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Land mafias usurp Banara locals’ settlement

Land mafias usurp Banara locals’ settlement

Jituwa Musahar was gazing at the pyres at the cremation grounds of Aryaghat from the Bagmati Bridge the other day. His anguish mirrored that of a bereaved family grappling with the loss of a loved one.

Jituwa, aged 68, hails from the Tharu settlement in Banaha in Bhangaha Municipality-4 of Mahottari. Land mafias manipulated officials to usurp land and property belonging to Jituwa and over a hundred other hapless victims from the settlement. With land registration certificates in their names, they are threatening the locals to vacate the settlement.

About two dozen local residents are now in Kathmandu to draw the government's attention toward their plight. They have secured loans to cover their travel expenses. In the federal capital, they met Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha and apprised them of their situation.

A meager four-room thatched-roof hut, six kattha of land, and eight mango trees represent the entirety of Jituwa and his family’s possessions. Now, the land mafias are demanding the family to leave the settlement. “For five generations, I have called this place home. Where else can I go?” he questioned.

More than 1,200 individuals of 187 landless families have been living in Banara settlement. People began settling in Banara during the 1950s. Impoverished communities like the Musahar, Chamar, Raut, Tatma, and Tharu have resided in this settlement spread over 45 bighas. Many of them earn a livelihood as daily wage earners.

Locals allege that land mafias have fraudulently registered both the settlements and farmlands in their own names across the entire 45 bighas. These unscrupulous individuals are coming to the settlement armed with land registration certificates, coercing local residents to quit the settlement at the earliest. Some of these unscrupulous actors are selling off land plots in the settlement, while others have pledged them as collateral to secure bank loans.

For the past two and a half decades, local residents have persistently sought government intervention to resolve the matter. Multiple governments have risen and fallen during this period, yet none have heeded their appeals. Even the local representatives, who these people voted into office, now choose to remain as mute spectators.

“We have lost sleep over this. We are on the brink of losing everything we hold dear,” lamented Jituwa. “Residents of the settlement often wake up in the middle of the night, fearing bulldozers will raze their settlement.”

Jituwa recounted how a team from the Landless Commission first visited the settlement back in 1997. “They meticulously surveyed our households and farms. We believed that we would finally obtain land ownership certificates,” he explained. “However, we later learned that the land registration certificates for our property had been issued in someone else’s name.”

According to Jituwa, the land has since changed hands two or three times. He revealed that an individual named Shyam Sah from Birta currently possesses the land ownership certificate for the plot on which he and his family reside. “He is demanding Rs 2.1m for a six-kattha plot. How can I afford such a huge amount of money?” he questioned.

The land grab mafias forged alliances with officials from the Land Revenue Office and Survey Office when Landless Commission teams fanned out to various districts. Through collusion with these officials, they fraudulently registered entire settlements in their own names. These newly designated ‘owners’ were duly registered in the government's records.

During the tenure of the Surya Bahadur Thapa-led coalition government of Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and Nepali Congress (NC), RPP leader Bishwa Nath Karna was appointed as the head of the Landless Commission in Mahottari. “It was during this time that our land was distributed to people from Okhaldhunga, Morang, Bhojpur, Parsa, and other districts,” Jituwa noted. “They remained dormant for many years but are now becoming active.”

Jituwa claimed to have heard that the commission’s president registered land in the settlement in the names of their relatives at hotels in Janakpur and Jaleshwar. “How can land from this settlement be registered in the names of individuals from Kharia, Suga, Jaleshwar, and Matihani? They neither resided here nor cultivated this land,” Jituwa argued.

Residents of the settlement have visited the ward office, municipality office, land revenue and survey offices, district administration office, and even the Madhes Province Government. However, none have taken any meaningful action to address their grievances.

“Everyone promised to find a solution to our problem. We believed in them and cast our votes, but they forgot about us once they were elected,” Jituwa shared, his frustration palpable.