Thursday, November 29, 2012

‘Right to land’: Is the Centre serious?

It is not clear if this will only be land for homesteads or a provision like the one-acre-per-family for cultivation that was done reasonably well in West Bengal. At first sight, the government’s proposal seems extremely positive, but the critical point is whether it is really serious about land reforms and not just employing another pre-election gimmick. Its record in implementing land reforms is appalling, to put it mildly. The government has failed to implement the Land Ceiling Act, the cornerstone of land reforms, which would have brought millions of hectares of land for distribution to the landless. The thousands of acres of land donated by rich people in the Bhoodan movement in the 1960s remains to be distributed.

Historical evidence indicates the government is not at all serious about distributing land to the landless. It is one of the largest owners of land in the country, though this is officially termed “community land”. Will it be ready to relinquish control over vast tracks of forest land and national parks? Else, it would mean giving land to the landless, who have little or no right over the land, produce etc. In short, it would simply be a red herring. Today, for the government, land mostly means real estate to be given to the highest bidder and to cronies and associates in the name of development.

It is one thing to talk of the “right to land”, but quite another matter to actually put this in practice. To start with, there would have to be a survey of who owns land in India, and also an accurate survey of the number of landless in the country, and what they would do with the land given to them. Mr Ramesh is reported to have estimated that 20 million rural families lacked even homestead land, and that two million acres of land would be required to deliver on this promise. Ekta leader P.V. Rajagopal, however, estimates that 200 million people are in need of land, as 50 per cent of dalits and tribals are landless. There are many issues that need to be thrashed out immediately if the government is serious about providing a “right to land” that the landless desperately need to earn a livelihood.

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