Democracy and Land Rights

By Gladson Dungdung


Indian democracy is known as the largest democracy on the Earth but the irony is that one of the thrust issues i.e. land reform to ensure land rights to the landless masses remains as unfinished agenda even today. The land reform, which clearly means to ensure ‘land to the tiller’ was one of the promises made during the freedom struggle of India. In 1950, ‘landlord system was abolished by the enforcement of the land reform Act. At the same time, Binoba Bhave launched the nationwide land donation movement largely known as ‘Bhoodan Movement’. He asked the landlords to donate their surplus land for the landless people of India, which had become a ray of hope for the landless masses.

However, this hope stuck with the contradictions; on one hand, the landless people were given the land rights on the surplus land, which was taken from the landlords after enforcement of the land ceiling and on the other hand, the government enforced the Russian model of development and acquired the land of the small and marginal farmers mostly the Adivasis for so-called development projects under the tags of ‘national interest’ and ‘development’. Thus, millions of people became landless across the country.

In 1991, the government of India accepted the liberal economic policy, which further opened up the door for the corporate world, which created huge pressure on democracy and land rights. The corporate houses began their lobby in the corridors of power to influence the policy formation to ensure the natural resources mostly the land and mineral resources. Consequently, the land reform was put aside by the government(s).

In 21st century, the Indian democracy was transformed into the corporate democracy. The owners of the corporate houses entered the Parliament by buying tickets for the Raj Sabha the upper house. There is also example where the billionaires became the people’s representatives by contesting parliamentary elections. Presently, most of the members of the Parliament are billionaires. Consequently, the most thrust issue of land reform has been lost, whereas the number of landless people is increasing day by day. The most important question to be raised is can a billionaire represents the thrust issues of the poor masses? The number of landless masses has been increasing day by day but there is no serious debate is taking place in the Parliament.

According to the Census report, the number of landless agricultural labourers in the country rose to 14.43 crore in 2011 from 10.67 crore in 2001[1]. The most interesting figure is that 4.9% of farmers control 32% of India’s farmland and 101.4 million or 56.4% of rural households own no agricultural land[2] and 17,73,040 people are houseless. As of December 2015, land declared “surplus” (meaning, it could be taken away from landlords) across India stood at 6.7 million acres; the government took over 6.1 million acres; and distributed 5.1 million acres. 1 million acres of land remained for distribution.

In 1950s, we used to call the farmers as the backbone of the country because the contribution of agriculture to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 51%. Today, as many as 570 million Indians or 47.1% still depend on agriculture, which contributes merely 17% to GDP. 95.1% of Indian farmers are called “marginal, small and semi-medium”, meaning they own up to 2.47, 4.94 and 9.88 acres of land, respectively. These farmers own 68.2% of cultivated land[3].

Presently, we have the corporate democracy in India, where there is a huge nexus between the State and the corporate houses. The corporate houses fund the Indian elections and manipulate the government later. The corporate houses pressurise the government to introduce new policies to profit them, amend the existing laws, which are obstacle for resource grabbing especially in the schedule areas and acquire land using paramilitary forces. This is the reason why 1% people own 73% wealth of India. It was 55% in 2014, which clearly means the policies of the present government are completely corporate centric whereas the food security of the most marginalized people depends on marginal farming. Therefore, the land rights need to be ensure to the landless people.

However, today, the most challenging matter is how to protect the small patches of land of those marginal farmers who are residing in the mineral corridors of India because there is huge pressure from the corporate world. For instance, the Global Investors Summits were organized in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Gujarat and Assam to attract the investors. The state governments also signed hundreds of MoUs with the corporate house. The state governments of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also amended the safeguarding land laws to secure land for the corporate houses. In the state of Jharkhand, 2.1 million acres of commons land was enlisted in the ‘Land Bank’and the forest department has also proposed three wildlife corridors and three sub-corridor projects, where 870 villages will be relocated from the forests. There is also a proposal to build Industrial Corridor in the state, where the land will be acquired with 25 km each side of four lanning roads between Koderma and Bahragora. Similarly, the Agriculture Minister of Chhattisgarh prohibited the farmers to cultivate paddy during the summer season claiming that the corporate houses have first right on the water. In these circumstance, where farmers will go to protect their fundamental rights?

It is obvious that the democracy doesn’t work for the landless and marginal farmers. However, since, the Indian Constitution promises to ensure the social, economic and political justice to each and every one, therefore, we must continue to strive for ensuring that the democracy delivers the land rights to the landless and marginalized people of India. The food security of the marginalized people depends on agriculture therefore; land rights must be ensured to them.



[3] Ibid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s