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4422Talking of Land Reforms: Love in Time of Cholera

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  • Sukla Sen
    Oct 31, 2007
      [Though it may sound blasphemous, land reforms - which
      in today's context would mean renewed drive for
      redistribution of agricultural lands in small parcels
      to the landless by either redrawing the land ceilings
      in force or carrying out a thorough review of the
      implementation of the ceiling limits already in force
      may not be too feasible in the today's scenario. Of
      course there are reportedly large tracts of vested
      lands remaining to be allotted. But one would suspect
      that these are more on paper unless the plots are
      useless or uncultivable.

      Land reforms in India, which had commenced in the
      mid-fifties, had three major components. India had a
      variety of ownership relationships/rights over land.
      For the sake of simplicity, these may be divided
      broadly into two major types: one represented by
      Ryotwari - where the cultivator was the direct payer
      of land tax or revenue to the state, and the other is
      Zamindari - where there were hierarchical ownerships
      over the land. The most major component of land
      reforms was the abolition of Zamindari in order to
      make the direct cultivator - providing the other
      necessary inputs for cultivation like seeds, water,
      fertiliser, pesticides, implements and labour - both
      mental, like decision making as regards the crops to
      be sown; and also manual, supervisory functions in
      particular, as the absolute owner of the land. The
      other component was to fix ceilings on the maximum
      size of agricultural landholdings one can own, and the
      state taking over the surplus lands by paying due
      compensations to the erstwhile owners and redistribute
      among the landless. The third component was to ensure
      consolidation of small plots of cultivable lands to
      promote more efficient cultivation. While the first
      component has been fairly thoroughly implemented
      causing phenomenal rise of the "middle castes"
      virtually all over rural India. The second, and third,
      components have only been very shabbily implemented,
      except in patches under special circumstances.
      Any attempt at redistribution of land would today just
      not face the opposition of the traditional "upper
      castes", but also that of the "middle castes". And the
      opposition by the much more numerous latter group is
      likely to be far more ferocious today. So only the
      already vested surplus, and such other, lands can be
      redistributed without stiff opposition.
      Then there is also the issue of economic
      viability/sustainability of small plots of lands to be
      cultivated by economically weak.

      So while every rural family must get a plot of
      homestead land of their own (understandably out of
      vested lands or through any special scheme), a
      universal employment guarantee scheme linked to
      productive asset generations or maintenance of the
      ifrastructures etc. is likely to be far more
      purposeful in addressing the issue of desperate misery
      of the local poor.

      Despite its easy appeal, redistribution of
      agricultural lands may neither be feasible, on any
      large scale, nor it may lead to the betterment of
      economic conditions of the poor without accompanying
      massive doses of continual state supports.]

      "willy" willyindia@...

      Talking about love in time of cholera

      The proposed draft of Land Policy while expresses a
      lot of good intentions of Nehruvian era where the
      policy focus was on “self cultivation” utterly fails
      in taking into account the developments that have
      already taken place during last one and half decade.
      The most important point that these good intentions
      miss is the National Agriculture Policy 2000, which
      commits itself to promote (a) lease markets in land,
      (b) contract farming, and (c) corporate farming. This
      all is approved with the intentions of improving the
      productivity of land and making transfer of land
      easier for the ‘efficient users’ (who else is more
      efficient than private Corporations?).
      For accomplishment of these goals the essential
      preconditions are worked out by World Bank in
      association with DFID and they are (i) computerization
      of land record (between the lines accessible by
      internet), (ii) regularization/legalization of all
      kinds of tenancy, and (iii) flexibility in protective
      (existing) measures in land transfers, (iv) drop
      restrictions on sale of land to non-agriculturalists
      and subdivision which have little economic
      justification, (v) allow transferability of land by
      land reform beneficiaries at least through lease and
      explore options for making the gains from such reform
      permanent, (vi) review legislation on compulsory land
      acquisition and, subject to the prevention of
      undesirable externalities, allow farmers or their
      representatives to negotiate with and if desired
      transfer land directly to investors rather than having
      to go through government and often receive only very
      limited compensation.
      This well intentioned effort of advocacy also seems to
      be oblivious to the fact that after pronouncement of
      the National Agriculture Policy 2000, several states
      had gone ahead (as it is part of the State List in
      Constitution of India) with providing relaxations in
      ‘land use transfers’ and ‘ceiling’ related
      regulations.
      This proposed policy draft is also unmindful of the
      fact that several state governments including the
      government of Madhya Pradesh has already given
      affidavit in Supreme Court stating that no land is
      available that can be provided for rehabilitation
      based on land for land. The latest Rehabilitation and
      Resettlement policy approved by the cabinet also
      mentions about ‘Land for Land’ but suffices it with
      ‘if possible’ (and every one knows in present era will
      be never possible).
      The draft is also ignorant about the fact that ‘common
      land’ had already disappeared to a substantial extend
      and whatever little is leftover is targeted by the
      corporate sector in the name of plantations for
      “Agro-fuels” namely Jatropha in concerted manner.
      Selling rosy dreams listed in the draft policy stink
      of what is called ‘ostrich approach’ which calls for
      dipping your neck in sand at the time of storm and
      feel safe. The wish list expressed in the draft
      reminds the title of the famous novel by Gabriel
      Garcia Marquez called ‘love in times of cholera’. At
      time when Government is looking for means to wriggle
      out of the business of ‘land acquisition’ and leave
      the matters to ‘market forces’ by making ‘land a
      freely tradable’ commodity the effort best can be
      termed as dangerously novice.
      It is this context, while the intentions of draft
      policy sound plausible, the implications of the draft
      provide the government the basis to fiddle with
      existing laws and procedure to make it smooth for the
      corporate takeover of the land and fulfillment of its
      promise to its Creditor and Donor like World Bank and
      DFID.

      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Statement of Concern -draft (30/10/2007)
      We highly appreciate the efforts by the participants
      of the JANADESH 2007 yatra for their contribution in
      bringing the perennial issue of Land and its equitable
      distribution back on National agenda.
      Some of the demands raised by this mammoth effort have
      their roots in the struggle for India’s independence
      which raised the aspirations of the peasantry by the
      promise of ‘land to tiller’ once the country has done
      away with the shackles of colonial rule.
      The Land laws and the agrarian policies in the initial
      phase of Interdependent India were also guided by the
      urge to promote “self cultivation” but with the
      pressure of achieving ‘self sufficiency’ in food and
      the advice from international agencies like Ford
      Foundation the government of India had embarked upon
      ‘green revolution’ and began to slag behind on its
      commitment to the promise of ‘Land to the tiller’.
      The Agriculture Commission set by the Government of
      India in its report’s volume XV on land reforms in
      1972 (20 years after Ford Foundation funded pilot
      programme in 1952) brought out the fact that in major
      part of the country which were governed by the
      Zamidari and Mahalbari systems till the colonial rule
      the implementation of land reforms was utter failure.
      To insulate the Government from the fallout such
      report the process of initiating Land Ceiling Laws was
      initiated the same year and all most all the states
      have come up with the required law with slight
      variance.
      During the ‘Emergency Era’ the famous 20-point
      programme also incorporated agenda of distribution of
      land to the land less and deprived communities. There
      was a rush of competition among the Chief Ministers
      and other functionaries in getting photographed
      distributing land titles. All of us connected to
      grassroots in one way the other know very well that
      half of the land that was claimed to be distributed
      never been able to be ‘possessed’ by the legal
      claimant. On other this ‘claimed to be distributed
      land’ was not the acquired ceiling surplus land.
      A lot of militant ‘land grab’ movements by the peasant
      organisations from verity of ideological shades in
      various parts of the country were witnessed during 70s
      and 80s. But with the beginning of World Bank backed
      programme of Integrated Rural Development Programme
      (IRDP) in 1989 and the fast transforming functioning
      of parliamentary system in India (particularly with
      the demise of opposition as institution) had taken the
      steam out of the struggles and slowly but surely the
      question of land and its equitable distribution was
      tendered redundant.
      In 1991, when Mr. Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister
      in Mr. Narsimha Rao’s Government laid down the agenda
      of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation the
      foundations were laid to change the fundamentals of
      the previous ‘policy framework’ in all sectors of
      economy including Land and Agriculture. Gradually the
      focus of agrarian policy began to drift from ‘self
      cultivation’ to smooth transfer the land from the
      ‘inefficient users’ that is small and marginal farmers
      to ‘efficient users’ that is private corporations.
      The context of land question and its ‘equitable
      distribution’ has transformed completely as the impact
      of joining WTO and giving a twist to Indian
      agriculture towards ‘export orientation’ saying good
      bye to the legacy of ‘food self sufficiency’ as
      hallmark of official policy framework.
      The National Agriculture Policy 2000 loudly and
      clearly pronounced to promote (a) lease markets in
      land, (b) contract farming, and (c) corporate farming.
      This all is approved with the intentions of improving
      the productivity of land and making transfer of land
      easier for the ‘efficient users’ (who else is more
      efficient than private Corporations?). It has also
      stated to promote biotechnology and genetic
      engineering as the basis to improve productivity of
      Indian agriculture.
      For the accomplishment of these goals the essential
      preconditions are worked out by World Bank in
      association with DFID and they are (i) computerization
      of land record (between the lines accessible by
      internet), (ii) regularization/legalization of all
      kinds of tenancy, and (iii) flexibility in protective
      (existing) measures in land transfers, (iv) drop
      restrictions on sale of land to non-agriculturalists
      and subdivision which have little economic
      justification, (v) allow transferability of land by
      land reform beneficiaries at least through lease and
      explore options for making the gains from such reform
      permanent, (vi) review legislation on compulsory land
      acquisition and, subject to the prevention of
      undesirable externalities, allow farmers or their
      representatives to negotiate with and if desired
      transfer land directly to investors rather than having
      to go through government and often receive only very
      limited compensation.
      After pronouncement of the National Agriculture Policy
      2000, several states had gone ahead (as it is part of
      the State List in Constitution of India) with
      providing relaxations in ‘land use transfers’ and
      ‘ceiling’ related regulations. The Government further
      reinforced its commitment to transfer of land to the
      private corporations by enacting Special Economic
      Zones Act, 2005 which provides lot of concessions to
      the developers at the cost public exchequer and
      violates the fundamentals of even neo-liberal dictums
      of ‘equal playing field’ and ‘fair competition. The
      Government’s efforts of promoting plantation of
      Jatropha to meet targets of its own policy of mixing
      Ethanol with diesel on common and government lands for
      feeding “Agro-fuel” refinery set up by private
      corporation also create doubts on the credentials of
      both the government in general and its present
      leadership in general.
      It is this context that we take the response of the
      government to the plausible effort of JANADESH 2007 by
      announcing setting up of a Commission under the
      Chairmanship of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with
      pinch of salt.
      We have serious doubt that the commission of this sort
      will be capable of standing against the commitment and
      enthusiasm of the government in implementing the
      obligations of WTO that are adversely affecting the
      small and marginal farmers; SEZ Act 2005 and non
      implementation of Forest Right Act, 2006 which are
      essential to pave way for any effective pro-poor land
      reforms.
      We also do not see much scope of justice to be done
      for the poor and the marginalized by a commission
      comprising of ‘stakeholders’ which includes
      colonizers, builders and developers, funded NGOs along
      with the token representation of the farmers.
      Hence we do not see these promises made by the
      Government as victory but see it at most as the
      beginning of a crucial and decisive phase of long
      history and traditions of Land Struggles.
      To be endoresed by several activists & intellectuals.
      If you want to endorse this pl mail to: Anil Chaudhary
      at anilpeace@... or insaf@...

      Links to IFI documents:

      1. Study done by CCDS & Ekta Parishad in PACS
      programme of DFID- "Towards a people's land policy":
      http://www.empowerpoor.org/downloads/people's%20land%20policy.pdf

      2. World Bank report- "India - Land policies for
      growth & poverty reduction (July 9, 2007)":
      http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2007/08/31/000310607_20070831102106/Rendered/PDF/382980INoptmzd.pdf

      3. FAO working paper "Land and livelihoods - Making
      land rights real for India’s rural poor (May 2004)" -
      Livelihood Support Programme (LSP) funded by DFID: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/007/J2602E/J2602E00.pdf


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