NCSC asks TN to submit report on Panchami lands

L Murugan

Chennai: The National Commission for Scheduled Castes Monday asked all District Revenue Officers in Tamilnadu to furnish information in 15 days on steps taken to remove encroachments of ‘Panchami lands’ given to Dalits.

The Commission has sent notices to the DROs to specify details, including extent of panchami lands, encroachments and steps taken to remove them, NCSC vice-chairman L Murugan said.

Panchami lands’ denote land assigned to Dalits in Tamilnadu by the British Indian government during the late 19th century. Though panchami lands were assigned on condition that it cannot be alienated to non-Scheduled Castes, these also came into the hands of people of other communities with the passage of time.

NCSC has given the DROs 15 days time to respond, he said. Last week, at a high level review meeting, the Tamilnadu government officials told the Commission that there are about 1.5 lakh acres of panchami lands in the state. However, there are also claims that there are about 12 lakh acres of panchami lands in the state, Murugan said.

On the exact extent of Panchami lands, he said there were huge discrepancies which are being studied. “A committee of the state government is also looking into identification of panchami lands in Tamilnadu following a High Court direction,” he noted.

Besides the state government’s initiative, the Commission has also held review meetings in some districts, focusing on aspects of panchami lands like its extent and encroachments and steps to remove it, he said. DROs were asked to specify information since they are the custodians of such lands.

Explaining the Commission’s efforts to retrieve Panchami land, he said Salem district authorities appeared before the panel at Delhi last week over removal of encroachments of about nine acres. They said notices had been issued to the encroaches to vacate and follow up action was being taken to ensure that encroachments were removed, he said.

In Coimbatore, 60 acres has been retrieved and given to the Dalits, who are now engaged in farming, Murugan said. On some villagers in Salem district recently objecting to a Dalit woman being appointed as a cook in a government school, he said three of the six accused were absconding (including the school headmaster) and three had been arrested.

Departmental action has been recommended against the headmaster by the authorities, the NCSC vice chief said. “The headmaster had told the Dalit cook to abstain from preparing food. We are for the arrest all the six accused persons, including the headmaster,” he said.

According to the FIR, S Jothi, a nutritious meal helper, was elevated as cook and transferred to Kuppankottai panchayat Union Elementary School in Salem district on 4 October. On 11 October, five villagers came to the school’s nutritious meal kitchen when Jothi was preparing food, allegedly objected to her cooking for children of their community and informed the school management that their wards would not consume the meals prepared by her.

They also demanded that she be replaced and reportedly threatened to withdraw their wards from the school. On 14 October, three of the five villagers were arrested.

The SC panel vice chief said the commission was for ending discrimination and untouchability of all forms and all steps were being taken in this regard.