File photo of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath meeting villagers in Sonbhadra. (PTI)
In a latest twist in the Sonbhadra massacre, an MLA in Uttar Pradesh has claimed that he had tried to alert Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath about the brewing tension in the area. Hariram Chero, Apna Dal (Sonelal) MLA from Duddhi constituency claims that he had written to the Chief Minister on January 14 earlier this year. He said that his letter clearly stated how land mafia was active in the region and was trying to encroach upon the farmlands used by the tribals. ‘The matter was not brought to the notice of the CM. Otherwise, such a big incident would not happened,’ Chero was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.
In his letter, Chero alleged that under pressure of land mafia, the local police was harassing tribals, exploiting their women. Chero claims that though he is an MLA from Duddhi and the matter did not relate to his constituency, but as a tribal leader he had held a chaupal at the village on January 10.
Ten people were gunned down and 28 others injured when armed men led by a village pradhan clashed with the villagers in a bid to take possession of a disputed piece of land.
Another media report now says that the Uttar Pradesh government ignored a whistleblower’s account on the land mafia working in Sonbhadra. According to a News18 report, an IFS officer had in 2014 reported about massive loot and land grabbing case in Sonbhadra. He had claim about a Rs 40,000 crore land scam in the region. But according to News18, the then Uttar Pradesh government ignored the report.
Meanwhile, the probe in land transfer that led to the brute killings of the 10 Gond farmers in Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra has hit the wall. According to a Times of India report, the 1955 file that had the details of the land transfer has gone missing. Sonbhadra District Magistrate Ankit Agarwal reportedly said that the probe panel set up by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has all papers related to the six-decade-old case except the 1955 file, which was a prof of the land transfer.
To understand the present-day tension, one must know the root cause of this problem. At heart of the Sonbhadra’s July 6 brute killings lies a land deal. The transaction between an ex-IAS officer’s wife, daughter and a village head and 10 others in 2017 sowed the seeds of the present-day tension. The possession of 145 bigha land in Sonbhadra led to the July 6 killings.
According to an Indian Express report, around 600 bigha land in Sonbhadra was declared infertile in revenue records following the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950. The land was owned by a local zamindar. Later, these 600 bighas were recorded as gram sabha land in official papers. Soon after that, local families started tilling the land. Most of the tillers were from Gond community. In 1955, around 460 bigha land was transferred by the then tehsildar to a society called Adarsh Sahkari Samiti, the Indian Express reported. The TOI report says it is this 1955 land deal papers that have gone missing.
The president of this society a Bihar cadre IAS officer. In 1989, after his death, around 140 bigha land with the society was transferred to his wife and daughter. In 2017, the wife and daughter sold that land to the gram pradhan Yagya Dutt and 10 others for Rs 2 crore. Dutt was trying to take the possession of the land for past two years. While Dutt entered the scenario in 2017, the Gonds, the original tillers of the land have been protesting the dealing since 50s. They had also filed a case saying that the 2017 deal was illegal. Numerous FIRs and counter-FIRs have been filed by Dutt camp and the Gonds. On July 6, Dutt came on the site with 300 men in 32 tractor trolleys. Dutt told his men to forcibly till the land. When the Gonds and other locals protested, altercation broke out. In that commotion, Yagya Dutt and his men allegedly gunned down 10 people on the spot. 25 others were also injured during the dispute.