All the accomplices were locked up. Back in Bettiah very late in the evening, I sent a detailed report to the District Magistrate with the proposal to invoke the Defence of India Rules against Paras Tewari. The villagers, victimised by Paras, were Musahars, the most backward and illiterate, occupying the bottom of the Bihar social pyramid, and they were restored to the land from which they were evicted.

A penniless Deosharan Tewari from Gorakhpur, UP had migrated four decades ago, I was told, to Bagaha and settled in Dumwalia. With the blessings of position and influence his caste commanded, he got lands as grants and gifts from landholders, including the Bettiah Raj. His son, Paras, was ambitious and violent
and amassed land further by encroachment
and falsehood from the illiterate and poor
people.

Midnight Alarm: Tharus of Champapur 

An employee of the Harinagar Sugar Mills, Ramnagar, called me up one night at 1.30 am to pass on a vital piece of intelligence: one Dharamdeo Pandey, village Taulaha, under P.S. Ramnagar, had injured 14 men, women and children, all Tharus, by opening fire in village Champapur deep inside Gobardhana Done, close to the Nepal border and successfully encroached 40 acres of gair mazurwa khas land the victims were in peaceful cultivating possession for over four decades. Driving them away, Dharamdeo had annexed the plot to his own farm adjacent to it. The injured were hospitalised for treatment in the Ram Nagar Government Primary Health Centre. The Ram Nagar P.S. daroga, Bhudeo Tewari, the caller further informed, deliberately kept me in the dark. Dharamdeo and his men were celebrating their victory at the farm, 60 km away from Ramnagar, with no motorable road.

 I immediately alerted my Subdivisional Police Officer, Jagdish Prasad, to be ready to leave for Ramnagar en route to Champapur at 4.30 am. We reached the Ramnagar thana by 5.30 am. The daroga, Bhudeo Tewari, could appear in the office in half-an-hour. On the previous night when I spoke to him for a situation report on law and order, I demanded to know, why he kept me in the dark about the Champapur firing incident. He had no reply. Being the Mahavir Jhanda Day, I spoke over telephone to all the thana officers in the late evening. The Ram Nagar thana officer had informed me that the situation was peaceful all over his area. He gave me no indication of any trouble. It became clear that the Tharus’ land was encroached with the daroga in the loop. The SDPO was instructed to place the offender under arrest which he did and came to my residence to inform of his success. He was detained under the DIR. The accused Dharamdeo, we got to know later, was the elder brother of Kedar Pandey. The reason for police inaction or complicity was loud and clear.

Contractor’s Brutal Kicks on Pregnant Woman leading to her Miscarriage 

Within the next two months someone reported to me over telephone that a notorious Shankar Singh, a labour contractor for Gandak Barrage at Valmikinagar which symbolises Indo-Nepal friendship, had kicked a pregnant woman leading to her miscarriage. She was the wife of a Sardarji, a subcontractor of Shankar Singh. Over certain issues, the contractor brutally assaulted him in the Valmikinagar market. After a few hours, Singh went to his subcontractor’s thatched residence and again started assaulting him and pulling down his hut. His young wife, in an advanced stage of pregnancy, rushed to intervene. The beast unhesitatingly kicked on her back. The impact of the violence resulted in her immediate miscarriage, rendering her life critical. On being informed, I immediately spoke to the daroga of Valmikinagar thana to arrest Shankar Singh, known for poaching and smuggling. He briefed me every hour on the latest position. Shankar Singh had left his home and went for poaching in the Susta Forests; approximately 14,500 hectares of the forests were under dispute between India and Nepal. Smuggling and other illegal activities of anti-social elements like Shankar Singh, we were aware, had adversely affected Indo-Nepal relations. That was the era when smuggling was a matter of serious concern for our customs authorities. The whole day the accused remained traceless and elusive. At the dead of night, the daroga called me over telephone to inform of Shankar Singh’s arrest. My efforts to cancel his gun-licence did not succeed as I did not receive positive cooperation from the Vaishali district to which Shankar Singh belonged.

These actions, I believe, had sent out a clear signal to the common man to repose faith in the administration.

The Emergency was lifted and election announced. In the Assembly elections 1977, the Janata Party won a landslide victory, grabbing 214 out of 324 constituencies whereas the Indian National Congress secured 57 and CPI 21. But West Champaran with nine Assembly constituencies went against the powerful popular tide and rallied behind the INC, returning eight out of nine MLAs—a tally no other district in Bihar could boast of. All four constituencies of the Bagaha subdivision returned the INC candidates, for example, Hardeo Prasad from Dhanaha, Narsingh Baitha from Bagaha, Arjun Vikram Shah from Ramnagar and Phulena Rai (on his death Vishwa Mohan Sharma) from Lauriya.3

 If the arrogant rich and their exploitative dominance are kept in proper check, the public administration can still inspire hope in the masses. But responsive administration and popular democracy confront each other and work at cross-purposes whereby public interest suffers. Political leaders can hardly resist the temptation to hobnob with the rich and the dominant with baneful repercussions on the masses.

Footnotes

1. http://www.gktoday.in/twenty-point-programme_22/

2. The Bihar Privileged Persons Homestead Tenancy Manual, p. 42.

3. http://www.elections.in/bihar/assembly-constituencies/1977-election-results.html

A retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, B. R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. the author can be contacted at e-mail: biswasatulk@gmail.com

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