Land for the Landless

TAM1059By Gladson Dungdung

Tehelka  23 May, 2008

Until the Land Reforms Act is implemented in Jharkhand, it will continue to be the state’s most contentious issue.

Though undivided Bihar was the first state to introduce Land Reform Act in India in 1950, it failed in the implement of the Act with the right spirit. After the bifurcation of the state, Land became one of the complex issues for the newly formed state of Jharkhand। Today, land here is being used as a commodity by vested interest groups, which is a big threat to the indigenous communities, for whom land is not only an essential livelihood resource but also a means of autonomy, identity and social security.

The lands in Adivasi belts have acquired alarmingly a different meaning, purposes and values in the eyes and minds of government, non-tribal associates, corporate houses, businessmen and professionals because of the region’s mineral wealth, forests and other natural resources। People who possess land here have no entitlement. They do agriculture in the forest areas, where they are victimized and terrorized by forest officials to flee from the areas. All these throw them into food, social and economic insecurity. 54 percent of the total population is below poverty line in Jharkhand.

Almost all the cultivation is based on rainwater and hence they hardly take one crop in a year. Sometimes due to paucity of rainfall and unseasonable rains the crop gets further destroyed. Comparison to Adivasis, Dalits are absolutely landless in the state. Most of the big landlords are from the upper caste. The Land Ceiling Act 1961 was not properly implemented in the state. Though the Act fixes for holding 15 acres of class I land and 45 acres of class VI land there are number of landlords who own more than 150-200 acres of the land even today, increasing the number of the landless.

Adivasi land alienation is quite a major issue in Jharkhand। During 1951 to 1991 about 22 lakh acres of land have been alienated from them. This was done for setting up industries, mines, large dams, sanctuaries, highway and also illegal transfer of land to non-Adivasis and the practices of the moneylender system too snatched land from the tribals. The restoration of illegally alienated land has been one of the important mandates of the Bihar Scheduled Area Regulation Act 1969. According to government records, up to 2001-02, 60,464 cases for restoration involving 85,777.22 acres of land were filed out of which 34,608 cases were upheld involving 46,797.36 acres of land and rest were rejected.

Tribal land alienation is on the rise in the State. A total of 2,608 cases of tribal land alienation were registered under the Special Area Regulation Court in 2003-04, 2,657 cases in 2004-05 and 3,230 cases in 2005-2006. According to the 2004-05 Annual Report of Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India, the Jharkhand topped the list of tribal land alienation in India with 86,291 cases involving 10,48,93 acres of land.

Bhoodan land is another matter of concern in the State. Although 13 lakh acres of land had been donated to the Bhoodan Yagya Committee in the state but due to lack of physical verification and availability of land documents most of the lands have been recaptured by the land donors itself. During the Bhoodan movement, uncultivable land, even rivers had been given as donation in some cases, made even more complex to the land related problems. The state government has established Jharkhand Bhoodan Yagya Committee to sort out the Bhoodan land related problems and distribute the remaining land, which were gifted during the Bhoodan Movement in 1951. The state government has distributed merely 1,200 acres of land among 1,100 beneficiaries in the state in last five years.

The state government has not introduced or changed any policy or brought up any programme to address the land related problems. It has focused more or less merely in some sort of the policy implementation. The government has distributed 7942.32 acres of waste land among 5171 people, out of which 660 are Scheduled Caste and 4511 are Scheduled Tribe.

In another step, a total of 106 people have been made available house sites to enable their own shelter. The government has also returned land documents to some 31,000 farmers who had taken Rs 10,000 agriculture loan after depositing land documents to Bihar land development department before the existence of the state. The government has waived the loan, incurring a burden of Rs 420 crores which has been given to NABARD. 2327 mutation cases of SCs and STs have been disposed.

Land rights is quite an important issue for the people of Jharkhand. They have taken several steps to resolve it. They struggle for land reforms in both violent and non-violent ways, but their target is the same – land reforms. Extremist outfits like MCCI and other Left parties have taken violent ways to address the land related problems. They have even imposed ban over more than 8400 areas of land in the state. Unfortunately this land remains barren. At the same time the people’s organisations like Adivasi Adhikar Morcha, Ekta Parishad and Dalit Adhikar Suraksha Manch have chosen non-violent struggle to ensure land rights of the landless. Why is the Land Reform Act not being implemented despite so much of hue and cry from the government? Simple because the people who share the state’s power are major stakeholders in land. A few MPs and MLAs themselves hold land more than the ceiling measure and their relatives hold even more. There are also some landlords who control over thousands acres of land, the only difference is that they are legally right but ethically and practically wrong. Some have even registered land in the name of their maids, servants, dogs and cows.

In these conditions, how can the land issues are addressed? Land reform is the panacea to land issues. Firstly, surplus land and the Bhoodan land must be distributed among the landless. Second, land has been given to industries in excess of actual requirements must be taken back and distributed among the landless. Finally, the Land Ceiling Act must be amended. The ceiling measure must be decreased to 5 acres, sufficient for a family of five members to sustain and the rest of the land must be acquired and distributed among the landless masses. Land to the tiller is the best way to address land issues.

Land is one of the major sources of sustainable livelihood, food security and poverty alleviation for 70 percent of the population of Jharkhand. 96 percent of Adivasis depend solely on land for their livelihood even today. Land issue is becoming more and more complex in the contemporary period in the state. Though land is available in the state, the number of the landless masses is increasing due to inefficiency of the government. Land Reform is a political agenda, which needs strong political will power for its implementation. But unfortunately, it is out of the agenda of the government and the political parties.

2 thoughts on “Land for the Landless”

  1. hi gladson, good write up on land issues. But we too have to understand that the tribals themselves have not understood the meaning and value of their own land. Land is religion and inseparable part of being a tribal. It defines us and gives us identity. But we ourselves have devalued the meaning of land. Greed and jealousy has creeped into the lives of our people even to the extend of not being able to see and acknowledge his brother. Indeed, its pity that many of our people fail to see the future and involves themselves in rampant bhoodan for few meagre amount. They have devalued their own worth and abilities. So how to restore that value of every tribal person and his possession of land is itself a big question to answered. Cos as it seems you give land to a tribal he seems to give it to a non tribal and thus loose the possession of it.

  2. The most important thing for an adivasi is to acquire education.Its true that many have done so.Certainly there is hope! Education is the greatest tool in our time and indeed the foundation which helps us withstand demolition by Diku forces.For many of us ,our lives have evolved beyond recognition.but our roots are not forgotten.An intellectual mind will save our,lets come to gather.

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