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India's mass exodus from cities triggers village property disputes

by Reuters
Thursday, 4 June 2020 13:22 GMT

A migrant carries luggage on her head with her son following behind as they walk to reach a bus to take them to their home state of Uttar Pradesh, during an extended lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Mumbai, India, May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

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Driven by hunger and the inability to pay rent, the exodus is causing tensions over limited resources and fights over property are common

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By Saurabh Sharma and Rupam Jain

LUCKNOW/MUMBAI, June 4 (Reuters) - Police in India's most populous state are dealing with a surge in property disputes, as millions of migrant workers flee to their villages after losing their jobs in the cities, sparking feuds over fields and family homes.

The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to some 200 million people, has seen millions of migrants return home during an extended nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Hundreds of thousands walked, cycled and hitchhiked in the early weeks, but the exodus gathered pace in May, as the government began moving millions of people back in buses and trains.

Driven by hunger and the inability to pay rent, the exodus is causing tensions over limited resources in the villages.

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Smriti Singh, an administrator in the village of Ratshar Kalan, said she was juggling between quarantining about 1,000 returnees and tackling family feuds.

"Fights over property happen every day. These cases all have similar a narrative," said Singh, adding most involved returning families quarrelling with relatives about ancestral homes and property.

Two officials told Reuters that police recorded more than 80,000 property dispute complaints between May 1 and May 20, more than double the 38,000 cases recorded in April.

In comparison, the officials said the state had recorded a total of 49,000 complaints over ownership of homes, commercial properties and agricultural land, between January and March.

The officials, who asked not to be identified as they were not authorised to discuss the matter publicly, said they expect such incidents to keep rising as migrants flock home.

The state government did not respond to a request for comment.

(Editing by Euan Rocha and Nick Macfie)