India’s economy is, and always has been, rural and agriculturally based one. In Rural area, poor people are highly dependent on land and other local natural resources for their livelihood. Furthermore, land, forest, and water are not merely livelihood resources, but they form the base from which local cultures and spirituality emanates especially for the poor people. Thus, Access to land (and other natural livelihood resources) is critical issue for rural people.
India is the world’s fifth largest economy in terms of gross national product (GNP), but its per capita GNP brings it to 90th place. Agriculture, together with fishing and industry, contribute approximately one third of GNP. About 70% of the populations are involved in cultivation activities. Nearly 33% of cultivated land is under assured irrigation while the rest depends on the annual monsoon. The main crops are food grains for domestic consumption such as rice, wheat and sorghum. Large-scale poverty means that out of the 1.13 billion people living below the poverty line throughout the world, 40% are found in India.
The growth rate in availability of food grains per capita was 1.20 per cent per annum during the 1980s the growth rate has come down to minus 0.28 per cent per annum during the 1990s. Despite the fact that per capita food consumption of the poor in India has hardly increased in the last ten years (and is 40 percent below as compared to per capita consumption of the top 10 percent), the level of food grains stock with the FCI has increased resulting in withdrawal of food from the market, signifying lack of purchasing power with the poor, and distorted food security policy. It is painful to note that with 40 million tones of food grains in the FCI godowns more than half of the children 1-5 years old in rural areas are under-nourished, with girl children suffering even more severe malnutrition.
While providing solutions to hunger via more efficient food production seems to be a noble endeavor, problems lie in distribution, land ownership, inefficient use of land, politics and powerplay. Currently, food production rates are higher than population growth (although that is no reason to be complacent). Tackling hunger directly by providing more charitable contributions of food, or even finding ways to increase production, is attacking the symptoms of poverty only, not root causes. challanges
(a) Relationship of Land Problem and Poverty
Land ownership is equated with social, economic, and political power. The pattern of land distribution therefore follows to some extent the existing social hierarchy. The large landowners often belong to upper castes, the cultivators belong to the middle caste, and the agricultural workers are largely dalits (marginalized peoples) and adivasis (tribals). According to the 1991 census, 64%e of Dalits and 36% of adivasis are agricultural laborers, who own no land and have to work as unregistered sharecroppers, unrecognized temporary tenants, and agricultural laborers, fir subsistence without any security. Women also generally have no decision- making related to purchasing, mortgaging, and selling or managing land resources. This has also kept them at a low level of social status.
Inequitable and unjust distribution of land is widespread in less developed countries. It is widely recognized that the unequal distribution of land and natural resources is the key reason for increasing poverty, economic stagnation, rural-urban migration, and escalating violence. It has also given rise to numerous violent peasant movements in the third world.
Land reforms in India
The Land Reforms Policy adopted since Independence aims at restructuring agrarian relations to achieve an egalitarian social structure; elimination of exploitation in land relations; realizing the age-old goal of land to the tiller; increasing agricultural productivity and production and infusing equality in local institutions.
After independence, focus was given on land reforms to fulfill promises made during the freedom struggle (i.e. land to the tiller and growth with equity). Land reforms were accorded highest significance as tool of poverty alleviation to set up an egalitarian society in village in tune with the socialist ideology enshrined in the constitution’s Directives principles of state Policy.272 legislations have been enacted so far with regard to land reform. The legislations have been included in the Ninth schedule of the Indian constitution also. The Zamidari system was abolished, and land reform was included in the policy guidelines of almost every Five Year Plan. All the state Governments were asked to enact the Agricultural Land Ceiling Act and limit the maximum landholdings, to acquire surplus land and distribute it among the landless and marginal farmers. By 1961, almost all states passed the Agricultural Land Ceiling Act.
Lofty promises of national leaders convinced the landless and marginalized farmers that once the British left the country, there would be equal distribution of land, and by tilling their land, they would be able to provide two square meals to their meals to their children. However, in reality, the slogans-‘ Land to the tiller of the soil and Growth with equity and justice remained only slogans to millions of landless and marginal farmers.
As a result of the utter failure of the abolition of the Zamidari system, the Planning Commission, in 1955, advised all the state Government to a ceiling on agricultural land holding , to acquire land and distribute surplus land among the landless and other marginalized . However legislation were full of loopholes and favored big landholders. It was widely perceived that most of the states deliberately delayed the land ceiling legislation to enable big landholders to manipulate land records and transfer excess land. As a result, by 1970, ceiling laws had resulted in vesting only one million hectares of agricultural land of which 50% was distributed to the rural poor but not necessarily to the landless.
‘With the onset of Globalization and the establishment of industries and agrao-industries (promoted by governments) is increasing the problems of landlessness and the exodus of rural populations. Poor peoples deprived of their livelihood resources, have no other choice than join ranks of landless workers in the city slums areas. Some statistics are:
- 43% of the people o India are still absolutely and near landless (<0.2 ha.)
- 13.345 Dalits and 11.50% Tribal households are absolute landless
- A mere 1.33% landholders in the country (having more than 10 hectares) continue to control 15.20% of the land holdings
- 63% of marginal landholders control only 15.60% of the landholdings (NSS 48th round 1992)
- Landlessness among Dalits increased from 56.8% in 1977-78 to 61.9% in 1983
- Landlessness among tribals increased from 48.5% in 1977-78 to 49.4% in 1983
The process of land reform is moving like a tortoise. On the other hand, there has been continual alienation land of the marginalized, especially Tribals. No legislation has been able to put a halt to land alienation. Big landholders have been grabbing the land Dalits and Tribals, either by flexing or by manipulation of land records in connivance with land officials, or by lending money to adivasis at exorbitant rates of interest. As a result, alienation of 9,15,442.57 acres of Adivasis land has been reported as on November 30, 1996(Land Reform Section, GOI).
The land of tribals is taken away for setting up development projects, industrial concerns, and national pars and for other purposes. Since independence, the establishment of various development projects has displaced around 30 million people have been displaced by the establishment of various projects. Of them, around 40% are Adivasis and 25% are Dalits.
The increasing of land alienation and continuous marginalisation of Dalits and Adivasis has led a spurt of protest among the marginalized, which is crystallizing in to a mass movement. Land Rights Movements are the manifestations of the people’s wrath.
(b)Land-related Initiatives of the Organization (program and strategies, local and international partner organizations)
“The deprived people are often silent spectators to their own misery. They often need someone to help them voice their concerns and fight for their rights” P.V Rajgopal, Founder of Ekta Parishad
Ekta Parishad( meaning united forum ) as been building a mass based movemet of people drawn from tribal dalits, landless and other poor communities. With its 150000 members, it is pushing the government, the police, the revenue and forest department officers to implement the existing laws and policies favoring the poor. These include upholding” Land to the tillers, Land ceiling Act, Tribal land rights and other legislation.” Born out of people’s struggle in Madhya Pradesh in 1990, Ekta Parishad now spread to Bihar Chhattisagarh, Jharakhand, Kerala, Orissa, Tamilnadu And Uttarpradesh.
The task of mobilizing communities often in pre capitalist agricultural formation has been a long process. By using the technique of training rural youth, Ekta Parishad was able to make in-roads into remote areas, build community leadership, and slowly get the rural and dispossessed people to act together. At the village level, Ekta Parishd assists individuals and groups to gain greater control over resources using local and national decision making processes, and to define collective activities. It is organized as Gram Sabhas( Village committees) which are headed by Mukhiya( village head). With mobilizing villagers around local issue such as land distribution, regularization of Pattas (land entitlements) or women’s land rights. In addition to these local campigns, Ekta Parishad support economic programs like running shops, grain-banks, fishery, poultry, and goat rearing. It is also offers training on traditional agriculture, bio-farming, soil, and water conservation. The land issue is thus seen both as a way to build a sustainable rural economy, and as a way to reduce the political domination over the deprived communities through mobilization and non-violent struggle.
At the state and national levels, Ekta Parishad gives voice to the grassroots movement through exercising continued pressure, consultations, and negotiations with representatives from the Government and Parliament. It uses various forms of non violent action like rallies, dharnas (sit-in) road blockades, padyatras (foot march) and even indefinite fasts. These are articulated around two basic concepts: civil disobedience and Satyagraha (invoking moral righteousness).
Land rights Satygrah
Ekta Parishad espouses a Gandhian form of actiona namely Satyagraha.’Satya’ means truth and `graha’, determined pursuit or holding on to truth. It does not mean passive resistance, but rater active non-cooperation. There are many techniques for extending this kind of civil disobedience for instance through strikes, peaceful picketing , fasting, long marches and the like.
Using the Padyatra (Long-march) as Satyagrah(Civil Disobedience):
One of the largest satyagrahs taken up by Ekta parishad was the Bhumi Adhikar Satyagrah Padyatra (Land rights Satyagrha long-march). Led by Rajgopal PV, the founder of Ekta Parishad, 100 peoples from very different backgrounds, traversed Madhya Pradesh, walking a distance of 3500 kilometers and covering 5000 villages within a period of 6 months ( December 1999 to June 2000).Through the foot march, documented accounts of people’s miseries were made in the forms of interviews, land surveys and people’s testimonies. The organizers held hundreds of rallies, public meetings, bhumi pujans( land rituals),”jan adalats”(Public hearing) and so forth. More than 400 press items were generated by national and international medias.Ekta Parishad demanded to Government to set up a task force for solution of land related problems of deprived community. Finally, government set up a task force at district and state level, where Organization also involve in this committee.
Since the first Padyatra, Ekta Parishad taken up 5 other similar yatras( marches) in Bihar(September 2001), Chambal ( Madhya Pradesh in April 2002), Chhattisagarh ( February,2003) Bundelkhand- Baghelkhand( Madhya Pradesh, September 2003) and Orissa (February 2004).
- Task forces set up in MP, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Gaya district in Bihar
- 580,000 forest crime cases lodged against tribes dropped by the government
- 347,000 people gaining land entitlement in MP, 6,000 in Chhattisgarh and 8000 homestead land in Bihar.
- 500 Womens mutual-help groups set up
- 1000 familes benefiting from the production and marketing of local products.
- 10,000 villagers involved in organic farming, horticulture and cultivation of herbal plants
- 100,000 villagers benefiting from irrigation schemes.
- Land issue has become national & international through NCL conference and Land First Mela
- EP filed petition currently in supreme court – affects 4.75 million acres and 2 million people.
Principles behind a Radical Land Reform Agenda
It is necessary to distribute all existing land under the present laws, and regularize all land holdings. But this is still not sufficient. People need a more radical agenda. In India people rely on land to give food and employment, and not simply commodities. For people the small household farm is still the basic unit. It is based on this premise that principles for a radical land reform agenda need to be advanced in order to form the basis of a new agricultural policy. In addition the land reform needs to be a national political priority. So Ekta Parishad is raising the issue of Radical land reform on National scenario for poverty eradication.
The following principles should be advanced.
- The state ought to ensure that all land resources are used primarily for maintaining food security.
- Those working the land should have first rights over the land. Farming is a technique requiring specific skills. Those who have those skills should have land entitlement.
- Women are the majority of agricultural laborers. They are also performing the majority of agricultural activities. Therefore they should have land rights either independent or joint title.
- Small household farms should be the primary unit. Hiring agricultural labourers should be discouraged. This is particularly to counter the prevailing trends of absent landlordism.
- Every family should have some kind of employment guarantee. Therefore if a family has a second source of employment the family ought to surrender the land to those without employment. The state has to tell the people how much land can be acquired and distributed under the present policies so that people can pressure to have this implemented.
- Giving good agricultural land to industry or for private use should be curbed and regulated.
- Since land is meant for agriculture primarily, any industry that comes up should have the consent of the local people and they should become shareholders in the industry.
- The state has to see that any surplus land holdings that have been taken by companies to be redistributed back to the poor.
- The state has to inform the people how much land can be acquired and distributed under the present policies so that watch groups can monitor the government in the implementation of land distribution.
- The state must make every effort to regularize people’s land claims on revenue and forest lands.
- The state must give priority to the landless families in any new land claim especially giving women headed households special priority.
- The ceiling laws should be reduced to five standard acres keeping in mind all peoples have a right to land for producing food.
- Whenever someone leaves or sells the land, first rights should be given to landless families that are dependent on agriculture.
- The land should be sold to residents within the village. This is to protect people buying up land that do not have any connection with agriculture.
- The people should create strong units within the village based on collective, mutual support and self-reliance in the promotion of agriculture.
- There should be a government supported enabling environment to support and protect the small farms.
- Agricultural training centers and other processing units should be systematically set up to promote farmers to sell their produce locally turning the priority away from export oriented agriculture.
- The forests belong to the tribals and they are dependent on MFP for their livelihoods. The state must give back the right to tribals so that pressure on the land decreases and forest conservation is enhanced.
- The programs should be made for converting barren cultivatable and entitlement should be given to the landless.
- Inheritance laws should be amended to strengthen women’s entitlements.
- The gram sahba must be responsible for land distribution once the state governments fulfill their present commitments.
local and international partner organizations
During the last 16 years of work Ekta Parishad has been develop a broader network on land issue with like minded organization in India and abroad also. 35 institutions support Ekta Parishad as a mass based movement. These institutions are centerd on training and mobilizing village youth and working with village communities to reorganize the village economy based on land redistribution and access to forest for forest dwellers. Ekta Parishad is a partner organization of National Campaign committee on Land which represent the several organization, whose working on land issue in India.
Ekta Parishad has a good network at international level with Forest People’s Project, Breton woods Project, Survival International, Friends of the Earth, Gaya Foundation, Action Village India, CRIDEV, CESCI Foundation, FIAN International, ATTAC International, Solidarite, Satyagraha, Tourism Concern, Declaration of Bern, Solifonds, Swiss Development Corporation, Angoc , Samata, Anando, and landfirst nepal , MST Brazil, Via-campasina etc.
(c) Land- related Initiative/ Experiences at Village-level
The Pandariya Satyagrah is the story of oppression of people by the forest department and the non-violent struggle of these oppressed people united in adversity and achieving due success. The Mukhia (Headman) of the Baiga tribe Birju Baiga who was struggling against removal of encroachment from Forestland was murdered following a joint conspiracy between the forest department and the forest protection committee on 9th February 2004. Main while the stoppage for the land rights yatra organized by Ekta Parishad, was at Pandaria. Here Baiga MahaPanchayat and public hearing were to be held. It was there that the news of Birju Baiga murder was heard. The inhuman incident of removal of Putputa village from forestland without any prios notice showed how in the name of so called forest conservation, the forest department exploits the tribal populations. That very day a decision was made by the organization to oppose the incident forcefully and with that in mind the organization organized Satyagarh in District headquarter Pandariya at Gandhi Chawk. The satyagrah that lasted a feel 7 days, forced the government to initiate dialogue with the protestors. This incident was highlight by means of print as well as electronic media and was publicized not only in M.P. and Chhattisgarh, but in other states and abriad too. Heads of meny states in Europe sent letters to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh. On the 3rd day of the Satyagrah, the activists threatened to Gherao the legislative assembly. But before the salvation came to such a state, the Chief Minister spoke to the representative of the protesters and on the 20 of February in an general meeting the Collector of Kawardha announced the Chief Minister’s decisions in context of the incident which were as follows:
- Under a special drive, people of the Baiga tribe be given lease and leaseholders, be given actual possession.
- To solve the land related problems of very backward tribes and other people, a nation level committee be formed. Mr Rajgopal be orged to be of assistance in the formation and effective functioning of this committee. Many district level units of this committee also be set up.
- Rs. 10,000/- cash as compensation be provided to the widow of Lt. Birju Baiga from the Rashtriya Pariwar Sahayta, and she also be paid a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh from the chief Minister’s fund. This money was to be kept in a fixed deposit account to ensure a Sound future for this four children namely Sukhram aged 15, Budhsingh aged 13, Ragendra singh aged 11 years and ku. Matibai ages 6. Beside this both, the widow of Birju Baiga and his eldest son be granted lease for 5 years on revenue land. This action was to be carried out by collector of Kawardha.
- In the entire sequence of events it was found that the role of Mr. Anoop Srivastava, the DFO of the forest department to as on of extreme negligence of duty and he be suspended immediately on that charge by forest department. The forest officers, Bit gourd, forest, forest ranger etc. related to the incident be transferred else where with immediate effect. Similarly the police officers serving at village Putputa and the in-charge of the local police station also be transferred. This action was to be taken by home department.
- Survey be carried out in accordance with the orders of the central government dated 30 Oct. 02 according to which, after the tear 1980 and before 94-95, some occupant families were left out in the census. The orders to form a committee on the district level consisting of collector and DFO are carried out immediately. The possessions of the cases before 1980 are also being done. A survey be carried out so that people not being able to avail of these facilities be included.
Follow – up
(a) Mrs. Jugribai, widow of Lt. Birju Baiga was given Rs. 10,000 in case on 20 Feb. 03 by the Collector along with a cheque of Rs. 1 lakh.
(b) The eldest son of Lt. Birju Baiga was given lease of 5 acres land fully demarcated for immediate possession.
(c) Mrs. Jugra Bai also gave lease of fully demarcated 5 acres land for immediate possession.
(d) Land was distributed to all the landless families of Baiga tribe of kawardha district, based on a survey.
(e) formation of a task force at the state level, district level and Panchayat level also.