New Delhi: The central government needs to fund a survey to look into distribution of land donated under the Bhoodan movement to find who the beneficiaries are, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said on Thursday.

“If five million acres have been pledged under the Bhoodan movement and only 50% has been distributed under the programme, this is a land scam beyond parallel," the minister told reporters after a meeting of state revenue ministers in New Delhi.

The Bhoodan movement was launched in 1951 in which rich landlords were persuaded to voluntarily donate land to the landless. Records show 5 million acres had been pledged for donation but only half of that had been re-distributed in the past six decades. “Where is the Bhoodan land? Who is utilizing the Bhoodan land? What is the use it is being put to?" Ramesh said. “Bhoodan land is not being used by Bhoodan beneficiaries. It is being used by somebody else. Fifty per cent of land. A lot of land." he said.

Officials in the rural development ministry last week said “the worst culprits" in the case of distribution of Bhoodan land are Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.

In his meeting with the state revenue ministers, Ramesh also agreed to a suggestion put forth by ministers from Maoist insurgency-affected states to set up fast-track revenue courts to adjudicate matters relating to land owned by tribals. He also accepted a suggestion for the creation of a para-legal force to help tribals fight land cases.

“It is the alienation of tribals that is in the heart of the growth of Naxalite ideology in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. If we are able to provide tribals justice in land-related disputes, I think we can deal with Naxalism in a very effective way," he said.

Ramesh urged state governments to use the approximately 700 crore given by the Union government since 2008-09 to update and modernize land records—which could help establish ownership and reduce disputes related to acquisition.

“Since 2008-09, 690 crore has been released from the centre to the state governments (for updating land records)" under the National Land Records Modernization Programme, Ramesh said.

“It is a matter of worry that only 20-40 crores has been used by the state governments. The emphasis so far has been on surveying land using modern techniques that different states are doing at their own pace, which is one of the main reasons for the slow utilization of resources. I agree that states must have the flexibility to use the resources we allocate to them. If the survey is not happening, then states must have the flexibility to use the resources for modernising the records rooms, for new and improved connectivity and training people to do this job (modernization of land records) well," Ramesh told the state revenue ministers.

Land acquisition is a thorny issue in India, where local protests over fears of dispossession have stalled industrial development in many regions across the country. A draft land acquisition legislation prepared by the rural development ministry is being discussed by a group of ministers after disagreements on it within the cabinet.

In a statement to Parliament last month, Ramesh said, “India is one of the few countries in the world where the record of rights on land is presumptive; it is not conclusive unlike many other countries. We are presumed to be owners of land unless proved otherwise. That is why we have lots of disputes and lots of problems in land acquisition."

Ramesh also said the government was aggressively moving towards conclusive titles. “But before we do that, we need to date our land records," he said. “We need to make them online and we must ensure that survey of the land records is up-to-date."

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