The council, chaired by the prime minister, will take a close look at consolidating the laws governing land records and benami transactions to plug violation of ceiling laws.
The council was formed in October 2008 in the wake of a "jal, jungle, zameen" march to the Capital by tribals and others protesting against the usurpation of their land and other resources by outsiders. That the body which comprises 10 chief ministers has finally been activated has to do with the recognition of land as the source of problems plaguing the hinterland and alienation of tribal land due to usurpation by powerful individuals and industrialists, all contributing to the growing menace of naxalism.
The sudden interest in land may be academic, it being a state subject and an intractable political and social issue. However, the council may help renew the focus on land management, especially among tribals. The coming meeting may look to bring about convergence between Centre and states to ensure that policy guidelines do not fall prey to jurisdictional issues.
The Centre will also launch central schemes for homestead rights for homeless rural poor, survey of bhoodan lands, reconciliation of forest and revenue land records, establishment of land tribunals for fast disposal of appeals, survey of common property resources in villages and survey and settlement operations in tribal sub-plan areas.
It will also seek recognition of gram sabhas as competent authority for transfer of tribal land by sale or lease, and for restoration of alienated tribunal lands and for maintenance of land records. Another demand for withdrawal of encroachment cases and minor forest offences may be raised.
Along with the council, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, eager to buy peace with protestors in the run-up to Lok Sabha polls, had also formed a committee to go into the issues of "state agrarian relations and unfinished task in land reforms".
Coming on the back of the urgency across political spectrum to amend the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, the initiative of the rural development ministry is interesting. While the new bill, now with Parliament's standing committee, seeks to ensure better price for farm land, it has drawn criticism from activists who see it as facilitating the sale of land when it should have discouraged it. The focus on land management and tribal land through the brainstorming in the national council will seek to right the perspective.