By P.T. Bopanna
In the light of reports of “illegal” sale of Jamma lands in Kodagu (Coorg), both the buyers and sellers need to be aware of the fact that the matter is before the Karnataka High Court. Any adverse judgement by the court would result in the buyer losing the right over the land.
This reporter is signatory to the petition seeking the quashing of the amendment to allow the partitioning of Jamma lands in Kodagu district of Karnataka.
The writ petition filed in December, 2013, seeking quashing the Karnataka Land Revenue (Third) Amendment Act passed by the then BJP government has been admitted by the High Court (see picture for status of the petition).
A leading advocate stated: “When a matter is sub judice and subject to final outcome of the case, any transaction undertaken during the pendency of the case, cannot be considered as the full and final transaction. The validity of such transactions is subject to the final outcome of the case.”
The petitioners had sought a direction to restrain the Karnataka government from compelling members of the joint families of the Kodava race to seek partition of their ancestral properties, including Jamma Bane lands, whether alienated or un-alienated, privileged or unprivileged.
The petition has called for upholding the customary laws which stand abolished by the Amendment.
The writ has sought a stay on the operation of the Act until the disposal of the petition, and also restrain the revenue department from mutating any Jamma land falling under Regulation 164 of the Coorg Land Revenue Regulation, 1899, in the name of the purchaser.
The petitioners have urged the court to declare the Karnataka Land Revenue (Third Amendment) Act, 2011 ANNEXURE-A, as unconstitutional and void and direct the respondents and its officers not to enforce or give effect to the provisions of the Amendment. The deputy commissioner of Kodagu has also been made a respondent to the case, and also the Secretary, department of Parliamentary Affairs and Legislation.
The repercussions of the legislation which received Presidential assent after the bill was referred to the President by the Karnataka governor, will not only harm the Western Ghats, considered as one of world’s bio-diversity hotspots, but will also take its toll on the customary laws, traditions and culture of the indigenous communities.
Hitherto, there was a ban on the sale of Jamma lands as the cultivator was only a ‘deemed owner’. The new legislation will confer the title of ‘occupant owner’ and allows the sale of land.
It is learnt that some people are resorting to ‘illegal’ sale of Jamma land by partitioning the property. According to law, consent of all adult male members (coparceners) is required before Pattedara (head of clan) could initiate sale proceedings. Veto by a single member would result in the partition becoming null and void.
The deputy commissioner and revenue officials should prevent such illegal sale of Jamma land.
Jamma land tenure is unique to Kodagu district and it is estimated that the extent of ‘Jamma Bane’ land in Kodagu is around 2.55 lakh acres in possession of the local people — Kodavas, Amma-Kodavas, Heggades, Airis, Koyavas, Moplas and Gaudas. Jamma lands consist of wetland for growing paddy and the accompanying Bane land, initially used for cattle grazing and held free of assessment, now converted into coffee estates.
According to Sir J B Lyall, a British expert on tenures in Coorg who traced the origin of Jamma, it was originally a military tenure held on payment of half the assessment in consideration of military service. Jamma was granted under ‘sanads’ largely by the Coorg Rajas (1600 AD to 1834 AD) and to a smaller extent by the British till 1895 to the local inhabitants.
The new Amendment, it is feared, will legitimise large scale denudation of trees and the formation of human settlements on Jamma Bane lands as there will be heavy influx of population from neighbouring Kerala state. The presence of increased human habitation will have its impact on the adjoining forest land, its flora and fauna.
For generations, the life of the local communities, has centred around the Jamma lands, the principal tenure in Kodagu. The Jamma lands could not be alienated as there was no provision for transferring the title of the property. The ownership was jointly held by the clan and it was managed by the head of the clan.
The issue went before the Karnataka high court and a full bench of the court held in its judgement delivered in October, 1993 that Jamma Bane landholders had limited privileges for cattle grazing, supply of firewood and timber for the domestic and agriculture purposes, but had no right to exploit the trees for commercial purposes, unless the holder had paid full timber value to the government. The court also held that the land-owner had no right to the sub-soil.
Customs and Traditions
Once the ban on the sale of Jamma lands is lifted, the indigenous communities will be removed from their traditional Jamma holdings which formed the basis of their customs and traditions. The ‘ain-mane’ or the ancestral houses of the clans, was the focal point of all festivities and religious usages. It is feared that once the Jamma lands are sold to outsiders, the new land owners could lay claim to the ‘ain-manes,’ considered sacred to the local communities. This could lead to social tensions and law and order problem.
The biggest threat will come from the real estate mafia who were eyeing the Jamma lands all these years. With tourism boom in Kodagu, the local communities will be under pressure to sell their lands as the state will not have any control over them.
The amendment to the Jamma tenure was effected during the previous BJP regime. The amendment was politically motivated and passed in haste without much debate in the Legislative Assembly, reportedly at the instance of the then Speaker K G Bopaiah who wanted to take political advantage. One of the reasons for Bopaiah’s re-election from the Virajpet constituency was on account of the political mileage he gained by getting the amendment passed.
The new amendment will create more problems than it hopes to solve. Those who drafted the amendment bill have failed to recognise the fact that apart from Jamma Bane lands, there are other types of Banes — ‘Hithlu’ and ‘Sagu Bane’ lands.
Advocate K Sarojini Muthanna, who is knowledgeable on Jamma tenure matters, has suggested that the government should carry out further amendments to the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964, devoting a separate chapter for the Jamma lands of Kodagu.
The main support for the amendment has come from Akhila Kodava Samaja, representing a section of the Kodavas. The president of the Samaja, Mathanda C Monnappa, opined that the amendment removed ‘irritants’ by way of government circulars which gave the impression that the land belonged to the government.
A large section of people, however, feel that in the interest of preserving the culture of Kodagu, and maintaining the ecological balance in the Western Ghats, the government should not give effect to the amendment to the Jamma land tenure.
With two consecutive years of unprecedented rains and landslides hitting Kodagu, people are aware of the consequences of deforestation that could trigger from the sale of Jamma lands to ‘outsiders’.