The Rediff Special

'Who would bother to look after small
slips of paper?'

                                                                   Ramesh Menon Part 2                                                                              Part 1

The land just lay there.

Grass and wild weeds grew on it. A pity. Here was a plot, given free, for cultivation. But the ones who had got it had not the time to sow. Brijendra Singh remembers that both men -- General Girdhari Singh and Major General Yadunath Singh -- were very busy. Farming was not a priority to either.

Time passed by. General Girdhari Singh died in January 1956 and Major General Yadunath Singh in August 1960. After their deaths, Sushila Singh should have intimated the revenue authorities about her claim over the land, being Major General Yadunath Singh's widow. But that was not done.

On October 30, 1973, the Guna collector in an order said that since the owners had never lived in the village, had not paid land revenue, and had never cultivated the land, it should be confiscated. It was the right thing to do as the lease agreement outlined all these conditions.

No appeal was filed against the order or the tehsildar who confiscated the land under the Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code.

Before it was taken over, the naib tehsildar in Chanderi wrote to Sushila Singh on September 7, 1972 about the government's intention. The argument forwarded many years later in court was that she was not informed and the government had snatched what was legally hers. In fact, there was an acknowledgement of the letter in the court documents. There was also a letter from Sushila Singh dated September 9, 1972, saying she had given Brijendra Singh Rs 1,000 but he had given no account of it, he was not sending her any money, and that she would settle the dues in a couple of months.

The Madhya Bharat government was at its gracious best in the early 1950s. It had gifted away land in the area to ensure that there was farming and people started living there. The land was given on the express condition that ownership would only be given if they cultivated at least 50 per cent of it within two years.

And the tax rates were very low. In the first three years the farmers did not have to pay any tax. Even in the fourth year, they just had to pay 25 per cent of land revenue. In the fifth year, only 50 per cent had to be paid. It was only in the sixth year that they had to pay the full land revenue.

The tax was deliberately kept low to encourage farming. There are no records to prove that the plaintiffs ever paid the tax. Brijendra Singh today says he had paid it on behalf of General Girdhari Singh and Major General Yadunath Singh. But he cannot produce the receipts.

"Who would bother to look after small slips of paper?" he asks.

FOR 10 years, the recovered land lay in the state government's possession. It tried to convert the plot into an agricultural farm.

The land was given to the Madhya Pradesh Seed and Farm Development Corporation in May 1983 to develop high-yielding seeds. It grew pigeon pea, til, soybean, sesamum, wheat, gram and mustard.

The corporation invested heavily to set up irrigation facilities and a seed-processing unit. In terms of services, the farm did well, catering to thousands of farmers around. Some seeds were even sent to other states.

For almost 20 long years, there was no claim to the land.

Suddenly, Sushila Singh shot off a letter to the chief secretary, law secretary and revenue secretary of Madhya Pradesh, alleging that the Madhya Pradesh Seed and Farm Development Corporation had illegally occupied her land. She demanded that it be given back to her and her daughter Mala Anand, who, she said, were the legal heirs.

In the letter she gave her address as: C/o Dr A S Anand, Chief Justice House, 23, Grenways Road, Madras.

The third paragraph of her notice read: 'Smt Mala Anand is married to Dr A S Anand, Chief Justice of Madras High Court.'

The bureaucrats got cold feet.

They passed the notice on to the Farm Development Corporation. The corporation, which had invested millions of rupees in developing the land, got its lawyer Ramji Sharma to reply.

Sharma's argument, dated March 29, 1991, was that the land had been taken over in 1973 under the provisions of the Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code. He pointed out that Sushila Singh's request was time-barred, as she should have objected within two years of that action.

The Seed Corporation, thus, refused to return the land to Sushila Singh.

SO Sushila Singh and daughter Mala Anand filed a suit in the court of the civil judge at Chanderi for declaration of title and possession of the 114 acres in Piprod village. At that time, Justice Dr A S Anand was a Supreme Court judge. Both women had not approached the revenue court for registering their names claiming ownership after the death of the leaseholders (Mala Anand's grandfather and father).

In a written statement, the Seed Corporation raised three pertinent points:

1. That Sushila Singh and Mala Anand's request was time-barred. (Section 176 (2) of the Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code says any objection should be filed within three years.)

2. The lease deed that was given to General Girdhari Singh and Major General Yadunath Singh was illegal. Firstly, the deed was not served on the recipients. (Instead, it was signed by Brijendra Singh.) Secondly, on 27-11-1951 when the deed was signed, the posts of naib tehsildar, colonisation, was non-existent when the Madhya Bharat state existed.

3. The land was barren, thus violating the lease agreement.

4. The very maintainability of the suit was objectionable as section 57 of the Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code mandated that any challenge to the government's title over land must only be made in the court of the sub-divisional officer.

The petition came up for hearing numerous times in the Chanderi court. But the petitioners did not attend it though they were called. The court of the civil judge in Chanderi also held a hearing in the Gwalior circuit house so that it would be convenient for Sushila Singh and Mala Anand to attend. But they did not turn up. Their lawyers told the court they were not well and hence could not attend. It was therefore suggested that evidence be recorded in the clients's home at 10, Tughlak Road.

Incidentally, this was the official home of Justice Dr A S Anand. At that point he was a sitting judge in the Supreme Court.

Farm Development Corporation lawyer Sharma strongly opposed it. His contention was that he would not feel free to cross-examine the petitioners in the home of a Supreme Court judge. He would feel very hesitant, he said, as he had great respect for the honourable judge.

The civil judge, Judge O P Mandil, then specified that when the evidence was being recorded, Justice Dr Anand should not be in the room. A court commissioner, Satish Kumar Jain, was appointed to travel to Delhi to record the evidence.

On December 25, 1995, a team comprising Farm Development Corporation officials, its lawyer, a government advocate, lawyers for the petitioners, and the court commissioner arrived to record evidence at Justice Dr Anand's home. The justice greeted them, and then left the room so that evidence could be recorded.

Mala Anand, in her testimony, made the following points:

1. Her grandfather General Girdhari Singh and her father, Major General Yadunath Singh, were not residents of the farm.

2. She had never visited the farm before 1989.

3. She had not intimated information about the death of her grandfather and father to the revenue officials.

4. She did not know about any government order giving them land.

5. She did not know if the authority which gave them land had the power to do so.

6. The land was uncultivated from 1951 to 1976.

7. She did not know if they had paid any land revenue.

Her mother, Sushila Singh did not give evidence.

After the team finished, Justice Dr Anand saw them off.

Part 3: The judgment                 Back to The Tangled Plot
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