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SC/ST families who own land and enlisted under PMAY disallowed to construct houses for years

The Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) tells land owners of Paraswada village that the Battalion was allotted land by the Airports Authority of India (AAI). However, The Probe finds out that the AAI had not allocated land to the IRB. Here is an exclusive report by Raja Muzaffar Bhat.

By Raja Muzaffar Bhat
New Update

publive-image Chandrakala (left), Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) pillar (right) | Photo courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

65-year-old Chandrakala, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste community, would have never thought in her wildest dreams that she would be prevented from constructing a new house on the land allotted to her family more than 40 years ago by the government. Hailing from Paraswada village in Gondia district of Maharashtra, Chandrakala lives in a dilapidated mud hut with her old husband. She was enlisted under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) a few years ago after the local Gram Sabha and Panchayat recommended her name. In fact, around 34 more families had also been enlisted under PMAY, and other state-sponsored housing schemes like Ramai Gharkul Awas Yojana and Shabri Adivasi Awas Yojana meant for members belonging to the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Adivasi communities.

Chandrakala speaks to The Probe | Video courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Before Chandrakala could get the first instalment of Rs 20,000 from the Panchayat office, the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) of Maharashtra Police wrote a letter to the Sarpanch of the village asking him to withhold the construction work. While speaking to The Probe, Chandrakala expressed her anger and resentment for not being allowed to proceed with the house construction.

"Why have I not been allowed to make a new house under the government-sponsored Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana even after my name was enlisted? I have lived in Paraswada for more than 40 years, and the land was allotted to my husband, Kusum Lal, in 1981. In the coming rainy season, our hut will again get damaged. It was already fully damaged during a windstorm a few years back. What will happen to my family in case of an eventuality? Where shall I go if I am not allowed to construct the house, and the government doesn't change its decision?" asks Chandrakala while speaking to The Probe.

The Probe’s Raja Muzaffar Bhat speaks to the residents of Paraswada village in Gondia District of Maharashtra | Video courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

During our investigation, we also got in touch with Santosh Hanvantay, Sarpanch of Paraswada village. Hanvantay states that several residents who own land in the village are today being harassed by the local administration.

“A PMAY beneficiary, Mahindra Gajbeye, had started construction work on his house as the first instalment under PMAY was allocated to him by the government in 2021. On February 25, 2021, when his construction work began, the cops from IRB 2nd battalion stationed near Paraswada village came and asked him to stop it. A Sub Inspector of IRB second Battalion wrote a letter to me as well expressing his concern about the land, but the families have been living in the Bisen Toli and Sarda Toli areas of Paraswada Panchayat for over four decades now. Many have land deeds and government documents proving they own their lands. I fail to understand why these poor people are harassed like this. These people belong to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Adivasi categories and need protection from the government, but instead, they are harassed. Nobody is listening to our woes,” said Hanvantay.

The Sarpanch also told The Probe that many local villagers raised the matter with the district administration but to no avail. “Our village has a huge landholding. There is enough state land here. Why can’t the government allocate the IRB some other land? Why should the land of the poor be snatched like this? For the last 7 to 8 years, 35 families have not been able to reap the benefits of state and centrally-sponsored schemes meant for homeless people like PMAY, Ramai Gharkul Yojana and Shabri Adivasi Awas Yojana. I request Gondia District Collector, Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) and the Tahsildar to intervene and deliver justice to these poor people,” appealed Hanvantay.

Through an official communication addressed to the Sarpanch of Paraswada, the IRB 2nd battalion stated that no one should be allowed to go ahead with the construction work under PMAY or any other housing scheme meant for the poor and the homeless. The IRB 2nd battalion is stationed at Birsi Airport in Gondia district, which is located around 2 km from Paraswada village. SB Choudhary, Sub Inspector, who is also the Group Land Maintenance and Control Officer of IRB 2nd Battalion Birsi camp, in his official communication dated 25.02.2021 stated that some locals were found to be constructing houses unauthorisedly as the land was allotted to IRB. Earlier also, the IRB had prevented any construction in the village.

publive-image Pillar erected by the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) at Paraswada village in Gondia District of Maharashtra | Photo courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

“A local PMAY beneficiary, Mahindra Gajbeye on 25.02.2021 had started construction of the house as he was allotted the first instalment of Rs 20,000 under the government scheme, but the cops from IRB 2nd battalion stopped his work as they alleged that he had encroached upon their land. The other beneficiaries also could not go ahead with the construction. From 2015 till date, people are not allowed to go ahead with any construction, and almost 35 families live in miserable conditions, but they are not even allowed to utilise the government money meant for the poor and the homeless,” added Hanvantay.

Rahul’s long wait

In 2017 another local resident Rahul Bhave (41), who also belongs to the Scheduled Caste community, was enlisted under the PMAY scheme. Like Chandrakala, he too, lives in a mud hut with his family of four (wife and two children), but to date, his house construction has not taken off.

“I have been waiting for the last six years or so. People have to struggle a lot to get enlisted under PM Awas Yojna in rural or urban areas, but in Maharashtra, we not only have the centrally sponsored scheme PMAY applicable but there are state government housing schemes also meant for the SC/ST and the Adivasi community. It is so unfortunate that I was allotted funds in 2017 under PMAY, but still, I was not allowed to make any construction on my own land. Recently my name has again been enlisted under PMAY for the financial year 2022-23, but I cannot construct the house on my own land allotted to my father more than 40 years back. The IRB officials say that land has been allotted to them by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), and they have demarcated the area with small stone pillars at many locations. I sent representations to the Collector and Sub Divisional Office, Gondia and sought their intervention, but so far, I have not heard from them,” said Rahul speaking to The Probe.

publive-image Rahul Bhave’s land deed | Photo courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Rahul’s father, Kusum Lal, was allotted the land in 1981 by the local revenue department. The document issued by the local Tahsildar of Gondia on 28.10.1981 says that Kusum Lal, S/O Mohan, R/O Paraswada has been given the occupancy and lease rights to construct a house in Paraswada against payment of occupancy/premium money of Rs 151 and 40 paise.

Information under RTI

Intending to know whether any land was transferred by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to IRB 2nd Battalion, Rahul, on April 2nd 2021, filed an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI) asking how much land had been transferred to the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) of the Maharashtra Police between 1.4.2015 to 2.04.2021? The reply provided by Vijay Kumar Tamarkar, Airport Executive Director, who is also the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) under the RTI Act 2005, shocked Rahul and other villagers. In his official reply dated 7.05.2021, the officer said that Birsi Airport authorities had allotted no land to the IRB-II Battalion also called the Cobra Battalion.

“This information shocked us as the IRB had earlier claimed that they had been provided with the land by the Airports Authority of India (AAI). The reply was crystal clear that AAI has not given any land to the IRB,” asserted Rahul Bhave.

To ascertain the facts of the case, The Probe contacted the Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) Gondia, Parvanee Patil, but she was not available for a comment. The Probe then contacted the concerned revenue department officer, i.e. Tahsildar of Gondia, Santosh Khandare. The Tahsildar informed that his office had not allocated any land to the IRB 2nd battalion at Paraswada village. Paraswada village falls under Gondia tehsil and subdivision.

IRB and AAI in Gondia

The Indian Reserve Battalion camp units were constituted under a scheme by the union government around 15 years ago to overcome the ever-increasing demand from the States for the deployment of the forces for law and order and internal security-related duties. The IRBs are operating under the state police force. The government organised the IRB-II at Gondia, but due to the non-availability of accommodation, it was temporarily situated in the premises of the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) Nagpur. However, since 2013 the IRB-II has been operating from Birsi village near Paraswada in Gondia.

The IRB is now planning to construct another camp near Paraswada and claims that the land was allotted to them by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which owns a huge chunk of land in Birsi and Paraswada, which are located on the outskirts of the Gondia district headquarters. The Britishers built the airstrip in Gondia, Maharashtra, in 1940 by acquiring hundreds of hectares of land. Initially, the airstrip was run by the state Public Works Department (PWD) and was then taken over by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) in August 1998, and they owned it till December 2005, following which the Airports Authority of India (AAI) took control of it. The AAI has now extended the runway at Gondia airport to 7,500 feet to handle larger aircraft. A National Flying Training Institute is also located in the same area.