Draft Land Reforms Policy

Today, I was at a all-party consultative meeting organised by AP government on draft Land Reforms Policy, issued by the Union government. It was a good discussion and had triggered many thoughts in me. from this meeting, I thought it would be important for us to engage on this subject.
1. This policy mentions the need for a land ceiling of 5 to 10 to 15 acres per family. Most of the speakers in the meeting, who opposed it, took the peg that it would be detrimental to farming community. I was puzzled, as to why they straightaway applied it to agri-land, and not other lands. I discovered it later that earlier land ceiling acts separately agri-land and urban land.
Ofcourse, those opposed it and supported it, related to themselves to problems in agriculture, and focussed on small/marginal farms – Left said small farms are good, efficient and productive. the other side said continuous fragmentation does not help farmers, especially when costs of production are rising, and mechanisation is on the anvil.
Lok Satta, Congress, BJP and TDP opposed land ceiling as proposed in the policy, while CPI, CPM, CPML (new democracy), and others supported it.
Where are we on this?
2. Land is an important resource for food and agri-production. However, farmers and farming is increasingly staring at land as depleting resource in many ways. while we continue to engage ourselves on production methods and environmentally-safe procedures and applications, do we look at the threat of land becoming a non-resource for agriculture?
Maybe we need to give a thought on this?
My thoughts on the policy were these:
1. Land is finite resource, with no definite data or information on its status. Though there are several classifications, and data, they are not absolute, and lack authenticity. Modern methods of GIS, computerisation, etc., have only distorted the information. Age-old, traditional and hand-written, village-based land records continue to hold authenticity and relevance. Poor people do respond to these records, and have been bewildered and deceived by modern, computer-based information systems. There is as yet not transparent, village-level, poor-people controlled and accessed land record database. In the absence of such a record, participation of poor people in land reform policy would be as distant as the information and knowledge from them.
2. Land reforms policy should be renamed as Land Ownership policy, because its primary objective is to increase ownership to reduce poverty.
3. this draft policy has not assessed the current ownership pattern of land, analysis of the failure/success of past ‘reform’ initiatives, analysis of legal framework related to land ownership and land-related governance structures. Hence, its recommendations are mere reiterations of principles, good words and optimal objectives. They are not realistic and do not differentiate between ideal and practical, dreams and realities, poor and the rich.
4. the institutional infrastructure suggested for changing the current situation of land ownership, to the desired status, is very low, or nil. Except for National Land Council, and State Land rights Commission, this policy does not suggest anything worthwhile. It is well known that the current set of land regulation institutions are heavily favoured towards the rich, influential and politically-connected.
5. There is lot of discord and variance between this policy and the draft Land Utilisation Policy. Land Utilisation policy argues and pegs for more land allocation for land uses, other than agriculture and biodiversity preservation, in the name of industrialisation, development and globalisation. Even though, both policies come from the same Department of Land Resources, there is no relation between the two, and no attempt has been made to reconcile the same.
6. Land markets have been encouraged across the country, and by various State Governments. However, this draft does not enlighten on how these markets would be controlled, or regulated. Land market interests would be a major threat to the implementation of ‘land for all’ policy.
7. Land ownership is also a dynamic process. Experience with distribution of surplus land (gathered from earlier land ceiling acts), bhoodan lands, patta lands, etc., and failure of monsoons, drought, desertification, etc., can always influence land ownership. Dispossession (after possession), alienation and deceit have always played their role in denying land justice. These and other influential factors, other than illegal acts, imbalance in power relations, are always a challenge in implementing the ‘right to land’ for every family. This policy has not addressed itself to such factors.
8. Does land reform start and end with only agri-land? What about other lands? Acres and acres of land is being fenced by real estate investors, industry, SEZs, government undertakings. This policy has not proposed any mechanism to restrict the extent of land to be allotted, based on the need, for such uses or purposes.
9. There is lot of discussion on tenancy and ownership, whenever land reform is talked about; only in agriculture. However, industries also used to get land for long term lease, and they went on to own the land, or change the land use. However, this policy does not address itself to the challenges arising out of the conflict between farmland owners vs. lease holders, tribals vs. non-tribals, locals vs. non-locals, to the fullest extent of the problem. It also does not provide any acceptable, satisfactory mechanism for speedier and easier redressal of issues arising out of such conflicts.
10. There are many instances which are seen as isolated, complicated and cannot be generalised. this policy does not give any scope for development of customised solutions at the local level to resolve such conflicts or challenges. And, I feel there are many such instances.
11. Land has always been a useful resources, only when it is related to water. Water availability, under the ground, or over the surface, has been a major factor of value addition to land. However, water availability is also influenced by development, investment and nature. thus, land ownership pattern has always been controlled by forces which controlled water, and its application. Recent and past water policies have always reiterated that water is a natural resources and cannot be owned by private persons. But the state and governments were always influenced, in water entitlements, by the influential groups and individuals. Thus, efficacy of universalisation of ‘right to water’ would have a definite bearing on land rights and right to land.

Finally, there is a huge doubt in the context of the above, whether this policy would help in more landless becoming land owners (if not all), and contributing more land for food production. If these two objectives are in doubt, then what is this policy for?

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