A Note on the interaction with the Central Ministers of Rural Development and Agriculture on the Land Rights Issues
January 3rd, 2012
On the 3rd of January, 2012, the National Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh, and the Minister of State for Agriculture, Charan Das Mahant discussed the issues of land rights with members of Ekta Parishad’s Sawad Yatra along with 200 other people for three hours near Raipur at the Pryog Ashram in Tilda. The leaders of Ekta Parishad who have been traveling for the past three months in southern India in an effort to cover a planned 350-district, cross-country tour within one year, briefed the Ministers on examples of good land and agricultural practices of local people that they had witnessed on their travels. They also elaborated other struggles of other marginalized groups such fisher-folks, urban poor and the transgender community in Karnataka as well. Rajagopal argued for a comprehensive land reforms policy that would prevent the transfer of land and resources from the community to the corporate houses and he supported a process that would transfer land and other resources to the marginalized communities. He suggested that there were many things that could be done in the interest of the poor within the available legal framework provided there is a political will.
Among the various other presentations that were made for the Rural Development Minister on the critical situation of landlessness, the District Magistrate of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh, an affected area, gave a strong message that if the administration has the volition, there is a great deal that can be delivered by government in responding to marginalized communities on the need for land and livelihood resources for basic food security. The Minister was also informed about Jan Satyagraha 2012 in which 100,000 people are going to walk to Delhi in lieu of the fact that the government has not acted on the promises made during the Janadesh 2007 march.
After listening to all the presentations, the Minister informed the audience of the concern that he had on the land issues raised by people, and he was disappointed that the National Land Reforms Council had not yet met; so he was meaning to make it happen as soon as he could get a time from the Prime Minister. Of the slate of recommendations for land reform, he was looking at low-risk and easy to implement committee recommendations such as housing plots for the homeless, bhoodan land (land reserved to scheduled castes and tribes) distribution and fast-track courts. He was also confident significant progress can be made before 2nd October 2012. He felt that violation of acts for indigenous people like PESA (acts which recognizes the traditional community rights of Adivasis over local natural resources) were a prime reason why the indigenous people were losing their forest-land resources even in scheduled areas. He expressed the importance of surveying for tribal customary rights and the dispensation of all forest offences against tribal people.
The Minister indicated that the broad-framework of land reform must cohere with the process of globalization and urbanization which the government will not challenge. He has hopes that the pending Land Acquisition Bill is more radical in comparison to the previous one as a strong component of rehabilitation and resettlement is incorporated into it. He appreciated however that it did not work in the interests of farmers and farm labourers. The Minister concluded by accepting that armed struggle needs to be contained primarily with political and developmental inputs that are backed by military action.
The Agriculture Minister made a short presentation. He appreciated the work of Ekta Parishad and many other like-minded non-violent organizations and said that he would keep reminding the Rural Development Minister of his commitments.