A land dispute more than half a century old took an ugly turn on 17th july 2019 when clashes between two groups led to the death of 10 persons including 3 women and left more than 20 people seriously injured when Yagya Dutt, a village head, and his supporters opened fire on a group of tribal farmers in Umbhha village of Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh. Umbhha is a village under Ghorawal police station.
The firing took place following a clash between Yagya Dutt’s supporters and the farmers over a land ownership dispute.
On July 17, he, along with his supporters (who were armed) reached Umbhha village to take possession of the land that has been tilled by Gond farmers. The exact number of people Dutt brought along with him is unclear but police said 10-12 tractors ferried them.
The supporters of the village headman Yagyadutt Bhurtiya clashed with the villagers in the Umbhha village of eastern UP’s Sonbhadra district, when the villagers tried to prevent him from taking the land in his possession.
Around 78 people have been made accused in the case and charged with the offences of murder, attempt to murder, rioting with weapons among other offences.
Police have arrested 29 people, including the main accused Yadya Dutt, and seized six tractors that were used to ferry Dutt’s henchmen on the day of the Sonbhadra firing. Police have also registered FIR against 61 people, including 11 named.
According to Nityanand Dwivedi, counsel for the villagers, the plot is part of the land belonging to the Raja of Badhaar, Anand Brahm Saha, which after the passing of the Land Abolition Act was declared as infertile and registered as Gram Sabha property. Villagers cultivated the land till 1952.
The issue dates back to 1952 when IAS officer Prabhat Kumar Mishra set up the Adarsh Cooperative Society Ltd of Umbha with his own relatives as President and office bearers and appointed it as the manager of a 112 bigha plot of land which the villagers allege as belonging to the Gram Sabha. Two years ago in 2017, 144 acres was sold to Bhurtiya for Rs.2 crore by those same people.
The villagers allege that the society was illegal and violated the norms laid down in UP Societies Registration Act, also that the land was transferred from the Gram Sabha to the society by the tehsildar who did not have such powers at that time.
The situation on ground is tense and the political environment in Uttar Pradesh remains heated. The district administration has imposed Section 144 of the CrPc, which forbids movement and assembly of large groups of people.
Since the incident, the village has been made into a political battlefield, with every party trying to get itself registered in the headlines. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi was detained on her way to meet the kin of the victims which she finally was able to do, where she criticised the Yogi Adityanath government for not doing enough to support the tribal villagers.
Today, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath met the villagers and assured them of strict action against those responsible while also promising of enhanced compensation of Rs. 18 lakh for the families of those killed and Rs. 2.5 lakh for those injured. He also tried to pin the blame on the Congress party by terming the incident as a big political conspiracy which originated in 1955 under Congress rule.