Even as the BJP in Karnataka is yet to shake off the taint of scams that cost former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa his job, another allegation targeting one of the party’s Lok Sabha candidates has come to light. In the crosshairs this time is former labour minister BN Bache Gowda, who is contesting the Chikkaballapur seat. An official inquiry committee has accused Gowda and his relatives, who belong to the dominant Vokkaliga caste, of illegally acquiring 200 acres earmarked for Dalits under the Karnataka Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Lands) Act, 1978, better known as the PTCL Act.
The land in question is located in Shantapura village of Hoskote taluk in Bangalore Rural district. The inquiry committee was set up last June by V Shankar, deputy commissioner of Bangalore Rural district, following a complaint by a local Congress leader accusing Gowda of grabbing the land meant for Dalits by submitting bogus and forged documents. The committee was given a week to complete its investigation.
In its 35-page report (a copy of which is in TEHELKA’s possession), the committee states that in the 1970s, the state government had allotted four acres of grazing land each to 50 Dalit families in Shantapura. The entire patch of 200 acres was found to be in the possession of the Gowdas at the time of the investigation; 36 acres were held by Bache Gowda himself. In fact, in a recent affidavit, Gowda claimed he had inherited the land and spent Rs 6.5 crore on developing it.
As the Gowdas are not Dalits, the inquiry committee stated in its report that their possession of the said land was in contravention of the provisions of the PTCL Act.
So, how and when did the Gowdas come in possession of land meant for Dalits?
Last November, Hoskote Tahsildar Barole Sangappa submitted a supplementary inquiry report to Deputy Commissioner Shankar, seeking action against the officials who had illegally allotted the land to Bache Gowda and his relatives. According to Sangappa’s report, in 2007, the then tahsildar of Hoskote, Dayanand Bhandari, and 11 officials who worked under him, had colluded with Bache Gowda and illegally allotted them the land meant for Dalits in Shantapura village.
Having managed to find the original title deed, Sangappa also stumbled upon another shocking fact. The initial allotment of four-acre plots to 50 Dalit families, too, turned out to have been bogus. No date was mentioned in the applications for the allotment of land. Neither was any date noted on the grant records to show when the allotment was done, nor did the document carry the tahsildar’s signature. So, in fact, not a single piece of land was allotted to any of the intended beneficiaries. They were just names on paper, while the land actually went into the possession of non- Dalit families.
Though the initial inquiry report was submitted last June, and the supplementary report five months later, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government is yet to take any action. And the land continues to be in the possession of Bache Gowda and his relatives.
Deputy Commissioner Shankar told TEHELKA that he has submitted his findings to the revenue department and is “waiting for their instructions”. Principal Secretary (Revenue) Basavaraju says he has received the deputy commissioner’s report and the matter is under consideration.
Meanwhile, anti-graft activist SR Hiremath of the Samaj Parivartana Samudaya has raised this issue in a letter to Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj. “Bache Gowda has usurped land meant for Dalits,” says Hiremath. “I hope CM Siddaramaiah will take action against the former minister.”
Bache Gowda, however, has rubbished the charge of grabbing Dalit land as a “false allegation”. “No notice has been served against me so far,” he told TEHELKA. “The allegation is based on wrong information. I am willing to fight it out in any court.”