‘Only land reforms can tackle poverty, corruption’

P V Rajagopal talks about homestead law, land mafia and village economy
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Women protesters walking in Delhi under the banner of Ekta Parishad in 2007. Source: Ekta Parishad/Wikicommons

Land reforms were meant to right the wrongs of traditional zamindari system through redistribution of land from rich to the poor. On top priority of the government at the time of independence, land reforms don’t feature in any party manifestoe now.

In 2012, Ekta Parishad took out a foot march from Gwalior to Delhi demanding the same. The Union government agreed to the demands and drafted a homestead law which never got tabled in the Parliament. Ekta Parishad’s president, P V Rajagopal, talks to GoI Monitor on why this is the toughest time for land reforms and the need to explore our roots.

Q Your campaign focusses on landless and homeless people. What’s the scale of the problem?

Around 4 crore poor people in India don’t have land to call their own. Around 30 per cent of those associated with farming don’t have agricultural land. They grow the crops, but rich own that land.  Even the chief ministers, chief secretaries own agricultural lands despite the fact that they have never set foot in the fields. This is because land is not regarded today as a means to grow food, but as a commercial asset that needs to be sold and resold. 

Around 4 crore poor people in India don’t have land to call their own. Around 30 per cent of those associated with farming don’t have agricultural land. They grow the crops, but rich own that land.  

Q A homestead bill was drafted but never reached the parliament. How are you planning to influence the new government that takes over after the general elections?

We are already talking to various political parties asking them not to compromise on the need for homestead as a minimal requirement of land reforms. Homestead land should be 10 cents meaning 10 per cent of an acre. Some states have already taken this seriously. Fulfilling its promise made in 2012, the Madhya Pradesh government has even started alloting homestead land. In some cases, they have given more than 10 cents. They regularised the people settled at various places across rural MP. Some got 30 cents, others got half an acre which was much more than 10 cents we had asked for. 

Kerala is giving only 3 cents under its policy to eradicate landlessness in the state. Around 1 lakh people have got the land but we oppose this policy because one needs atleast 10 cents to accommodate a small house, kitchen garden and space for poultry and dairy. Only then it can be called a homestead. In all, around 45,000 acre land has been allotted to landless recently. But when you calculate the amount of land that has been taken away, acquired from the poor, it will be four times of that allotted. Under Forest Rights Act also, around 30 lakh families have got land rights which is a big feat. But again, many more families lost their land to mining, power projects, national parks and wildlife conservation projects

Madhya Pradesh government has started alloting homestead land. In some cases, they have given more than 10 cents. They regularised the people settled at various places across rural MP. Some got 30 cents, others got half an acre .  

Q What hopes you have from the new government at the Centre?

The new government will come to power on the development agenda which means more urbanisation and industrialisation. And for that you need land which will either be taken from the poor or from the pool ideally slotted for them. 

Now, the World Bank has come up with a system to rank countries ideal for investments. This ranking is based on availability of land for industries and whether the country has laws to make the land available. Since all the developing countries want to come on top of that ranking, they are making investor-friendly land policies. Even the new land acquisition law focusses on getting more compensation money than protection of long term interests of the villagers. It indirectly asks villagers to let go of the land and settle in cities which will eventually destroy villages. Ekta Parishad and other like-minded international organisations are asking the World Bank to drop such a ranking system.

The new government will come to power on the development agenda which means more urbanisation and industrialisation. And for that you need land which will either be taken from the poor or from the pool ideally slotted for them. 

Q But is there enough land in the country for allotment to the poor?

There’s more than enough. What’s lacking is the political will. The government has been giving thousands of acres Foot march for land reforms. Source: Ekta Parishadto industrialists. Also, we are not demanding any new land. We are just saying four things:

a) Punish the powerful people who have grabbed land of the poor and force them to return that land. Usually, a case of land grab goes on for years in revenue courts. Instead, treat it as a criminal activity requiring immediate hearing and justice. 

b) Secondly, we are asking the government to regularise the poor wherever they are settled as has been done in Madhya Pradesh. Whether it’s a common village land or forest areas, regularising the possessions will solve half the problem. 

c) Even if you can’t do any of the above two steps, at least free the land donated under ‘Bhoodan Andolan’ of Vinoba Bhave from land mafia.

d) Proper implementation of the agricultural land ceiling act can also get surplus land. The law puts a cap on ownership of irrigated land to 20 acres and unirrigated land to 40 acres. We need a central monitoring system to check whether a person owns land over and above the limit in different parts of the country.  

So, if the government can’t even put the laws into practice, what’s the point of electing these leaders? 

Q Besides the political will, what are the other obstacles?

The problem is everybody is investing in land these days. Earlier, people used to put black money in gold, now they are putting it in land. Even foreign banks are acting as property agents and people can buy land in India without even visiting the country. Land mafia is very strong. So, when we talk about getting land for the landless, we are actually swimming against the tide.

The government avoids basic structural changes like land reforms by giving out doles through welfare schemes. It does not cost anything to distribute public funds among poor but if land is redistributed, both politicians and industrialists will be affected. 

The biggest corruption is in land since not only the rich and powerful are occupying it illegally, they are also parking most of the black money here. Just saying that we need to root out corruption won’t help unless we check those with huge landholdings. 

The government avoids basic structural changes like land reforms by giving out doles through welfare schemes. It does not cost anything to distribute public funds among poor but if land is redistributed, both politicians and industrialists will be affected. 

Q. Do you see land reforms as the ultimate solution to problems faced by the poor considering that non-farm employment is on the rise and focus is on industrial economy?

Giving rights to the people over basic resources of life can be the only befitting reply to the new economic structure. The government’s thinking is more towards corporate farming. This model allows companies to cultivate large tracts of land and increase crop production through extensive use of chemicals. This will help push the GDP and some amount of this money can then be thrown as breadcrumbs at the poor under welfare schemes to quell any protests. The focus is not on getting decent work for people or on making them self-reliant or on providing good, healthy food to the society. 

People are moving to cities out of compulsion as the current rural economy does not offer decent employment. In last 40 years, 93,000 villages in India have vanished. If we keep focussing on industries, supermarkets and flyovers, more people will move to cities and live in shanties and slums. The village culture will be lost. We have to intensify the social struggles and make space for villagers. And getting land for the landless is the most important factor for that to happen. 

Giving rights to the people over basic resources of life can be the only befitting reply to the new economic structure. In last 40 years, 93,000 villages in India have vanished. If we keep focussing on industries, supermarkets and flyovers, more people will move to cities and live in shanties and slums. 

Q Ekta Parishad has come up with ‘Back to the village’ campaign. What’s this about?

We also call it ‘back to the roots’. We believe that everybody should search for their roots. Even those living in cities also came there from somewhere else. 

People are forced to leave villages because rural economy has turned weak in face of globalisation. We are calling for strengthening of localisation to tackle globalisation. Whether it's local culture, local language, local education, local economy or local organisation, everything local needs our attention. This will be on the lines of Vinoba’s slogan: “Act locally, think globally.” 

So ‘Back to the Village’ is about reorganising our natural resources of water, forest and land. It's about promoting local culture and collective concepts like grain banks for better rural economy. Also, we need to take stock of the land people got because of our struggles and ensure they are managed well. Through this, we also prepare for next fight. In 2012, 1 lakh villagers and tribals marched for their rights. In 2020, there will be 10 lakh. So while strengthening the local village economy, it’s the call to the next movement.

We are calling for strengthening of localisation to tackle globalisation. Whether it's local culture, local language, local education, local economy or local organisation, everything local needs our attention. This will be on the lines of Vinoba’s slogan: “Act locally, think globally.”

Listen to P V Rajagopal speak (in Hindi):

Comments

This is indeed a great initiative, a great movement by Ekta Parishad. A movement which calls for 'Back to the Village' campaign and that investing more into the rural economy by strengthening the rural landless poor. I think this will mean advancement of Indian Agriculture too. If we look into the developed nations we will see that there is a parity between urbanisation and rural development. There agriculture is strong too boasting the rural economy too.

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