Saturday, August 6, 2011

News Article: Rajasthan: Samoohik Sansadhanon par sabka adhikar ho

The write-up below is a free hand translation of the article for your reading:

No One but the Community owns the Common Resources
By Medha
Published in Dainik Bhaskar On Friday, July 22 /7/2011

The recent verdict of Allahabad High Court quashing the land acquisition by Greater Noida Authority in two villages of Patwari and Devla is a cause of celebration for all the villagers and farmers. The judicial intervention, in a way, reaffirms their faith in justice. One would recall in this context, yet another issue of common lands, which is scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court on the 27th of this month, when the bench would look into the issue of encroachment on village public lands. Retrospectively, on 28th of January, the apex court had issued a historic judgment upholding a petition filed against a wealthy farmer in Rohad Jagir village in Punjab, who had encroached the land earmarked for the community pond and constructed a house on it. Taking a stern view on encroachment, the bench comprising of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra, categorically stated that common lands can not be diverted to personal or commercial purposes. The apex court also directed the principal secretaries of states to submit a compliance report by May 3, specifying the actions taken for the identification of the encroachers and also to remove the encroachment from such lands.

In its verdict, the Court also made it explicit that if the state failed to submit the report, the principal secretaries themselves would have to appear in the court.  Significantly, only the states of Jharkhand, Karnataka and Chattisgarh had filed their response at the last hearing.

The verdict on the common lands holds great significance given the way it documents the continuous erosion of village common lands such as ponds, playgrounds and the grazing lands etc. It also indicts the institutions and various departments that have done precious little to arrest the trend. Recognizing the history and vital importance of common lands to the village life, the honorable bench unequivocally held that the public utility lands in the villages have been managed by the community for centuries. These lands stood vested through local laws in the State, which handed over their management to Gram Sabhas/Gram Panchayats. They were generally treated as inalienable and the state and government served only as their trustee.

The judicial intervention, one may note, assumes criticality for another reason too. Speaking at a sustainable development summit, New Delhi, Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh also spoke categorically on how the management of common pool resources was an important issue in sustainability and how the new research in economics, ecology and the environment is challenging the conventional view that common pool resources are best managed by the central authorities and the government.

As the verdict states, the common lands are meant for the public good and they can not be put to personal or commercial purposes. However, with our existing economy getting more and more urban centric the policy makers as well as the common public, have lost the basic linkage of the common resources and their importance in fulfilling the food, fodder and fuel needs of rural poor.  The NSSO data reveals it all as to the vitality of such resources. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO 1999), the Commons constitute 15% of the total geographical area of the country. 23% of this area is community held pasture and grazing lands, 16% village forests and woodlots, and 61% is attributed to the other category (i.e. village sites, threshing floors, and other barren lands and wastelands). The total extent of the Commons in India, including the land under the category of Protected Forests and other Forests, is calculated to be just above a quarter of the total geographical area of the country.

However, it is not merely the extent of the Commons which should be a matter of concern but also, the role they play in the livelihoods of the people. The Commons contribute to the rural economy in various ways. 75% of India’s farmers fall in the marginal or small landholding category. In most cases, particularly in the semi-arid zone, they follow a mixed farming system where agriculture is supplemented substantially by animal husbandry.

Thus, common resources function as a veritable infrastructure to the rural economy and the Supreme Court intervention in this matter, can plausibly be seen as an attempt to redeem the pledge of economic democracy.

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