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Seeds of Sonbhadra row were sown in 1952

Five of the arrests were made on Wednesday within a few hours of the attack, which also left 20 people seriously injured.

, TNN|
Jul 20, 2019, 10.48 AM IST
10 people were killed and 20 others injured in a gunfight on Thursday over a property dispute between two groups in UP’s Sonbhadra district
VARANASI: The pradhan of Umbhha village in eastern UP’s Sonbhadra district was among 21 people arrested on Thursday for the massacre of 10 villagers over a land dispute left festering for over five decades by a former bureaucrat.

“The prime accused, Yagyadutt Bhurtiya, his two brothers and 23 others are now in custody. Two guns have been seized along with 26 tractors used by the accused in the attack,” additional director general (Varanasi zone) Braj Bhushan said.

Five of the arrests were made on Wednesday within a few hours of the attack, which also left 20 people seriously injured. All 78 accused named in the FIR face charges of murder, attempt to murder and rioting with weapons, among other offences.

The land dispute that created the killing fields of Umbhha allegedly owes its origin to a bureaucrat’s decision to create an allegedly family-run society in 1952 and appoint it as the custodian of a 112-bigha plot that villagers say belonged to the gram sabha. The villagers and the office-bearers of the society have been fighting a legal battle since.

Advocate Nityanand Dwivedi, counsel for the villagers, said the disputed plot had been carved out of a 600-bigha parcel of land that belonged to the Raja of Badhaar, Anand Brahm Saha. After the abolition of the Zamindari Act, the land was declared banjar (infertile) in revenue records and registered as a gram sabha property.

Villagers continued using the land for cultivation till 1952, when IAS officer Prabhat Kumar Mishra set up the Adarsh Cooperative Society Ltd of Umbha. “The officer’s father-in-law, Maheshwari Prasad Sinha of Muzaffarpur, Bihar, was named the president of the society and his wife Asha Mishra an office-bearer,” Dwivedi said.

Mishra’s daughter Vinita was appointed manager and a total of 463 bighas were registered in its name. After Sinha’s death, 200 bighas were transferred in the names of Asha and Vinita on September 6, 1989. They sold 144 bighas to village head Bhurtiya for Rs 2 crore, the advocate said.

On October 19, 2017, an application was moved for mutation of the land in the name of Bhurtiya. “The villagers came to know about the application much later and approached then DM Amit Kumar Singh who then ordered the assistant revenue officer to probe how the land was transferred to the society and then to Bhurtiya,” Dwivedi said.

“The society itself is illegal and against the norms laid down in the UP Societies Registration Act, which states that a person can register a society only in the state of his domicile. The society was registered at Robertsganj and the land belonging to the gram sabha was transferred in its name by a tehsildar, who did not have that power until 1961.”

Yagyadutt and his men came in 35 tractors. “They abused us and chased us with lathis, ballam and kulhadi. We put up a fight, but how could we stall bullets?” said a villager. The families accused the administration of not doing enough to protect them.

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