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Janadesh 2007: The Land Question

The long march in October of more than 25,000 displaced, landless dalits and tribals from Gwalior to New Delhi to pressurise the central government to form a national land commission and formulate a national land reforms policy was the culmination of many years of struggle, despair and hope of thousands of landless people.

COMMENTARYnovember 17, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly10Janadesh 2007:The Land Question Sudha PaiThe long march in October of more than 25,000 displaced, landless dalits and tribals from Gwalior to NewDelhi to pressurise the central government to form a national land commission and formulate a national land reforms policy was the culmination of manyyears of struggle, despair and hope of thousandsoflandless people.Following the failure of the land reforms in the post-independence period, the agenda of land distribu-tion disappeared from the political hori-zon by the 1970s. In fact, with the inaugu-ration of the policy of liberalisation in the 1990s, some economists have questioned the usefulness of the policy of land reforms. They have argued that, whatever had to be done in the field of land reforms had been accomplished and the land reform legislations had become infruc-tuous and institutional constraints to the growth process [Sinha and Push-pendra 2000]. Morerecently,however, theissueof land as a means of liveli-hood for thedisadvantagedandpoorer sections has assumed centrality as seen from the violent incidents in Nandigram in West Bengal, agitations by tribals in Orissaagainst the grant of land to foreign companies, and the unrest over alienation of public lands granted to the disadvantaged in Andhra Pradesh [Balagopal 2007]. Janadesh 2007 or the long march from Gwalior to New Delhi by over 25,000 dis-placed, landless dalits and tribals, and activists from over 15 states and 19 coun-tries, led by the Ekta Parishad (EP),anon-government organisation (NGO) working primarily in Madhya Pradesh(MP) deserves serious attention. InMP, the issue of landlessnessassumes great importance as dalits and tribals con-stitute 15.2 per cent and 20.3 per cent, respectively, of the population of the state (2001 Census). Second, inMP, historically the resources of ‘jal’, ‘jangal’ and ‘jameen’ (water, forests and land) are inextricably linked with the livelihood of the people and any policy decision must take this into consideration. Since the colonial period, due to insensitive government policies, dalits and tribals have faced large-scale alienation of arable land. Displacements due to industrial/mining projects, large dams, or, construction of roads/railways have pushed them into marginal and highly unproductive agricultural areas, and they have faced eviction from forestlands, etc. The shrinking of common property resources (CPRs) due to encroachments on land also affects the poorer rural commu-nities [Mander 2002]. Studies show that the estimated surplus agricultural land in MP in 1970-71 was 15,58,000 hectares, in 1976-77, it came down to 11,48,000 hec-tares that was further reduced to 8,02,000 hectares under the present ceilings. Even then, according to Roy, “this was the highest estimate of surplus land in the country second only to Rajasthan” [Roy 2002: 34]. The Role of Ekta ParishadTheEP, which describes itself as a social movement and a Gandhian organisation rather than anNGO, has taken up the bat-tle inMP on behalf of the landless for over a decade. The Parishad has its roots in a group of activists working in the Chambal region in the late 1970s, led initially by its founder Subba Rao and later by Rajgopal P Vthe present head, among the dacoits who had surrendered. Influenced by the ideas and actions of Jayaprakash Narayan, they began to work among the landless tribals and dalits of the region and partici-pated in their struggle for livelihood. Some of the social groups they gradually began to work with were the sahariya tribes and dalits in Chambal; gond tribesand dalits in Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand; baiga, koraku and gond tribes in Mahakoshal and the bhil, bhilala tribes and dalits in Malwa. They decided to initiate a non-violent struggle for the rights of this downtrodden sections of thesociety. In the 1980s, a number of voluntary action groups in the region such as Prayog, Nayi Disha, Navrachna also joined hands with them to address the issues of livelihood for the poor, parti-cularly in the northern districts.1 EP took up various issues of the poor such as wages, migration, bonded labour, rehabilitation, employment, etc, in all parts ofMP. But by the early 1990s the or-ganisation began to focus mainly on the Sudha Pai ( is professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly november 17, 200711land and associated livelihood issues. Based on their years of struggle among the people, the leadersoftheorganisa-tion were convinced that providing land and associated assetswasthesolu-tion to rural poverty, not the government welfare measures/programmes. The Parishad’s basic ideology hence is ensuring “people’s control over natural resources, namely, over land, water and forests”. It has identified certain core pro-blems associated with land such as alien-ation of land, encroachments, return of forestlands to the tribals, bonded labour, etc, on which its movements are based. It is currently working in more than 60 districts in these eight states, touching 4,000 villages with a population of more than 50 lakhs. Long MarchesBy the mid-1990s the Parishad had begun series of long marches and “tours” across the state to build awareness among the landless of their livelihood rights [Carr-Harris 2005]. This use of “touring” was common to both Vinoba Bhave’s period (who had been on continual long-march for 14 years), and to Jayaprakash Narayan who had appealed to the youth to use this medium against misuse of power two decades earlier. The first big movement was the ‘Jai Jagat Jeep Yatra’(Fellowship Tour by Jeep) across MP over a period of one month. In these yatras it adopted the slogan ‘jal, jangal aur jameen ho janata ke adheen’2 to rouse the landless. It also held campaigns for the landrightsofthe deprivedsections through non-violent actions such as ‘padyatras’ (long marches), ‘satyagrahas’ (expressional dissent), ‘dharnas’ (sit-ins), ‘gheraos’ (prevent unjust incidents from taking place), ‘chakkajams’ (road blockages), economic programmes and education (ibid). The Task Force3Between 1994 and 1998 the Parishad put tremendous pressure on the government through many rallies and dharnas to take up the issue of land distribution. Some of the important ones included a national convention of the ‘Bhu Abhiyan’ (land cam-paign) launched on March 14, 1994; ‘Bhu Adhikar’ (land rights) rally on December 10, 1996 and many others wherein the voice of the deprived communities was raised at the district, tehsil and local levels across the state. In response to various such dharnas, former chief minister Digvijay Singh decided in 1998 to lower the amount of ‘charnoi’ (common pastures) land and distribute it to dalits and tribals in the state. In 1998, the Congress won the state assembly election and Digvijay Singh was chosen as the chief minister for a second term by the party. This intensified the Parishad’s movement. A ‘Bhu AdikarPada Yatra’ (land rights non-violentwalk)was held from December 10, 1999 to June 20, 2000. The magnitude of the taskunder-taken and the impact it had on the area it covered can be understood by looking at some statistics about the yatra. The Bhu Adikar yatra began in western MP from Sheopurkalan village, Ekta Pura, in the Chambal valley and ended in Raigarh city in Chhattisgarh on ‘Swabhiman Day’ (self-pride day) on June 20, 2000. Approxi-mately, four lakh people participated directly or indirectly in the yatra led by the Parishad, which was a massive demonstration in the belief in non-violent movement and protest. The yatra took 190 days and covered 3,800 kilometres, passing directly or indirectly through 1,500 tribal and dalit-dominated villages.The yatra generated immense press cov-erage and raised tremendous awareness and expectations. During this yatra about 11,083 persons belonging to the marginal-ised and deprived sections submitted their problems related to revenue land before ‘jan adalats’ (public courts) held in the vil-lages for this purpose. At the same time, around 8,300 tribals submitted memoran-dum related to their rights to forest and other types of land at these adalats. Most of them were related to land to which they had rights, but were encroached upon by others. This was perhaps the first time that such a large-scale effort was made to give the deprived sections their rights on land. Most important, theParishad brought up the issue of constituting a joint task force to the government to solve the land prob-lems of deprived sections and to allot land to landless families.The government agreed and a task force (TF) was formed on May 24, 2000, headed by the minister of revenue and had six senior government officials from the forest, land and revenue departments and the national convener of the EP. The TF was set up at two levels: one at the state and the other in each district with an equal number of members from both sides. Thus, a public-private partnership was formed. The goals of the TF were fourfold: ensuring actual possession of land to those dalit/tribal families that have ‘pattas’ (land entitlements), regularisation of land to those dalit/tribal agriculturists culti-vating on government land, but have no pattas, regularisation of land to those tribals who had possession on forestland before 1980 after proper verification, and distribution of land to landless dalits/tribals in every district after removing illegal settlers/encroachers or non-eligible persons or landlords.Limited Success4The programme of distribution of land to dalits and tribals was undoubtedly pro-gressive and reflected a political commit-ment to the welfare of the socially dis-advantaged groups in the state. The government data claims that as much as 1,81,622.388 hectares of land was distributed to scheduled castes (SCs) and 1,20,806 hectares to scheduled tribes (STs) by January 2003. However, these are statistics, they do not reflect the actual ground realities. The programme could be implementedsuccessfully onlyin some dis-tricts such as Shivpuri, Guna, Chattarpur and Rajgarh, where many dalits/tribals did gain possession of land. But in the large majority of districts, due to a number of problems in the implementation of the programme, not all dalits/tribals who received pattas were able to gain actual possession of land as a result of which the goals of the policy remained unfulfilledAt the local level five problems were responsible: (1) in some places encroach-ments by powerful landowning Other Backward Classes were not/could not be removed prior to allotment making it im-possible for the weaker sections to take possession or, in some cases led to violent conflict and killings of dalits; (2) in others, barren land was distributed, which is shown as allotted on paper, but is actually useless; (3) the lower bureaucracy was corrupt and in some places insensitive and inefficient with land records not well
COMMENTARYnovember 17, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly12maintained; (4) courts did not play a posi-tive role in the extensive litigation which accompanied the programme; (5) the major opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposed the programme and encouraged the rural rich in the countryside to create hurdles. The Digvijay Singh government’s experience with land reforms reflects the complex problems involved in any attempt to redistribute assets in rural India today.Nor could the TF at the district level play an effective role in the process of imple-mentation of the programme. While in a few districts the TF functioned well and contributed to the success of the pro-gramme, this was not the case in most dis-tricts. Many officials did not take the TF or the EP seriously. Meetings were not held in some districts, while in others, there was little cooperation between the two sides involved. In short, the public-private partnership did not take off in the area of actual implementation. The defeat of the Congress and the formation of a BJP government in the state assembly elections of 2003 brought the pro-gramme to a halt.Pressure on Centre? This history of struggles and attempts to provide land to the landless underlies Janadesh 2007. It is a massive attempt by the Parishad to “compel the (central) gov-ernment to distribute land to landless fam-ilies of deprived communities to live with dignity” (EP: Janadesh 2007). For the Parishad and the dalits/tribals who walked 400 kms from Gwalior for 26 days it is the culmination of many years of struggle, despair and hope. The EP hopes through this rally to put pressure on the central government to form a central land com-mission and a national land reformpolicy. The Janadesh Manch had some successwith the government announcing on October 29, the formation of a National Land Reforms Council with prime minister Manmohan Singh as its chairman.The Naxalite movement spreading across many states in India in recent years is closely associated with loss of land, forests, lack of any alternative livelihood and an insensitive government. It has not affected MP on a big scale as yet, but could do so in the future.Notes1 Interview with Rajgopal P V on August 3, 2006, at his office in New Delhi.2 Literally the resources of land, forests and water must be under the control of the people.3 This section draws on literature and documents of the Ekta Parishad.4 The data in this section is taken from my largerproject on the land reform programme under the Digvijay Singh government and is based on fieldwork conduct-ed in four districts of Madhya Pradesh in 2006-07.ReferencesBalagopal (2007): ‘Ceiling Surpluses and Public Lands Land Unrest in Andhra Pradesh-1’,Economic and Poli-tical Weekly, Vol XLII, No 38, September 22.Carr-Harris (2005): ‘Struggle-Dialogue: Tools for Land Movements in India’, Ekta Parishad, New Delhi.Ekta Parishad (2002): ‘A Perspective on Land and Forests in Madhya Pradesh’ in Praveen K Jha (ed), Land Re-forms in India, Vol 7,Issues of Equity in Rural Madhya Pradesh, Sage Publications, New Delhi. Mander, Harsh (2002): ‘Tribal Land Alienation in Mad-hya Pradesh: The Problem and Legislative Remedies’ in Praveen K Jha (ed), Land Reforms in India, Vol 7, Issues of Equity in Rural Madhya Pradesh, Sage Publi-cations, New Delhi.Roy, Dunnu (2002): ‘Land Reforms, People’s Movements and Protests’ in Praveen K Jha (ed), Land Reforms in India, Vol 7,Issues of Equity in Rural Madhya Pradesh, Sage Publications, New Delhi.Sinha, B K and Pushpendra (2000): ‘Introduction’ in B K Sinha and Pushpendra, Land Reforms in India:An Unfinished Agenda, Vol 5, Sage Publications, NewDelhi.INDIAN INSTITUTE OF ADVANCED STUDYRashtrapati Niwas, Shimla - 171005Advertisement No. 4/2007 Applications are invited from suitable candidates for filling-up the post of Deputy Secretary (Administration) at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The terms and conditions are as follows:Deputy Secretary (Administration) – 1 URa. 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