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Whose Land Is This? Is there a need to reform land policy?

Updated: September 10, 2011 4:19 pm

Look at these statistics, 53 per cent people are landless, 14 per cent are absolute landless, 2 per cent land is under litigation across the country. According to National Crime Records Bureau 20 per cent land is problematic, 12 per cent murders caused due to land disputes. 60-70 per cent of petitions received by the Collectors are related to land. 1/3rd of the tribal areas are not scheduled. And 1.3 per cent GDP loss is reported on account of land conflicts. If this would be the case, then what would be the fate of development? Despite best efforts by both Government and Non Government agencies, it is a fact that many of the Acts and programmes are not reaching to the people at grassroots.

Take for example-Government of Odisha has settled forest land of 4,60,000 acres among 2,73,000 tribal households. But the land vested should have some productivity and should think about vesting ownership over Minor Forest Produces. Before processing individual claims under Scheduled Tribe and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, the gramsabha should have first go for Community Forest Resources. FRA gives space for the community for a longer role in forest governance. During the last two and a half years the real implementation of FRA is missing somewhere. Creation of sustainable community assets is the key and there need to bring convergence with other such developmental programmes. Gradual shift from wage employment to self employment—where the objective of both FRA and MGNREGS could be achieved.

Under Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Programme (OTELP) scheme land has been allotted to 17,000 tribal families and have targeted to allot another 34,000 people with pattas. Each beneficiaries under the scheme gets 10 decimal of homestead land and one standard acres of farm land. But a large chunk of these lands have not been identified. Settling tribals on their current house sites even if objectionable is the need of the hour. Households on leasable land are roughly 40 per cent means 60 per cent of households are on objectionable land. While speaking with this correspondent, a senior OTELP Official said, “we are working in most backward areas, our aim is to provide land to landless, by October 2012 all villages will be declared as-no landless villages, as we are providing both homestead and agriculture land, there will be livelihood convergence that’s why poverty would be a remote possibility”.

Land alienation has been the most contentious issue as far as the tribal areas are concerned. At least 40 per cent lands in scheduled areas are not in the hands of tribals. More than 74,000 cases have been filed between 1959-2004.Government has already decided to withdraw at least 14,000 such cases. All it need is a comprehensive legislation and enactment of a uniform land use policy- which can take care of need for land; the land use alterations that are required for genuine public purpose as far as acquisition of land for development projects are concerned. Besides these, the enforcement for illegal land transfer from tribal to non-tribals and illegal land encroachments and to look into the implementation of Land Reforms policy for distributive justice. Because land and land ownership plays vital role in poverty alleviation.

Another aspect of this debate is extension of 5th schedule to tribal areas. But till today government has not moved an inch to implement this. The situation in 113 scheduled tahasils is extremely alarming almost all of them are now under Maoist influence and proposed industrial projects are eyeing for mining exploration. The reality is 40-50 per cent land are under dispute-the conflict is either between revenue and forest, Forest Department and people, community vs. Govt, tribals vs. non tribals and protected or reserve forest vs. community control. The question is whether the government will vest community right to villagers/tribals under Forest Rights Act and hand over right to own, control and manage forest resources.

On the other hand, community property resources are given away without the consent of the community. Though constitutional provisions like 5th schedule, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled areas (PESA Act 1996) and some provisions under FRA have guaranteed these rights. The definition of gramsabha and revenue Village has not been defined properly in states like Odisha, other than MP and Chatisgarh.The state Acts and other national Acts and policies should be redefined. There are clear linkages of FRA, PESA, Forest Conservation Act and Wildlife Protection Act, but no one seems to be worried about to establish those links for the betterment of tribals, rather Primitive Tribal Groups have been relocated in Similipal, Keonjhar, Kalahandi and in Rayagada.If proper care is not taken then tribal movement will have a spillover effect on other movements.

Not only these, there was an attempt to amend Regulation-2 of Orissa Schedule Area Tribal Land Transfer Act 1956, to facilitate land Transfer from tribal ownership to non-tribals. This attempt made on the basis of the demand of tribal legislators as they feel tribals need to sell their land for their children’s education and marriage. Even tribal advisory committee recommended the amendment of this clause. But due to stiff resistance from various tribal interest groups; government was unable to implement this.

When asked state Revenue Minister Surya Narayan Patra said, “Govt is sincerely trying to restore the lands in favour of the tribals, which have been illegally transferred or encroached by non-tribals during 1956-2002.” He further added, “ Revenue department has issued circulars in connection with this matter in the year 2004 and 2006, besides this government is also planning to bring a new legislation to get back encroached government land from the rich and powerful.”

However, SC & ST people those who have been provided with land under Vasundhara Scheme will not be touched. Rather Revenue department has given an order on May 3rd this year to identify landless people. Under this provision any landless family can get four decimal (now 10 decimal) lands free of cost. And under ‘Mo Jami Mo Diha’ Scheme revenue officials have been asked to identify the demarcated land for landless. Because beneficiaries those who have been provided land under these schemes, have actually not been in possession of the land.

“Land rights as a means to reduce chronic poverty of tribal population of Odisha,” argues Prof Nilakantha Panigrahy of Nabakrushna Chaudhury Centre for Development Studies. Presenting facts to prove his arguments, he said, “while population wise North Odisha has tribal population of 35.22 in comparison with South Odisha at 34.67 but the poverty index shows North has poverty percentage of 18.99 where as South Odisha at 34.08, all because of Land alienation, and out of 62 tribal groups in the state 13 are Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs) who’s basic source of living is Land and Forest resources”.

Due to faulty settlement and consolidation policies, land dispute has been the chief source of conflict in many areas of the state. The tribal uprising in Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon, the industrial unrests in Kalinganagar, POSCO, Vedanta and Kashipur areas and above all the ever increasing Naxal violence in the state are all attributed to land alienations’, acquisitions’ disputes and claiming rights over the land. Government is actually at loggerheads with tribals and other traditional forest dwellers in many areas. The root cause of all these conflicts has been nothing but land. “Though Odisha is the pioneering state in introducing Land Reforms but because of non-implementation and growing landlessness that actually contributed chronic poverty and vulnerability,” exorted Sanjoy Patnaik of Rural Development Institute(RDI) which is working in collaboration with state government on convergence. Mr Patnaik further added, “What needs to be done is tenancy reforms, protecting rights of sharecroppers, women land rights and homestead development through convergence.”

The history of land settlement in Odisha, reveals, a majority of the land in the state were with the state government after the enforcement of Estate Abolition Act. And subsequently under Orissa Survey and Settlement policy in the year 1927, all the lands were vested with the state government. Odisha had extinguished all the intermediacy also under the provisions of Ceiling Act. But after Independence lower level officials made illegal transfer of many land in favour of vested interest. Another reason is stated to be inadequate staff at the field level and frequent transfer of higher level Revenue officials. In many places of the state section 8 of the Orissa Land Reforms Act could not be implemented with true spirit. Tenancy should be recognised and legalised with strengthened ceiling laws. In the year 2003-04, 2.5 Lakh people were identified as homeless now it has become 5 lakh.

Despite a robust system and a dozen of protective legislations the basic motivation to ensure land tenure and providing land to the tiller has not been achieved. A series of reforms has been initiated like Orissa Estate Removal Act, Ceiling Act and Orissa Land Reforms Act, besides specific schemes like Vasundhara, Mo Jami Mo Diha and vesting Land Rights under GoI Scheme like FRA to address the age old disputes of land ownership but all proved to be non-existent.

By Sudarshan Chhotoray From Bhubaneswar

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