Impervious to change, Unless land becomes a serious law and order issue, the government is not bothered

PV RAJGOPAL, MEMBER, NATIONAL LAND REFORM COUNCIL | Issue Dated: September 2, 2011, New Delhi
In 2007, about 25,000 tribal, Dalit and landless labourers descended on Delhi to protest their plight and their lack of basic facilities six decades after Independence. Their protest bore fruit and the government in an effort to speed up the half baked attempts thus far at land reforms, set up the National Land Reform Council (NLRC).
Efforts of organisations like the Ekta Parishad in persuading state governments to implement a credible land reforms programme have been going on. But despite best efforts, the attitude of governments has remained the same. They believe that forest land and its natural resources should go in the hands of companies so as to be exploited well.This attitude fits in well with the prevailing wisdom that industrialisation is necessary and that exploitation of natural resources is the only way to achieve that goal. That is why the government has shown little interest in developing or distributing land for Dalit, tribals and the poorest of the poor.
Today in every corner of the country – from Bhatta-Parsaul to Singur to Palachimada and Jaitapur – the farmer is determined to protect his land. From the attitude of the central and state governments, it is clear that far from awarding the land to the landless, there is little respite. The entire establishment is geared towards one purpose: to take small plots of land away from the poor farmers and hand them over to mega companies.
This process is achieved by implicating the poor in false cases, use muscle power to stop poor peasants and forcible occupation of their land. This trend is prevalent throughout the country. In such a situation, it is relevant to ask why a meeting of the NLRC, which is presided over by the prime minister, has not been summoned.
A number of learned people, who have deliberated for a year, have come up with 300 concrete proposals. If action is taken honestly on them, many solutions to the vexed land question can emerge. Today when the farmer-peasant movement has acquired violent overtones, the government is willing to revisit its land acquisition policy. Similarly, with the Naxalite movement threatening to go out of control in some parts of the country, the government is talking about implementing forest rights.
The ridiculousness of the situation is apparent: the government will only act when it is under pressure. Now that pressure has been created by Anna Hazare, the government is thinking in terms of working on anti-corruption laws. In other words, without a stick, it will not work. It is this mindset of the politician and the government which is stymieing growth and development in the country.
A right thinking prime minister would have tried to involve himself with the main issues related to the land question and worked towards arriving at some solutions. If the ruling classes had any real interest, there should have been national debates on farmer suicides and peasant agitations. I have requested the government many times that in case it is not in a position to take revolutionary steps towards land reform, some small measures can be taken.
As a first step, the government must immediately stop land acquisition, and in cases of public importance should introduce a Bhagidari ownership system. Secondly, an immediate end to commercialisation of land and agriculture must be achieved and food security ensured. As a third step, all land which has been either forcibly occupied by influential people or companies or where the forest department has carried out afforestation, must be honestly returned to the farmer. Next, those fellow countrymen who live in slums in sub-human conditions or those who live in filthy areas be provided land to build their own structures.
But these steps can only be taken by one who is genuinely interested in the affairs of the poor. Similarly, proposals for a single-window to look into the affairs of the rural poor and fast track courts for disposing off land-related cases have been mooted. But these proposals have remained in the hands of officials who have little interest in the welfare of the people and are basically putty in the hands a few industrialists and vested interests.
There are a hundred ways to avoid work. People are now realising, though a bit slowly, that without sustained activism and agitation, it would be futile to even expect anything from the government. The state governments and the Centre still have some time left with them. It would help no one if prairie fires are allowed to burn and the situation allowed to get so out of hand that it becomes difficult to control it. It cannot be anyones’ case that unless things take the shape of a law and order problem, they cannot be resolved.

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