A Practical Program to Give a New Lease of Life to Land Reforms

At last some voices are rising to strongly assert the need for better implementation of land reforms. On October 2, Gandhi Jayanti day, nearly 25,000 landless workers and adivasi peasants gathered at Mela Maidan, Gwalior to raise a strong voice in favour of land reforms. This assembly was part of the larger efforts of Ekta Parishad and other Gandhian organisations for a breakthrough in long-neglected land reforms.

While the importance of land reforms for bringing equality and reducing poverty in rural areas is widely recognised, nevertheless, land reforms and in particular land redistribution have been badly neglected in India in recent times. At some stage, this phase of neglect has to end and a new beginning has to be made for land reforms as this is too important an area to be ignored for long. Here a practical program is proposed to give a new lease of life to land reforms. We propose that first of all, at least those initiatives that had been taken some years ago but could not be taken to a satisfactory conclusion must be fully implemented. After this initial phase, we can then plan for wider land reforms.

First of all, much more can be done to ensure better and more effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act. As this legislation once held up so much hope for adivasis and other forest-dweller communities, it is important that all the processes related to it be first completed so that these communitieis are better placed in terms of land and livelihood rights. Because of inadequate and even faulty implementation of this Act, in many places, forest-dwelling communities are perhaps placed even worse placed than recognised tribal communities in terms of their claims having been rejected or ignored. 

Another area where earlier efforts need to be taken to their logical conclusion relates to the distribution of homestead lands. This work should have completed long ago, but still lakhs of people in rural areas lack a proper housing place with legal rights. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation by powerful and big landowners who often claim that the landless are living on their land and hence should provide them free or cheap labor.

Land records must be jointly in the name of husband and wife. Women farmers who work so hard but whose contribution is often ignored should get proper recognition. In the case of single women, while some efforts have been made to help them retain their land rights, more needs to be done for this.

All these efforts can be taken forward together if there is a clear land reforms policy and a national task-force on land reforms can ensure much needed continuity in land reforms. These steps are also needed for ensuring that we do not stop merely with the completion of pending works but have a much broader and well-thought out vision of land reforms ahead of us.

These are also broadly the demands being raised by the ongoing mobilisation of Ekta Parishad and other Gandhian organisations for better implementation of land reforms, which need to be supported at a wider level.

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