KOCHI: Dramatic scenes unfolded at the Kadungalloor panchayat office on Tuesday with members of 10 dalit families threatening to commit suicide inside the conference hall. They were protesting the allotment of ‘uninhabitable land’ to build houses.
After hours of suspense, a settlement was reached late in the evening with District Collector K Mohammed Y Safirulla intervening in the matter. Under the new plan, the 10 families will be provided land under the LDF Government’s LIFE (Livelihood, Inclusion, Financial Empowerment) scheme for the homeless and the landless.
Safirulla said he has also directed the police to initiate a criminal inquiry to find if unlawful means were adopted to deny them land over the years. The probe will also be initiated under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
It all began when the families reached the office on Monday for talks with the panchayat members.
They were miffed when the authorities decided to shift the venue of the talks from the conference hall to the local police station. They protested against the last-minute change in venue and refused to leave the hall. They remained there throughout the night, bringing the issue to a boil.
Binanipuram ASI Stepto John and his team arrived at the scene early on Tuesday to bring the situation under control. But the protesters, mostly women, did not budge. The highly volatile situation stalled the work at the panchayat and the Krishi Bhavan housed in the same building.The dalit families have been protesting on the premises of the panchayat office for a month. Though they had approached the District Collector earlier to discuss the matter, the issue remained unresolved. When they finally approached Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, he asked them to join the LIFE scheme.
Though they had refused to accept this option earlier, they finally agreed to the proposal on Tuesday. One of the protesters Bindu Sunil explained the decision to reject the LIFE offer earlier.
“During the UDF Government, the then panchayat officers promised land to each family,” she said. “We have been waiting for the land for the past six years. Whenever we approach the officers, they give us lame excuses. This can’t go on forever.”
The panchayat promised 30 cents of land and it is said the officers demanded Rs 67,000 from each family. Altogether, they collected Rs 6.7 lakh. This is tantamount to bribery, she said.
Another protester Jini Manoj said, “When the LDF Government took over, new officers assumed charge at the panchayat office. They have been washing their hands off the issue, saying they have no role to play. The land promised by the previous officers and the map of the land proposed to be allotted did not match.”
Kadungalloor grama panchayat vice-president C G Venugopal said the land dealings were initiated during the tenure of the previous governing council led by the UDF.
“It is an example of huge corruption. Four UDF councillors were involved in these illegal land dealings. We will take all necessary steps to provide land in this fiscal,” he said.
1. The panchayat committee had come forward to allot plots for the SC/ST community in 2011
2. The land identified was in Venmanikachal paddy field in the region
3. Thirty cents was earmarked for 10 dalit families
4. Registration was done subsequently
5. The families had paid Rs 67,000 for each cent land for registration
6. The panchayat officers also promised to level the low-lying plots
6. Later, anotaher plot - a paddy field - was given to the families
7. A nearby stream was raised to provide road access
8 Avarachan who sold the plot has been charged with cheating and fraud. Financial transactions in the land deal have been nullified. A probe will be conducted
Six women and nine children locked themselves inside the conference hall of the panchayat office building. They had stocked petrol and threatened to immolate themselves if their demands were not met. They also tied sarees to the ceiling fans, threatening to hang themselves. In the melee, the relay hunger strike of protesters, which reached the seventh day on Tuesday, went unnoticed.