Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > September 22, 2007 > Another Leap towards Land Reforms in J&K

Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 40

Another Leap towards Land Reforms in J&K

Wednesday 26 September 2007, by Ashish Saxena

reflections on implementation of Renewed Roshni Act in the State

Land tenure institutions and their reform have a direct bearing on the question of development. Land reform in J&K is considered to be a success story. The first phase of reform was introduced in the early 1950s (Khatama chakdari in Samvat 2007): this was land reform-I. Recently, the J&K Assembly passed the Roshni Bill on Feburary 9, 2007 and it is claimed that this bill will provide ownership of 16.6 lakh kanals to farmers.1 The government has termed the decision “historic” and next only to the passing of the ‘Land to the Tiller’ Act.

Introduction

The structure of agrarian relations not only refers to a pattern of relationship in which man is related to land on merely ownership or tenancy basis, but also it refers to the entire framework of relations in the historically designed land system with its subsequent changes where social, economic and even political factors are in action, interaction and reaction in the circumstances of ecology—natural and human—combining to create traditions of conflicting interests on land. The operating forces in the society stratified into several classes on the basis of these competing and conflicting interests on land gradually tend to make the total framework of land relations more and more complex and polarised. Thus, land tenure institutions and their reform have a direct bearing on the question of development. Post-independence India has experienced considerable institutional and technological changes in a similar direction. The aim of land reform was to ensure imposition of ceilings on ownership of land, redistribution of surplus land by breaking the concentration of land resources in the hands of a few intermediaries, and security to the tiller by recognising his rights on the land.

Among all the States of Indian Union, J&K has the distinction of having introduced reform legislation of a considerable magnitude and earned the reputation of ushering in agrarian revolution. In fact, as early as 1944 in the New Kashmir Manifesto, the basic principles of land reform were articulated. Land reform in J&K is considered to be a success story. Its implementation can be divided into two phases—the reform introduced between the late the 1940s and early 1950s (Khatama chakdari in Samvat 2007), and the reform introduced in the 1970s (Zariah Islahat introduced in 1971 and implemented in 1973) the latter being land reform-II. The J&K land reform has an exception: non-payment of compensation for acquisition of surplus land. Ceiling of holding was made in the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950, having a ceiling limit of about 22.75 acres of land. Since its implementation 4.5 lakh acres of surplus land have been vested in the State Government—of this about 2.3 lakhs acres have been settled with tenants who were already in possession of surplus land.

In Jammu and Kashmir, rural transformation and poverty alleviation were regarded as strategic factors in the development process right from 1947. It can be hypothesised that land reform of the 1950s was one of the key factors to engineer basic changes in the rural economy of the State. Bhatt (1993) states that the State enjoyed the unique distinction of having introduced land reform, carried against the backdrop of the Quit Kashmir movement, which had deep roots in the oppressed peasantry, who constituted more than 80 per cent of the State’s population.2 From the land distribution data it is obvious that compared to the rest of the country land distribution is less skewed in J&K.

Big Landed Estates Abolition Act 1950: Historic Attempts in Land Reform

The agrarian system in the State was basically feudal in nature and the cultivators suffered greatly due to heavy taxation and levy on the land. Only those who pleased the kings were bestowed with land in the form of jagirs or muafis. Some of the leading officials of the administration also got some land as privilege and came to be known as Chakdars. Later the main demand of the National Conference movement, which was launched in 1931, was the transfer of ownership rights on land from the Maharaja to the peasants. This demand was conceded as a result of the 1931 movement and lakhs of petty cultivators, who were till then tenant-at-will, got ownership over the land. Later when the National Conference Government came to power in March 1948, it gave priority to the reorganisation of agriculture on a modern and rational basis, through the abolition of landlordism, securing the land to the tillers and the formation of cooperative associations. Consequently it was in this context that the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act 1950 was introduced. The main features of this legislation were:

I) Fixation of a ceiling on the holding of the proprietor at 22.75 acres (182 kanals) of land, excluding orchards, fuel and fodder reserves and cultivable wasteland.

II) Transfer of surplus land to the tillers cultivating the land without any payment.

III) Fixation of ceiling (at 160 kanals) on land including that, which was owned, and which has been leased out.

IV) Surplus lands which were not in the cultivating possession of any person, were acquired by the State.

As a result of the enforcement of the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 as many as 9000 and odd landowners were dispossessed of 4.5 lakh acres of land held in excess of the ceiling. Out of this 2.31 lakh acres of land were transferred with ownership rights to cultivating peasants free of any encumbrances. (Aslam; 1977)3

Thereafter, the Government of J&K in 1963 set up a Land Commission to find out the various discrepancies which had crept in over the years in the land tenure pattern. The recommendations of this Commission formed, by and large, the basis of J&K Agrarian Reform Act 1972. It was further amended as the J&K Agrarian Reform Act, 1976 with a ceiling of 12.5 standard acres including orchards with certain conditions.

Renewed Roshni Act — A Background

Terming it a gift for the people of the State on the occasion of 121st foundation day of the Congress party, CM Ghulam Nabi Azad addressed his proposal of the Roshni scheme.4 To him, “our State only generated Rs 250 crores per year from taxes... Now I am concentrating on revenue generation, so that my government would use it for proper connectivity of roads, power development, health and education.” (Hindustan Times, December 29, 2006)5

Taking the Opposition by surprise, the J&K Assembly under the ruling Congress party passed the Roshni Bill on Feburary 9, 2007. It is claimed that this bill will provide free of cost ownership of 16.6 lakh kanals (worth Rs. 20,000 crores; and with 19 lakh cultivators as beneficiaries) to farmers. The government has termed the decision “historic” and next only to the passing of the Land to the Tiller Act by the State’s first Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who took land from the feudal lords and handed it over to tillers without any compensation. While defending their case regarding the Act, one of the members of Congress party said Sheikh Abdullah had allotted landlords’ land to the poor people but this regime want to grant property right to the people who have grabbed government land which belongs to all of us.

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who moved the Bill with amendments in the House, said the land occupying farmers would have to pay a nominal fee of Rs 100 per kanal for getting mutation in their favour in the revenue record. He said the Bill, which would go down as revolutionary in the history of the State after the Land to the Tiller Act, was farmer-friendly and good for the growth of the agriculture sector, on which the State’s economy depends. Further more, he said: “Giving land-ownership rights to farmers for free is a decision that would have far-reaching positive effects on overall growth.”

Salient Features of the Roshni Scheme — Contemporary Attempts in Land Reform

As per the renewed Roshni scheme, ownership of the government land which is under farmers’ cultivation will be given to them at a meagre rate of 10 per cent of the rate prevailing in their respective areas. The total ceiling of the agriculture land owned by a farmer including his proprietary land and government land, which can be purchased by him, shall not exceed 100 kanals as prescribed under the Agrarian Reforms Act.

Delimiting the scope of the Act it was emphasised that the Roshni Act shall not apply to the following:

a) State land on which tenancy rights were granted to the cultivators in terms of Government Order No. LB 6/C of 1958 (regarding initial land reform initiatives) and proprietary rights conferred in terms of Government Order No. S/432 of 1996 dated June 3, 1966 irrespective of the fact whether mutations in favour of the occupants have been attested or not;

b) State land allotted for cultivation to the landless agricultural labourers and petty landholders by virtue of Government Order No. LB-7/C of 1958 dated June 5, 1958.

c) State land which accrued to the government by virtue of Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 and Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, was allotted and is in possession of various persons;

d) State land which was allotted to displaced persons of 1947, 1965 and 1971 in terms of Cabinet Order No. 578/C of 1954 dated May 7, 1954 over which ownership rights were conferred on the displaced persons in terms of Cabinet Order No. 254/C of 1965 dated July 7, 1965 read with Cabinet Order No. LB-40 of 1969 dated January 1, 1969; and

e) Land under unauthorised residential colonies regularised by the Housing and Urban Development Department upto 2005.

f) Kacharai land and forest land;

g) State land in possession for sixty years that is barred by limitation (adverse possession) is also outside the purview of the Act.

Bylaws of the Scheme

a) The land use in respect of agricultural land shall not be changed after the ownership is vested.

b) The government shall retrieve state land, other than agricultural land, which is occupied in excess of 10 kanals in the areas under Jammu Development Authority (JDA) and Srinagar Development Authority (SDA). Land upto 10 kanals in urban areas can be regularized as per the schedule.

c) The vesting of ownership is available to the Permanent Residents of the State (State Subjects) only.

Revised Rate Structure of the Scheme for Occupant using Land for Agricultural Purpose

a) Ownership of government land which is under their cultivation will be given to the farmers at a meagre rate of 10 per cent of the rate prevailing in their respective areas.

b) The total ceiling of the agricultural land owned by a farmer including his proprietary land and the government land, which can be purchased by him, shall not exceed 100 kanals as prescribed under the Agrarian Reforms Act.

Revised Rate Structure of the Scheme for Occupant using Land for Non-agricultural Purpose (Authorised where Lease Exists)

a) In Residential Use:

Upto two kanals

- 25 per cent of the value of land 3-10 Kanals determined by the committee.

- 40 per cent of the value of land determined by the committee.
More than 10
- 100 per cent of the kanals value of land determined by the committee.

b) In Commercial Use:

Where lease exists - 30 per cent of the value of land determined by the committee.

c) Institutional Use for, namely, educational, religious, NGOs, offices of political parties:

Where lease exist - 15 per cent of the value of land determined by
the committee.

Revised Rate Structure of the Scheme for Occupant using Land for Non-agricultural Purpose (Un-authorised)

a) In Residential Use:

Upto two kanals - 40 per cent of the value of land determined by
the committee.

3-10 Kanals - 50 per cent of the value

More than 10 kanals of land determined by the committee.

- Land will be retrieved and shall become government property.

b) In Commercial Use:

Upto 10 kanals - 60 per cent of the value of land determined by the committee.

Beyond 10 kanals - Land will be retrieved and shall become
government property.

c) Institutional Use for, namely, educational, religious reasons, NGOs, offices of political parties:

Upto 10 kanals - 50 per cent of the valueof land determined by the committee.

Beyond 10 kanals - They will pay market value determined by
the committee or Land will be retrived and shall become government property.

New Roshni: A Critical Analysis

New Roshni scheme proved a rational step for the development of the State and a milestone achievement for the Congress party that will offer a new dimension in the near future. However, it got less support from the prominent Opposition party, the BJP, which agitated against the scheme by saying it was mere ‘eyewash’ and also ‘anti-farmer’ and ‘anti-people’. Their argument was that the State Government through the scheme wants to legalise the illegal occupants of State land. It is known from the people of Valley that grazing land is not under the purview of the scheme and there are many encroachers and builders who are grabbing the land by having alliance with the Revenue Department and concerned ‘patwaris’. The Refugee United Front (RUF) holds the opinion that instead of allaying the problems of refugees, the State Government has slapped notices on the refugee families settled on agricultural land in 1947, restricting them only to 10 kanals of land. The refugee leaders alleged the Roshni Act was an offshoot of the policy of the J&K Government of 1948 by which no refugee from PoK, West Pakistan or Chhamb was to be settled in the J&K State. The refugees residing in the border belt of Poonch district have been given notices by the Revenue Department to submit details of the possessed land and were asked to regularise the land by submitting State subject certificate. However, the tragedy is that these West Pak refugees have not been issued the Permanent Resident Certificates. (December 28, 2006, Daily Excelsior) On the other hand, the National Panthers Party is of the view that it is not fruitful for poor farmers and the Gujjar-Bakkerwal community.

In general it could be said that the Congress initiative in this direction will at least help in streamlining the land record and also in regularising the land revenues. The possible outcome of the scheme can be summarised under the following heads:

Positive Aspects

a) It will streamline the land holdings and will help in accountability and effective control by the government.

b) Effective control may lead to more land revenue for the State (estimated, by the State, to be Rs 20 crores revenue) and for overall development.

c) It can be an opportunity for the genuine holders to go for land mobility and better economic conditions.

d) It may also lead to equity of land distributions among the haves of the land category.

e) It may put a check on illegal land grabbers and land mafias.

f) It is also expected that the allotted agricultural land will be used for that purpose alone.

Negative Aspects

a) It may not help the landless and houseless people. Rather, it will lead to more economic inequality between the upper/middle class and poor class people. Although the banking facility will be there, it will be a distance dream for marginal farmer.

b) It will generate more distrust and alienation among the PoK refugees whose fate is uncertain till date owing to the non-availability of State Subject certificate.

c) It will also be a threat to the migrant population, temporarily residing in the State of J&K.

d) It will discourage the Gujjar-Bakkerwal tribal people who wanted to have settled agriculture on government land.

e) By not putting grazing land under the scheme, the land mafias may flourish through these channels, especially in the Valley.

It is rather suggested that the government should take immediate steps to acquire the prevailing government land so that people should not expand the boundaries of their land. Here the Rural Department (panchayat bodies) has to coordinate with the Revenue Department for better monitoring and evaluation. It is further suggested that the surrendered government land be provided free of cost to the landless and BPL families of the State.

[This article is based on feedback from local and national newspapers from December 2006 to February 2007]

Notes and References

1. The Roshni scheme was first introduced by the Farooq Abdullah Government in 2001 but it couldn’t be implemented due to some reasons.

2. Bhatt, M.S., 1993, ‘Land distribution in rural J&K: An Inter-temporal Analysis’ in B.K. Sinha and Pushpendra (ed.) Land Reform in India: An Unfinished Agenda, Vol.-5, pp. 139-69, Sage: New Delhi.

3. Aslam, M., 1977, ‘Land Reforms in Jammu and Kashmir’, Social Scientist, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 59.

4. Under the original Roshni scheme of 2001, the farmers had to pay 100 per cent charges of the market rate.

5. Issued by the Revenue Department through the Department of Information and Public Relations, J&K.

Dr Ashish Saxena is a Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Jammu, Jammu; he can be contacted at e-mail : asheesh.ju@gmail.com, asheesh72@yahoo.com

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