On 17th October 2019, the DMK President Mr. M.K Stalin tweeted in praise of the Tamil film Asuran starring National Award-winning film star Dhanush and directed by National Award-winning director Vetrimaaran saying "Asuran is not just a film but a lesson. The movie which revolves around the issue of Panchami land rights questions the caste violence in this caste based society."
Responding to this tweet, Dr. Ramadoss tweeted "Now that Mr. Stalin had learned the lesson, let's hope he returns the Panchami land which was grabbed for building DMK's mouth piece Murasoli's office to its rightful owners."
In defense, Mr. M.K. Stalin posted a copy of a patta issued in 1985 and called Dr. Ramadoss a liar.
Following this, Mr. TADA Periyasami tweeted that what Mr. Ramadoss mentioned was true and that the particular land on which Murasoli office is located belonged to a Dalit in the beginning which went to 2 non-Dalits and later bought by Anjugam Publications. He mentioned that Stalin should speak with the 1923 Permanent Register (A Register), RSR (Resettlement Paisal Register), SLR (Settlement Land Register) and 1935 Gazette Copy.
Since then the DMK President Stalin who is the managing director of Murasoli Trust has found himself in soup with the issue snowballing into a full-blown scandal. The DMK's damage control measures are leading to more and more revelations that goes on to prove with credible evidence that the land is indeed situated on Panchami land which was grabbed from members of the Scheduled Caste. What started off as an issue between Mr. M.K. Stalin and Dr. Ramadoss has become an issue of DMK versus Dalits.
Before we go further into the issue, it is important to understand what Panchami land is and what happens if a non-SC acquires the same.
What is Panchami Land?
Panchami land is the assigned land which was distributed for Dalits in Tamil Nadu during the British rule in 1892. In 1890, the Chengalpet collector sent a proposal to Queen Victoria in England to grant unassessed lands (poromboke) to the scheduled caste people. The British Parliament cleared this proposal in 1892 and the scheduled caste people were granted such lands till 1933. More than two million hectares were granted to the scheduled castes across the country. Close to 2,50,000 hectares were given to the community in Tamil Nadu. Lands thus given to the scheduled caste came to be called as "Panchami" lands.
The "Panchami" lands were given only to the scheduled caste people with the condition that they cannot sell it for the first 10 years. This was to ensure that they can use this to engage in farming and earn some income for themselves. After 10 years, the lands could only be sold to Dalits and not to any other non-Dalit community person. So, what happens if a non-SC person acquires a Panchami land?
According to the Revenue Board Standing Order, if any non-SC person acquires a Panchami land, a complaint has to be filed at the Tahsildar office. There has to be an enquiry conducted by RDO and the non-SC person has to handover the land to the government. The government can then reallot the land to the same Dalit person from the land was acquired or to any other deserving Dalit person.
Filing of complaint with the NCSC
After TADA Periyasami's tweet, the issue gained traction in the media. Outlets like Dinamalar and Vikatan started publishing articles on the same. On seeing the issue gaining momentum, the Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party state secretary Prof. Srinivasan filed a complaint with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. The Commission asked the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu to appear before it with information on the lands and also issued summons to Udayanidhi Stalin, the managing director of Murasoli Trust. However, Rajya Sabha MP R.S. Bharathi who is also one of the trustees of Murasoli Trust said he would appear on behalf of Udayanidhi Stalin as per instructions from Mr. M.K. Stalin. Meanwhile Mr. TADA Periyasami wrote to the NCSC on his behalf. Both Mr. TADA Periyasami and Prof. Srinivasan got notices to appear before the commission.
1st hearing by NCSC – Chennai – November 19, 2019
Mr. R.S. Bharathi along with Mr. Ilangovan represented the Murasoli Trust. The two complainants Mr. TADA Periyasami and Prof. Srinivasan also attended the hearing. In the meeting, Mr. TADA Periyasami handed over a letter to the NCSC panel with the plea that the officials in Tamil Nadu fail to acknowledge the presence of Panchami lands in Chennai for which he has evidence (1932 Gazette Copy) and that before addressing the issue of Murasoli office this needs to be set right. As expected, the government officials told the officials that there exists no Panchami land in Chennai and hence Murasoli land cannot be a Panchami land. The panel then asked what land is it to which one of them showed a document which said that the land was Ryotwari and there is a record of registration of buying this land. Mr. TADA Periyasami countered them saying that even if the land was brought that way, it is a violation of condition of Panchami lands. He mentioned that till 1973, there existed a hostel and an evening school for the Adi Dravidars and that he is in touch with students who studied there and can produce them before the commission if need be. He stated that the evening school was run by former DMK MP Mr. P. Sivasankaran who resided in that area. He submitted evidence that several Panchami lands across Tamil Nadu are being misreported by officials in Tamil Nadu. Hence, he requested for a deeper investigation into the matter. Mr. TADA Periyasamy requested the commission to grant permission to him and his lawyer for scrutinizing the documents. The argument from R.S. Bharathi and Ilangovan was that the NCSC does not have any jurisdiction as it is a civil dispute. Mr. TADA Periyasami submitted to the commission the 1932 Gazette copy that had details of Panchami land given. The government requested time till January 1st week from the NCSC panel regarding the matter.
On 13th December 2019, the NCSC sends a notice to the Chief Secretary and Mr. M.K. Stalin to appear before the commission with relevant documents on January 7, 2020.
January 4, 2020 - Madras High Court Proceedings
Meanwhile the DMK President M.K. Stalin approached the Madras High Court seeking exemption from appearing before the NCSC. Justice C V Karthikeyan before whom the plea moved by DMK challenging the jurisdiction of the NCSC to hear the complaint of the BJP state secretary Srinivasan alleging that Murasoli Pathipagam is constructed on Panchami land, while dispensing with Stalin's personal appearance held that any person from the trust can represent him.
The judge also held that Murasoli Trust need not furnish copies of its title deeds and only an index is enough. Also, on recording the submissions that NCSC vice-chairman L Murugan was acting in a biased manner against DMK, Justice Karthikeyan while posting the case for further hearing to January 21 held that Murugan cannot be involved in these proceedings since prima facie case has been made out against him. The commission must nominate some other person to continue proceedings and file counter, the judge held
Senior Counsel P Wilson appearing on behalf of Murasoli Trust represented by its trustee R S Bharathi contended that NCSC does not have jurisdiction to hear matters pertaining to title of properties. He also argued that the vice chairman of the commission Murugan is politically biased since he has close ties with a political party, which continues to stick posters, banners and advertisements in support of him. He also submitted that Murasoli's trustee Bharathi appeared in person and explained that the tribunal does not have jurisdiction to hear such matters. But Murugan is continuing to abuse his office and issue summons to the DMK President to appear in person, the DMK counsel said. Wilson also submitted that the trust is only a tenant and the owner has validly purchased the land. He claimed that the owner of the land is Anjugam Pathipagam and the title can be traced back to more than 70 years. In fact, even a patta has been issued to Anjugam Pathipagam and the revenue department has accepted the title, he said.
2nd hearing by NCSC – New Delhi – January 7, 2020
Mr. TADA Periyasami was present as one of the complainant. Prof. Srinivasan did not come. Mr. L. Murugan did not chair the hearing. Other officials of NCSC had come for the meeting. A female lawyer to present Stalin had come. However, the investigation did not happen.
Later, Mr. TADA Periyasami tweeted that the actions of Tamil Nadu government raised suspicion as they were being favourable to the DMK. He said that if it continues in this manner, he would write to PMO and seek CBI intervention in the matter.
The NCSC on 13th January 2020 sent a notice to the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu and M.K. Stalin to appear before the commission on January 27, 2020 along with relevant documents.
3rd hearing by NCSC – New Delhi – January 27, 2020
DMK MP Mr. P. Wilson represented Mr. Stalin at the hearing. He stated that the owner of the land is Anjugam Publications and Murasoli Trust is a tenant staying for rent and argued that Murasoli Trust is in no way related to the case and should not be made party to this investigation at all. He also mentioned that the complaint filed is a lie and the complainant is a not a person of Schedule Caste background and that a defamation suit will be filed on Prof. Srinivasan and on Dr. Ramadoss. However, Mr. TADA Periyasamy rose to mention that he was also a complainant and belonged to SC community. The Chairman of NCSC then asked Mr. Periyasamy to submit the complaint along with his SC certificate.
The question posed by Periyasamy was that, if Anjugam Publication was the owner, how and why did Mr. Stalin show the 1985 patta? If Murasoli Trust is staying for rent, then it should show the lease agreement, Periyasamy said.
Februray 19, 2020 – Counter Affidavit Filed by NCSC With Madras High Court
In the latest development, the National Commission of Scheduled Caste has asked the Murasoli Trust to prove that it is not squatting on Panchami land. Filing a counter affidavit, the NCSC has told the Madras High Court that it has all the powers to inquire Murasoli Trust. The counter affidavit was filed in response to the trust's argument that the NCSC has no jurisdiction to decide the title of the property. The commission represented by Vice Chairman L. Murugan mentioned that its scope of the inquiry was not to decide on the title of the property as claimed by DMK MP R.S. Bharathi, who is also one of the trustees, but only to find out whether the party in question has grabbed Panchami land or not. The counter affidavit also read that "if at all the petitioner is innocent and the disputed land is not a Panchami land, they could declare to the whole world in black and white with proper documents. On the other hand, the petitioner is making unwanted allegations against this respondent". Responding to the allegation that the entire issue is politically motivated, the counter affidavit added that "even if the complaint is politically motivated, nothing prevents the petitioner from establishing their innocence and genuineness during the course of the enquiry."
Senior counsel and DMK MP P. Wilson filed a petition to amend the cause title and make the NCSC represented by its secretary as a party respondent instead of the Vice President. However, taking strong exception to the amendment petition, Assistant Solicitor General G. Karthikeyan said that it cannot be done. He sought time to file a separate counter affidavit opposing the plea for amendment. Accepting the request, the judge has adjourned the case to March 6.
Is the DMK anti-Dalit?
A few days back, R.S. Bharathi, the DMK MP in the Rajya who also happens to be one of the trustees in Murasoli Trust, made unscrupulous remarks against the Dalits saying "It is because of the DMK that the Dalits have become judges in courts today and that it is alms (picchai) given by the Dravidian Movement to the Dalits." What is of significance is that its alliance partner VCK and its head Thol. Thirumavalavan has kept himself aloof from both the issues. With the developments surrounding the Murasoli land grab case, the DMK's claim of being the champion of Dalit rights is being challenged. If indeed it gets proved that Murasoli Trust is sitting on a Panchami land, the party is a the risk of losing its Dalit vote base.