Bhubaneswar: A string of land related scandals has rocked the state and continues to give its chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, sleepless nights.
To ensure that such incidents do not recur in the future, the government is all set to introduce the Odisha Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Bill. The government is likely to promulgate an ordinance to enforce the provisions of the law.
While allegations of land grabbing by influential persons, including ruling party politicians, in Ghangapatna on the city outskirts has forced the state government to order a crime branch inquiry, another scam involves misuse of government land allotted for setting up hospitals and nursing homes with revenue minister Bijoyshree Routray facing the heat.
As if that was not enough, allegations of improper utilisation of industrial plots allotted in the industrial estates of the city flew thick and fast recently, the charges supported by a CAG report.
This apart, the government itself has admitted in the Assembly that more than 477 acres of government land was lying encroached upon in the city and its surrounding areas.
The government has also conceded that 39,031 acres of government land is under encroachment in various districts across the state. Not only government land, even acres belonging to the famed temples of Lord Jagannath and Lord Lingaraj have not been spared by squatters.
The flurry of land scandals which The Telegraph has been highlighting since April 12, 2013, when the first report on the issue was carried underscoring the need for a stringent law against land grabbing, the state government has now initiated steps to enact a law to stop land encroachment.
The draft bill on the lines of a similar legislation in Andhra Pradesh is being prepared. It will be given the final shape within a week in tune with the decision of a cabinet sub-committee that met yesterday. The bill in its final shape will be placed before the state cabinet soon.
The proposed law prohibits land grabbing in any form. The law is applicable to all land belonging to government, local authorities, Bhoodan Yagna Samiti and religious or charitable institutions. If convicted of land-grab, the person is liable to be imprisoned for not less than one year and up to seven years. The person will also have to pay a fine of up to Rs 20,000.
The proposed law provides for constitution of a special court for speedy inquiry and trial. The special court will consist of a chairman and four members (two judicial and revenue members each).
A judge or former judge of the high court will head this court, while sitting or former district judges will be appointed as judicial members and administrative officers, who hold or have held a post not below the rank of a district collector, will be the revenue members.
Giridhari Das, an expert in revenue laws, said: “The existing Orissa Prevention of Land Encroachment Act (OPLEA) does not have teeth to deal with land-grabbers.”
Under the existing law, land encroachment is not a cognisable offence, it only deals with government land and the maximum that the state can do is to evict squatters.