Mangaluru: The murky land deals of Karnataka

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Mangaluru: You cannot buy property in India without breaking some law. Even Pratiba Patil, an  ex-president, got in to trouble over a land  deal. People are so used to this status that they feel no alarm. Especially, If you are trying to buy agricultural land for the first time, you  will face plenty of murky laws that make no sense at all.

Every state has different laws and even terminology for buying property. In Karnataka, for the  local people, kumki land means land without record. Kumki land is also considered Government  land. Patta land, on the other hand, is clearly private property. Typically, kumki land is always owned by some farmer. He even sells it to other people. The idea is that, in time, kumki land will become patta land. Periodically, the govt of Karnataka decides to convert kumki land to patta land. Farmers wait for years in the hope that this will happen. This problem is not limited to rural areas alone. Even inside cities like Mangaluru buildings are allegedly build on kumki land. Flat owners are then asked to pay bribes to convert the land, their building stands on, to patta land. This practice must stop. Records need to be clear. Land  that is clearly owned by someone should become patta as soon as possible. When a person goes to buy land, there should be no hidden traps and problems.

Moreover, everyone cannot buy agricultural land. Only people whose ancestors were farmers can buy agricultural land. Like some kind of caste system, people whose ancestors were not farmers cannot become farmers. Non resident Indians are not allowed to buy farm land, legally. All these rules are to protect farmers and keep the price of agricultural land low. This has not happened. Price of agricultural land has shot up in recent years. Only people who readily bend  the law invest in agricultural property. This kind of conditional buying must go. Instead,  agricultural zones must be established. Land belonging to certain areas must be used only for farming. Intelligent people without farming background must be allowed to enter this  occupation. They will bring the necessary changes required to keep India dynamic and well fed.

Finally, even what you can grow on your land is also controversial. Once upon a time, Mangaluru area was filled with Mahogany and ebony trees. Now there are very few left. Wood has become unaffordable and can be bought only in black markets. It is easier to buy Indian ebony in America than in India. This is because timber can be sold only with certificates and that means some kind of bribing. Instead of going through all that trouble, farmers decided to grow safe crops like coconut and arecanut only. Consequently, farmers are financially distressed. The idea that the state owns all timber and sandalwood trees on a farmer’s private farm was passed on from unscrupulous kings. The British continued the practice because it was to their advantage. The Indian govt after independence did not put much thought when it decided to continue the trend. This status must change. Farmers must be encouraged to grow teak, mahogany, sandalwood, and all such crops that make them, and thereby India, prosperous.

Voltaire asks us to cultivate our own garden in Candide. Farming is good for the soul. But land reform in India needs to be addressed, urgently. Only then, can we spend our hard earned money buying property, without the sense of being cheated, and grow old, cultivating whatever our  hearts desire.

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