Land reforms next on Jairam’s agenda

By Ashish Sinha in New Delhi

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AFTER introducing the land acquisition Bill in Parliament last week, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh now plans to address the vexed and sensitive issue of land reforms, including the revision of land ceiling limits, in a big way.

In a radical move, the minister has proposed that ‘ absentee landlords’ should own only half the quantum of land as compared to the ceiling fixed for normal landowners.

“ Absentee landlords and non- resident landowners may be clearly defined. This may be communicated to the states and Union Territories for consideration,” Ramesh has proposed.

This recommendation, along with many others, would be taken up at the first meeting of National Council for Land Reforms ( NCLR), headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in early October.

The NCLR was set up in January 2008 for “ providing broad guidelines and policy direction on land reforms”. Although “ land reforms” and “ agriculture” are state subjects, the need for a ‘ National Land Reforms Policy’ has been felt for evolving a uniform approach to the issue.

Ramesh is the ex- officio chairman of the ‘ committee on state agrarian relations and the unfinished task in land reforms’, an issue the Prime Minister had asked to undertake a detailed study of.

Just distribution of land has remained an unaccomplished task in India although most states had enacted land reform laws in the 1950s with the twin objectives of abolishing ‘ lanlordism’ and providing ‘ land to the tiller’. An early ‘ task force’ of Planning Commission had identified lack of political will, inadequate land policy, legal hurdles, litigation, lack of correct land records and weak administrative machinery as the main reason for sluggish movement on the issue. It had, in fact, cited an apathetic bureaucracy as a major hurdle to speedy land reforms since elements of the post- Independence officialdom were closely aligned with the landed classes.

This class had turned into benami landowners and continued to illegally maintain its stronghold over large tracts of land in most states. Later, as these members migrated from rural areas, the phenomenon of “ absentee landlordism” and bataidari ( share- cropping) gained currency.

While West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and Karnataka made significant strides in land reforms by putting it in the ‘ operation’ mode, the position of ‘ feudal’ states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, etc. , is far from satisfactory.

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