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Mainstream, VOL L, No 26, June 16, 2012

Jana Satyagraha takes Message of Land Reforms All Over the Country

Wednesday 20 June 2012, by Bharat Dogra

At a time when land reforms are being increasingly forgotten and neglected by the Union Government as well as most State governments, a Gandhian campaign called ‘Jana Satyagraha’ has been trying ceaselessly to take the message of revising and strengthening land reforms to all parts of the country.

At the centre of this campaign is an organi-sation ‘Ekta Parishad’, led by senior Gandhian activist, P.V. Rajagopal. However, as the cam-paign has progressed, nearly one thousand organisations in various parts of the country have linked themselves with it. In the course of foot marches all over the country, Jana Satya-graha has highlighted the growing significance of land-related problems and struggles. This nationwide effort is expected to peak on the Gandhi Jayanti Day (October 2) when nearly one lakh deprived people from all parts of the country will gather in Gwalior. These one thousand representatives of the deprived people of India will then march from Gwalior to Delhi.

After independence India’s land reforms efforts started with the aim of helping landless farm toilers to become small peasants owning small plots of farmland. Seventy years later we can see that this effort did not succeed—the achievements are so small as to be negligible. On the reverse side, there is a much more massive drive to turn small peasants into landless workers. This is perhaps the biggest tragedy of India’s agricultural experience that the noble aim of helping the landless to become farmers got reversed in the harsh reality of turning farmers into landless workers.

Therefore any comprehensive land reforms effort should include both these essential components—providing land to landless peasants and protecting land rights of the existing farmers.

Such a land reform effort can be more useful than any other programme in reducing poverty, increasing productivity, ensuring food security as well as bringing peace and justice to Indian villages. What is more, such a programme can create the most enthusiastic mass base for a programme of ecological regeneration. Millions of beneficiaries of land reforms in particular (but not excluding others) can be mobilised to repair traditional irrigation sources, take up various soil and water conservation works, protect and regenerate forests and carry out new afforestation work. A massive environment protection and regeneration work with the enthusiastic support of land reform beneficiaries will achieve more for sustainable livelihoods and food security in India (as well as many similarly placed developing countries) than anything else. In these conducive conditions the possibilities of using funds of existing rural development and poverty alleviation schemes (such as employment guarantee) to create stable and sustainable livelihoods will be much higher.

LAND reforms are an essential and extremely important component of any paradigm of development that sincerely wants to remove poverty and provide food security in conditions prevailing in India.

In the interests of peace and democracy it is of the greatest significance for the government to give adequate attention to land reforms. The government should respond adequately to the just demands made by peaceful movements. Otherwise widespread discontent leading to violence is most likely.

Land reforms are also helpful for protecting land fertility and the sustainable use of land as well as wastelands development as hard working poor peasants (including first-generation farmers) are likely to work more sincerely for soil and water conservation and related works.

In a widely quoted publication titled Agriculture Towards 2000, the FAO has emphasised that more equal land distribution is likely to increase productivity of land. “It is important to stress here that yields per hectare are as high on small as on large farms or, under traditional agriculture, even higher. With a few notable exceptions, total output per hectare is higher on small farms, chiefly because their intensity of land use is higher. A more equal distribution of production inputs, including services, can only help to strengthen the role of the small farm in expanding production.”

This view of the FAO is supported by a six-country study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) which estimated that “If land were equally distributed among all agricultural families (including the landless), and the new equal holdings achieved yields equal to present holdings of the same size and used a similar level of inputs, food output could potentially rise by anything from 10 per cent (Pakistan) and 28 per cent (Colombia and a rice-growing Malaysian region) to 80 per cent in northeastern Brazil. Such a radical redistribution is, of course, rarely attempted—but the figures indicate the theoretical potential.”

In India at least in principle the Tenth Plan document agrees that land distribution to the poor landless peasants is important. As the document said, “Ownership of even a small plot of land enables a family to raise its income, improve its nutritional status, have access to credit facilities and lead a more dignified life. Studies of economies of scale in farm operations show that modern agricultural technology is scale neutral in the case of a majority of food and cereal crops which the poor tend to grow. Horticulture, floriculture, and vegetable culti-vation on small plots of land including home-stead lands have proved beneficial for the poor. Agricultural labourers therefore, need to be provided access to land to improve their economic and social well-being.”

Hence from all points of view—increasing productivity, reducing poverty, ecological protection, improving prospects of peace and democracy—land reforms have an important role.

If properly implemented, land reforms can play an extremely important role in promoting a just, egalitarian, broadbased, balanced and peaceful path of development in India.

This is also a main message of Jana Satyagraha 2012. This national campaign provides a timely opportunity to revive the important issue of land reforms and land-justice not only in India but in other developing countries as well.

The author is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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