Tuesday, February 26th was the date of the meeting of the National Land Reform Task Force, to confirm and assess the progresses of the Agreement signed in last October between Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, and the marchers of Jan Satyagraha through Rajagopal. Please see below an interview published on the same day to give an update on this process.
Slow progress in setting up of fast track land courts: PV Rajagopal
by Pallavi Polanki Feb 26, 2013
It was a promise on which the one lakh-strong ‘Freedom March’ by landless farmers and adivasis to Delhi was called off in October. Signing an agreement to address their demands—land for landless and home for the poor—Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh promised the jan satyagrahis led by Ekta Parishad’s PV Rajagopal a national land reforms policy within six months. (Read full report here)
To draft a national land reforms policy a 17-member task force chaired by Ramesh comprising nine government members and eight non-official members, which include Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, was constituted with a six month timeline and a nine-point agenda.
Firstpost spoke to Rajagopal ahead of Tuesday’s Task Force meeting on the progress made on the land reform policy, on the amendments to the land acquisition bill and the government’s recent circular disempowering the gram sabhas of their right to veto certain land acquisition projects.
Excerpts from the interview:
What are some of the key issues that have been discussed by the task force so far?
Today we are going to assess the level of progress we have made in terms of drafting the land reform policy and the legislation for homestead land, of preparing advisories to state governments, of strengthening the FRA (Forest Rights Act) and PESA (Panchayat Act). This is a joint effort by the government and non-government members of the task force so that before the deadline we are able to achieve what we want to achieve. During the jan satyagraha, we were one against the other. Now we are together trying to do things.
How much progress has been made in drafting the land reforms policy?
The policy is at a final stage. The legislation is already drafted. About 12 state-level advisories are already with the minister. In today’s meeting, we are going to ask how far the law ministry has made progress on fast track land courts and tribunals. We are also trying to see how PESA (Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996) and FRA (Forest Rights Act) can be strengthened. In spite of letters from the minister, we don’t see much progress on the ground. If people don’t benefit, any amount of paperwork is useless. We are going to revisit the issues.
Are you satisfied with the draft land reform policy?
I’ve gone through some of the drafts. They are in good shape. There is always room for improvement. When we present it, there will be more recommendations. And on the basis of that, the draft can be improved.
What would you say is the vision of the draft policy?
The vision is that landlessness needs to be addressed in this country. Because we believe landlessness is the basic reason for poverty, migration, slums and violence. So the vision is to address landlessness because we want to address poverty and violence in this country.
In spite of all our efforts, the Central government has its own limitations when it comes to addressing the issue of land. It has to go to the state governments.
After doing our work in Delhi, we will move to the states. We will go to the states and say, ‘The Central government has drafted this policy why are you not acting on it? The Central government has sent you this advisory why are you not acting on it?’. So this will be become a big tool in the hands of social activists.
There are news reports that amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill, a key bill on the agenda of the current Parliament session, could dilute the power of thegram sabhas.
I haven’t seen the amendments. But any effort to dilute the role of the gram sabha will defeat the purpose.
Earlier this month, the Environment Ministry passed an order exempting projects such as road construction, canals, laying of pipelines/optical fibres from obtaining the consent of the gram sabha. (Read circular here)
If you want to progress in terms of deepening democracy, we need people to participate. In a democracy people are important. The government should not behave in an authoritarian manner. They should start working with the people. And in many places, if it is road building, nobody is going to object because people need roads. If people have the capacity to elect leaders for the country, they also have the capacity to decide which road is good and which road is not. That faith we should have. Authoritarian action is only an indication that we don’t believe in democracy, that we don’t want participatory democracy, that we want to make it in the interest of the powerful people.