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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 43

Land Reforms — Agenda For Action

Tuesday 16 October 2007, by Bharat Dogra

Land reforms should be put in the forefront of the efforts to reduce poverty, promote sustainable development of our rural areas and to bring enduring peace and justice to our people. For this we recommend the following four-point plan of action.

A. Additional Land For the poor

Prepare a comprehensive plan to distribute at least 50 million acres of land to about 25 million landless and near landless peasant households in the country (about 2.5 acres of land each to landless peasants and about 1.5 acres of land each to those marginal peasants who already have some land) over the next decade. To make this a reality—
- (i) Launch a time-bound effective drive to ensure that wherever land pattas have been given to the poor, they should be able to occupy the land and cultivate it.
- (ii) Similarly launch a drive to ensure that the distribution of remaining bhoodan land should be speeded up.
- (iii) Initiate a special drive to ensure that ceiling land identified but not yet distributed among the poor can reach them.
- (iv) Bring necessary amendments, in land reform (including land ceiling) laws to make available more land for the rural poor.
- (v) Apply irrigated land ceilings in irrigated areas to get more land for the poor.
- (vi) The legislation recently introduced to provide land rights to tribals in disputed areas is welcome. However, several tribals and other poor farmers involved in disputes with the Forest Department will be left out of the scope of this legislation. In such cases efforts should be made to involve such people in tree-farming schemes so that the objective of increasing tree-cover can be reconciled with protecting the livelihood of these people and no evictions are necessary.
- (vii) All cases of tribal land alienation should be resolved speedily so that the land of tribals is restored to them.
- (viii) Groups of landless and rural poor should be mobilised to identify additional land that can be made available to them in and near their villages.
- (ix) Encroachments by the rich on community land/government land should be removed strictly so that this land becomes available for community use and for the poor.
- (x) Reclamation of cultivable wastelands should be speeded up, preferably by providing rights and resources to groups of the rural poor themselves.
- (xi) Legislation to curb farm land ownership by urban rich and absentee landowners should be enacted.
- (xii) Homestead land with full legal rights, preferably with some space for kitchen gardens, should be assured to all rural poor households.
- (xiii) Above all, organisations of the landless and land reform beneficiaries should be encouraged and there should be strict instructions that there will be no repression on peaceful mobilisation of the rural poor.

B. Preventing Loss of Farmland Particularly By Poor Farmers

(i) As far as possible, fertile farmland should not be acquired for non-agricultural uses.
- (ii) When this cannot be avoided, alternative land should be provided to displaced peasants by developing cultivable wastelands and in other ways (with additional compensation for resettlement). Dam evictors can be given a part of newly irrigated land (which will have lower ceiling).
- (iii) Land of any small peasant should not be auctioned to pay debts, or for other reasons.
- (iv) Inexpensive technologies based on better use of local resources should be encouraged to reduce economic losses of vulnerable farmers.
- (v) Spread of liquor shops, gambling and dowry system in villages should be checked and for this purpose people’s social reform efforts should be encouraged.
- (vi) Overall resources for small farmers and for rural health should be increased very substantially. Facilities at rural hospitals should be substabtially improved.
- (vii) Existing wild-life laws should be changed to involve people in wild-life protection instead of displacing them from protected areas.
- (ix) Equal land rights for women and giving them a greater say in rural programmes.
- (x) Laws which acquire farmland in unjust ways, such as the Land Aquisition Act and SEZ law, should be withdrawn and replaced with just legislation enacted with consultation of peasants.

C. Close Integration of Existing Poverty Alleviation Schemes and Farm Assistance Schemes with Land Reform

In particular, efforts should be made to link up the rural employment guarantee scheme with land reform so that maximum soil and water conservation benefits and irrigation benefits can be provided to more vulnerable and poorer farmers, particularly first generation farmers or beneficiaries of land distribution effort. Watershed Development Programme should pay special attention to meeting the needs of these farmers. Increasing tree-cover and improving pasture land should be emphasised.
Special attention should be given to evolving inexpensive sustainable technologies which can give good results for low-resource farmers cultivating about two acres of land. Mixed farming systems and organic farming should be encouraged. Cottage industries, particularly khadi, should be encouraged. Mahatma Gandhi’s objective of making villages as self-reliant as possible should be emphasised.

D. Better Land Records and Transparency in Land Records

A better and more transparent system of land records should be built so that villagers can easily access land records.

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