Dear Jairam Ramesh Ji,
After completing the yatra in Andhra Pradesh, we have entered into Karnataka. Today we are in Tumkur with an organization called REDS. They have done very interesting work in terms of regaining lost last of the marginalized communities.
During our discussion last time, you were speaking about doables. I am slowly developing a list in consultation with the people. Let me mention some of them below so that you can develop institutions in order to get the ideas translated into action:
1. Regularizing the land occupied by members of marginalized communities: There are large number of individuals from poor communities who are on a piece of land, ranging from 10 cents to 1 acre. In some cases it is revenue land and in other cases this is forest land. They have lived on this land for long time. Just by identifying those cases and regularizing their position over the land , we make a big jump. In the absence of regularization , if they are dispossessed from the land for infrastructural development , they get no compensation. You can imagine that it makes a lot of difference for individuals and families to know that the piece of land on which you live, legally belongs to you.
2. Retrieve the lost land: I found that large number of Adivasis and Dalits have lost their land to the powerful communities. In majority of the cases, this land is occupied by the powerful people by force, whereas the ownership is still with the poor people. They have run from pillar to post , in order to get the land back. You will be surprised that such cases are not small in number. Retrieving the lost land does not require any land reforms agenda. This is basically delivery of justice to those families , who were deprived of their cultivation rights for many years. Their land should be returned forthwith, and the people who occupied the land , should pay a compensation according to the period they have been on the land. If needed, a special mechanism should be developed to get it implemented, and correct the injustice done to them for years.
3. Distribution of land earmarked for deprived communities: This is a land clearly defined for the poor people. Panchami land or depressed class land in Tamil Nadu and part of Andhra Pradesh or Maharvadan in Maharashtra are all land, reserved for Dalit and other marginalized communities. Much of the struggle around land in states like Tamil Nadu is on this Panchami Land. Good part of this land is occupied by powerful people , or used for infrastructural development. A mechanism should be developed to identify this land, and distribute the same to Dalit communities.
4. Prevent transfer of assigned land to SEZ, and other Infrastructural Developmental Project: In states like Andhra Pradesh, large number of poor people are living and working on assigned land. They have invested time and resources to develop this land, to produce enough food for the family. Now this land is being taken for promotion of SEZ or infrastructural development. This cannot be justified. If people are thrown out of the land, with small compensation. They will find it absolutely difficult to restart their life in a new place. There should be general order to stop this process.
5. Distribution of Homestead Land: You cannot imagine the number of people who came in public hearing sessions every day, just to speak about homestead land. Poor people whether they are in rural or urban areas, are feeling discriminated and abused, because they don’t have a place of their own to live on. I think this is the minimum the country could offer to these people. How long can people live in an uncertain situation.? Many of them in the urban areas , pay 50% of their income for rent. Even in small cities, people spend substantial amount of money on rent and transportation. One or two Indira Awas in a period of one year , is not going to solve this problem. Even Indira Awas is available only to those who have land. Distribution of homestead land cannot wait any longer, as that is crucial for their identity and security. Kindly design a program in a campaign mode to complete this task in a time bound manner. I remember you mentioned that the government is even willing to buy land to provide homestead for everyone.
6. Taking unused and surplus land for redistribution: I can give you many examples , where the land was taken for industries but never used. In the district of Bhind, there is a place called Malanpur. Many years back the land was bought for 3,000 rupees per bigha. On one side farmers have lost their land, and on other there is no industry to provide any employment. The Dabra Sugar Factory in Gwalior is nearly non-functional. Hundreds of acres of land belonging to the sugar factory is being occupied by powerful people including those from Punjab. Whereas the poor Adivasis and Dalit are without land. Two days back I was in the district of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. Near Hindupur, the land of farmers is taken for 12000-18000 rupees an acre some years back. No industry and no employment. People are now agitating for land or compensation according to the present rate. In Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu or Puri in Orissa, has got a lot of land that are registered in the name of trusts and institutions. Plantation companies are occupying , lot more land , than what is on the record. Rather than repeatedly saying that there is no land for distribution, there should be an all-out effort to identify and distribute the available land. On one hand we were repeatedly arguing that land is not available, on the other hand we were finding land for promotion of SEZ and industrial complexes. The government was resisting the idea of implementing ceiling act, because they don’t want to use force against the farmers. But the same government was shooting and killing farmers to take land for super-highways and corporate houses. This contradiction is not hidden from the public . Kindly take steps to correct this situation.
7. Establishing fast-track courts to settle disputes related to land: Large number of people in India are not even asking for land. They are only asking the system to resolve the dispute. Many small farmers, Adivasis and Dalits are cultivating a piece of land for many years , that the forest department is claiming now. Just by resolving this dispute , large number of small farmers can be saved from harassment and punishment. Other than departmental dispute, there are disputes between individuals, when such disputes are between powerful and powerless, it is difficult for ordinary people to engage lawyers and seek justice. By establishing fast track courts to settle these matters in a time bound manner, many farmers from the poor communities can be helped.
For the time being I will limit with so many suggestions. I think these are all doable for the government, or the government is expected to do all that. In many of the steps mentioned above distribution of land is not well demanded. This basically is good land governance. I will strongly urge you to examine each one the suggestions and see how fast we can act on those issues.
As the council meeting is now postponed, may I request you to call a meeting of the revenue ministers , discuss some of the agendas proposed above as well as some of the recommendations of the National Land Reforms Committee.