Plain-speaking by Planning Commission Report

   – Will the UPA Govt. Listen?

An Expert Group set up by the Planning Commission, headed by D. Bandopadhyay, and including Dr. B.D. Sharma, Kamla Prasad, (Ex. Chief Secretary, Bihar), Prakash Singh, Ex. DGP (U.P.), Sukhadeo Thorat, Chairman, UGC, K. Balagopal, Bela Bhatia, Prof. Amit Bhaduri, K.B. Saxena, and others submitted a Report in April 08 on “Development challenges in extremist affected areas.” The Report makes some candid observations on the deep inequalities and injustices which beset the poor in India. We reproduce excerpts from the Report relating to land and displacement. Will the Government pay heed to the facts revealed by this Report to the Planning Commission?        
1.8.1 Even those who know very little about the Naxalite movement know that its central slogan has been ‘land to the tiller’ and that attempts to put the poor in possession of land have defined much of their activity.
1.8.2 The importance of land as a livelihood resource cannot be overstated. While only 18% of the GDP comes from agriculture today, the proportion of the workforce that is engaged in agriculture is 58%. And it is 64% in the case of the Scheduled castes. Forty per cent of rural households have no land or less than half an acre of land. The estimated number of landless rural families in the country is 1.30 to 1.80 crores. The number of small and marginal operational holdings has been increasing steadily over the years. 1.8.3 While the economy is at present growing at a rate of about 8% to 9%, agriculture which provides employment to 58% of the country’s workforce is growing at less than 3%. This is rightly seen as signifying rising economic disparities between the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors of the economy, but it also signifies continued immiseration of the lower strata in the rural community in an absolute sense.
1.8.4 Since insecurity and exploitation of tenants is a widespread phenomenon, tenancy reforms of various kinds have been attempted right from the time of independence. While some States have banned tenancy altogether, some have provided statutory security against eviction, including preferential right of the tenant to purchase the land if the landlord wants to sell it. But instead of improving the lot of tenants, these reforms have only driven tenancy underground.
1.8.5 Waste or barren land that belongs to the Government is increasingly intended for industries and Special Economic Zones, and the landless poor are fast losing the ‘right’ they had, namely to hope that the land would be distributed to them. The situation in the Scheduled areas is on a different footing. What distinguishes such areas in this context is the protection statutorily afforded to the Scheduled tribes from alienation of their land to non-tribals. Today the States which contain Fifth Schedule areas have laws preventing such alienation. The laws which prohibit land alienation also provide for means of restoration of the alienated land to the tribals. However, with economic reforms there is pressure to dilute the laws prohibiting tribal land alienation and permit leasing of mineral-bearing land in the Fifth Schedule areas to private companies.
Special Economic Zones
1.9.1 Land acquisition for Special Economic Zones (SEZ) has given rise to widespread protest in various parts of the country. Large tracts of land are being acquired across the country for this purpose. Already, questions have been raised on two counts. One is the loss of revenue in the form of taxes and the other is the effect on agricultural production.
1.9.2 In both these debates there is no understanding that land is a livelihood resource. Whether it is multi-cropped or single-cropped, whether it is fertile or infertile, it is the source of livelihood for the farmer and also for other rural inhabitants whose livelihood depends directly or indirectly on land. The very notion of a SEZ requires a single huge block of land, and therefore it is impossible to avoid acquiring productive land if SEZs are to be established at all. Thus, the notion of an SEZ, irrespective of whether it is established in multi-cropped land or not, is an assault on a major livelihood resource. The SEZ Act permits the government to exempt the units set up therein from various laws and there is a promise that such exemption will be given in the matter of labour laws.
(II) Land Related Measures
 ... 5.2.1. Efforts at implementation of ceiling laws have stopped about two to three decades ago, as if there is no possibility of identifying ceiling surplus land hereafter. This is not a fact. A serious effort must be made to continuously implement the land ceiling laws, so that the ceiling surplus land thereby obtained is made available for distribution amongst the most vulnerable sections of the landless poor. The various loop holes in the respective state to ceiling legislations have resulted in bogus claims aimed at evading the law. Such loopholes should be done away with and all cultivable land, irrespective of the legal form in which it is held, should be brought under ceiling laws...
5.2.3. Land Tribunals or Fast Track Courts under Article 323-B of the Constitution be set up for expeditious disposal of the ceiling cases. Old cases should be unearthed and fresh inquiries be conducted. Since land owners have already got decades to manipulate, create false documents, no cut off date for reopening the old cases should be prescribed...

5.2.8. Landless poor in occupation of Government land should not be treated as encroachers and should not be evicted ordinarily. All eligible occupants should be regularized. In case of eviction alternative sites should be provided. Such provisions should be given statutory force. Often land assigned to the poor is illegally grabbed by the powerful. The government should restore possession to the poor....