“Give land, take vote”, say land rights activists
Article in Newsfirst
New Delhi – Concluding a two day convention that aimed to discuss and debate over the clauses and progress of the draft National Land Reforms Policy which is due to be released for public debate next month, policy makers and leaders of land rights movements from across the country on Tuesday said that ‘land and livelihood’ should figure in the election manifestos of all political parties, before the forthcoming general elections as well as the assembly elections due later this year in many states.
“In the next elections, what each party will do and what their agenda is in regard to ‘land and livelihood’, we need to check. Our objective can be achieved only through political intervention. Our slogan ‘Aage Zameen Peeche Vote; Nahi Zameen toh Nahi Vote’ (First Land then Vote; No Land No Vote) reflects this,” said P V Rajagopal, President of Ekta Praishad, while addressing a congregation of policy makers and activists here at the national capital.
To bring all stakeholders – engaged with the actions on land reforms – on a common platform, Ekta Parishad had initiated a two day ‘National level consultation on Land Rights’ with an aim to discuss the draft National Land Reforms Policy, the proposed National Homestead Land Rights Bill 2013, and their implementation at state level through the formation of land councils.
The consultation witnessed participation of National Advisory Council (NAC) members, members of National Task Force on land reforms and activists working on the issue of ‘land and livelihood’.
For two days, the participants debated over the need for laying special emphasis on the ‘rights of women over land’, ‘land rights for nomadic groups’, ‘alienation of tribal and Dalit lands’ and ‘land rights in areas that come under Schedule V’.
“This culture of dialogue and debate is very good and healthy for the future of our nation. It should be encouraged. We are all swimming against the current here; so if we hold our hands, we will be stronger,” Rajagopal said.
The land reforms policy is a result of a mass movement which involved thousands of protestors from across 24 states marching on foot from Gwalior to New Delhi in October last year.
The padayatra (foot-march), better known as Jan Satyagraha, started on 3 October 2012 after a similar attempt by Ekta Parishad in 2007 proved futile. A National Land Reforms Council headed by the Prime Minister was set up by the government then; however, this council failed to meet even once.
The 35000 Jan Satyagraha marchers had demanded the formation of fast-track land tribunals, strengthening of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
Because of their experience with failure in 2007, the marchers had also demanded that the task force must have equal representation of civil society. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Jan Satyagraha and Jairam Ramesh, the Union Minister for Rural Development, on 11 October 2012.
According to this MoU, the Government of India (GOI) will come out with a draft National Land Reforms Policy within six months. “There will be some confrontation on the deadline. The Govt. is saying that the task force was formed on January 6, so the six month deadline is June 6 and not April 11. But we will consider April 11 as the deadline and keep building pressure from the bottom,” said P V Rajagopal.
“The Govt. has also called a meeting with the revenue ministers on 6 April. This is a positive sign. The task force has made considerable progress until now by coming out with their directions to state governments as well as by formulating a draft National Right to Homestead Bill. However, we need to incorporate all the suggestions received during the two day convention and also keep building pressure,” Rajagopal added.
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