New Delhi: The Congress-led Union government has proposed a land reform policy that seeks to redistribute excess land to the landless and poor—seen as yet another populist move in the run-up to the general election.
The draft of the National Land Reform Policy, prepared by the ministry of rural development in consultation with other ministries, proposes mechanisms to prepare a land use plan for every village, put in place systems for distributing land to the landless poor, and ensure homestead and tenancy rights as well as land rights for women, among other measures.
Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said the draft, which was ready on 18 July, has been circulated to state governments for comments and suggestions in 30 days.
Once the Bill is passed and implemented, it will pave the way for the creation of a land pool. “In order to provide homestead land, minimum agricultural land, and shelter to every family, it is essential that a land pool is created. The smallest unit in this case will be a village or a cluster of villages, as the case may be, because it is not realistic to expect people to migrate long distances for obtaining their rights,” the draft policy said.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, struggling to salvage its image after being engulfed in a series of corruption scandals and controversies involving its leaders, has taken a number of popular measures recently with the next national election due in about mid-2014.
Among these are the direct cash transfer scheme for subsidies, an ordinance to implement the food security Bill, and pushing the long-pending land acquisition Bill.
The government is expected to pass the food security Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament that begins on 5 August, along with a few other measures.
To woo women, the proposed land reform policy has a special provision for emphasizing women’s right to own land. “In all government land transfers, women’s claims should be directly recognized, be they transfers for poverty alleviation, income generation (crop cultivation, fish cultivation), resettlement, etc.,” the draft says.
The leadership of the ruling Congress party has indicated it will focus on women as its support base for the general election as well as for the upcoming state elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Even the food security ordinance has put women at the head of the family for entitlements.
Women constitute nearly 40% of the agricultural workforce in the country. More importantly, 75% of all women in the workforce and 85% of those in the rural workforce in the country are involved in agriculture, and this percentage is rising.
The draft policy also has special provisions for land allotted to religious and charitable institutions, saying these need better management. “The states shall prepare an inventory of all endowment and wakf lands, remove all illegal occupations and shall take steps to lease out the lands to landless poor on equitable terms of lease. Such an action will be a win-win to both the landless poor and the institutions also as the institutions will get an assured income every year to sustain them,” the draft said.
The UPA government in October signed an accord following a mass movement led by activist P.V. Rajagopal’s Ekta Parishad, promising a land reform policy that would give the poor the right to a patch of land for agriculture and housing.
Nearly 47% of India’s land is used for agriculture, followed by 22.6% that is forested and 13.6% that is non-cultivable (roughly 41 million hectares), according to data from the environment and forest ministry.
“The government has a three-pronged strategy: First, roll out as fast as possible welfare measures for the voters so that they have them fresh in their mind; second is to control the inflation—it’s a major preoccupation for the government than the corruption; and finally, they are trying to contain the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in its strongholds by acquiring allies...,” said Balveer Arora, chairman of the Centre for Multilevel Federalism, a New Delhi-based thinktank. “I think effort is to show intention, promise and purpose, and if they do not succeed in Parliament, they can go with that agenda in the manifesto to people again.”