Nitish said Bhagalpur riot victims got land back. They didn't

Patel YadavPatel Yadav with beneficiaries of Garhotia village (IE image: Ravi Sahani)

Addressing an 'anti-communalism' meeting in Delhi on October 30, attended by most of the prominent anti-BJP and anti-Congress parties, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said: "I do not know what is being done at other places (after riots). In Bhagalpur, after cases of distress land sale and unauthorised possession, we restored land plots to 18 families."

Minority Affairs Secretary Amir Subhani later clarified that the CM actually meant 17 families. Neither, perhaps, has been to Bhagalpur.

In Garhotia village under Lodhipur police station, 14 km from Bhagalpur town, land owned by the 17 Muslim families who fled their homes after the 1989 riots, and whom Nitish was referring to, is controlled by 75-year-old Patel Yadav. This season, Yadav has cultivated toor (pigeon pea) in a portion of the 7,405 sq ft land he usurped and has been illegally tilling for two decades now. On most days, he can be found on the land, next to which he has also built a house.

The Muslim families, all living on daily wages, are settled one-and-a-half kilometres away, on the Bhagalpur-Gautradih road, in thatched huts. Twenty-four years later, they admit, they still don't have the confidence to go back to their old plots, surrounded as these are by over 400 Hindu households.

The government land restoration claims are "paper work", they say. Each family is entitled to one decimal (or 435.6 sq ft) of land — enough for just a small room and a verandah. "Once in a while, officials get the land measured, but nothing happens," say the families.

Subhani, who is also Secretary, Home, doesn't contest this, adding that the Bhagalpur district administration has also established this fact. "But it is also true that Bhagalpur police restored land possession in 2008, but the victims abandoned it. We will get the land restored finally on December 5," he claims.

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