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Mainstream, VOL L, No 40, September 22, 2012

Land for the Landless

There Is Still Considerable Scope For Distribution Of 
Land Among The Poorest Rural Households

Friday 28 September 2012

by B.D.

One of the main reasons why the reduction of rural poverty fell far short of expectations in post-independence India is that the potential of land redistribution among the poorest landless households was aborted by powerful vested interests.
A Planning Commission Report says: “It has been estimated that there are about 15 million hectares of cultivable wastelands and 26 million hectares of fallow lands which can be acquired, reclaimed and distributed for providing additional income and employment opportunities to the marginal farmers and landless labourers.
It has been agreed by several other senior government officials as well as in official documents that the vast potential of this has not been adequately utilised yet. The Working Group on Land Relations, set up by the Planning Commission, said in a review of the existing situation: “In India nearly 58 per cent of the labour force is still engaged in agriculture producing about 22 per cent of the GDP. Due to dismal and tardy implementation of ceiling laws only 7.35 million acres of ceiling surplus land vested in the state (March, 2002) of which 5.39 million acres were distributed among 5.65 million beneficiaries. Land holding still remains quite skewed. Twenty two per cent of operational holdings command 68 per cent of the arable area. It looks that there is still considerable scope of further vesting of surplus land even with the existing ceiling laws, not to speak of a situation with further reduction of family ceilings.”

In brief, the following action plan may be recommended:

  • 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 entire landless peasants and about 1.5 acres of land each to those marginal peasants who already have some land) over the next decade.
  • 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.
  • Similarly launch a drive to ensure that the distribution of remaining Bhoodan land is speeded up.
  • Initiate a special drive to ensure that ceiling land identified but not yet distributed among the poor can reach them.
  • Bring necessary amendments, in land reform (including land ceiling) laws to make available more land for the rural poor.
  • Apply irrigated land ceilings in irrigated areas to get more land for the poor.
  • An immediate review of the implementation of FRA should be taken up and corrections should be introduced so that the task of correcting historical injustice is achieved. More specifically the high rate of claim rejections should be brought down significantly, the tendency to reduce land cultivated in most cases should be checked and those who couldn’t get the chance to present their claims should get proper help to present their claims.
  • If still several tribals and other poor farmers involved in disputes with the Forest Department are left out of the scope of this legislation, then 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.
  • All cases of tribal land alienation should be resolved speedily so that the land of the tribals is restored to them.
  • 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.
  • Encroachments by the rich on community land/government land should be removed strictly so that this land becomes available for community use and the poor.
  • Reclamation of cultivable wastelands should be speeded up, preferably by providing rights and resources to groups of the rural poor themselves.
  • Legislation to curb farm land ownership by the urban rich and absentee landowners should be enacted.
  • Homestead land with full legal rights, preferably with some space for kitchen gardens, should be assured to all rural poor households.
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