2-part Series: How Strongmen Have Gobbled Up Rajasthan Schools' Land

2-part Series: How Strongmen Have Gobbled Up Rajasthan Schools' Land

2-part Series: How Strongmen Have Gobbled Up Rajasthan Schools' Land

Land grabbers target government-school playgrounds in Rajasthan

Ram Gopal Jat

JAIPUR: Athletic successes in the recent Commonwealth Games-2018 highlighted the depth of talent in rural and small-town India. But they also shone a spotlight on the lack of resources, financial and professional, that stymie its development.

Now come reports that even the playgrounds of government schools in Rajasthan are being grabbed by real-estate sharks.

Speaking to Firstpost, V.K Surelia, principal of the government middle school at Basna village in Jamwa Ramgarh tehsil of Jaipur has accused former sarpanch Jagdish Meena and village head Rekha Meena of taking possession of school playgrounds spread over 10 bighas (or 6.5 acres) each in four schools in the tehsil.

These are the government schools in Basna, Gujarwas, Khaparwas and Ghata Jaldhari. The accused, Surelia charges, operate under the patronage of sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), Narender Meena and Jamwa Ramgarh MLA, Jagdish Meena. 

Surelia says he was the principal of Basna village with additional charge of the other three government schools in this tehsil and all the school playgrounds have been encroached upon by these powerful people.

He alleges that when he complained to the local education authorities on 26 January 2018, he was transferred to a remote location //WHERE?// some 380 km from his present posting. “I approached the Jaipur High Court in March and got a stay (order) on the posting order and resumed services at the current place,” he says.

But when he returned to the school, he says, some members of the school staff, at the instance of the encroachers, manhandled him and lodged a first information report (FIR) in an attempt to intimidate him and force him to withdraw his complaint.

Such is the influence of the encroachers, he says, education-department officials and the local police do not dare question them. The students have no access to the playground and have to go to another nearby government school to play. 

The Rajasthan government in 2003-04 commissioned a survey of government schools and found that most of them lack playgrounds. A subsequent government circular said that schools lacking playgrounds would be allotted space if government land was available near them.

When sarpanch Rekha Meena of Basna village was contacted, she admitted that the government middle-school playground has been encroached upon but denied she had anything to do with it. “The complaint regarding this is being probed by the SDM,” she says.

Rajeshwar Singh, section commissioner Jaipur, says that a factual report has been sought and if any encroachment or illegal possession is found, the property would be restored to its original status.

Mahesh Kumar Gupta, Jaipur district education officer, says that after receiving the complaint, they registered an FIR. “Now, it’s up to police department to get it vacated. We did what was in our jurisdiction,” he says. Gupta says there are at least a dozen cases of land encroachment to his knowledge in Jaipur under his jurisdiction.

When Firstpost contacted ACP Sheela Fogawat, she said that they were on the job of probing the matter and would soon submit a challan in the case.

Rameshwar Lal Dudi, opposition leader in the Rajasthan state assembly says the encroachment has been done by elected representatives who have the backing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The education department has failed utterly in raking up the matter and police also has been dragging its feet over an issue requiring priority action, he says.

He says that when the matter was raised in the assembly, the education minister, Vasudev Devnani admitted that playgrounds in 90% of government schools in Jaipur have been illegally occupied by influential persons. 

But it’s not only land belonging to government schools that’s been stolen by influential people, even the prime property of the state roadways department is being grabbed. Now, even government departments have got into the act and are encroaching on each other’s properties!

In one interesting case, the police department has encroached upon land belonging to Rajasthan University. Years ago, the police department had leased a plot of university land but did not pay rent for it and is now refusing to vacate it.

Vice-chancellor Prof. RK Kothari says that the university has a Rs.7-crore claim pending with the police department for many years. “We have written to the state government to help the varsity recover its dues from the police department and it’s now on the government to take action on it,” says Kothari.

Rajasthan revenue minister Amra Ram Chaudhary says public land all over the state is under threat from land sharks. He says that cattle-grazing land is under encroachment across the state and the government is trying to identify all such encroachments and prosecute those who are in illegal occupation.

Chaudhary says that they have a number of complaints from villages and individuals of illegal encroachment of land. He, however, could not provide details of action taken on those accused of land grabbing.

He says it’s a priority of the government to get illegally-occupied land released and concerted efforts are underway. He says collectors, tehsildars and revenue personnel are on the job of identifying such properties and their illegal occupants.

But penalties are ridiculously low. Senior advocate Om Prakash Choudhary says that encroachment on government land is an offense under section 447 of the Indian Penal Code and the offenders may be punished with three months jail and a fine up to Rs.500.

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