By Ashok Sircar
August 12, 2013 — The central government of India has released a draft of an ambitious new national land reform policy for public discussion that, if approved and adopted, could help the country end landlessness and extreme rural poverty.
India currently has an estimated 50 million rural landless poor families and tens of millions more who have insecure rights to their land. Both groups are trapped in generational poverty and account for the majority of India’s malnourished and hungry.
The draft national land reform policy, released last month, has five goals:
- Distribute land to all rural landless poor
- Restore land unjustly taken from vulnerable communities such as the Dalits (untouchables) and Tribals
- Protect the land of the Dalits and Tribals including the Commons that they depend on going forward
- Liberalize leasing laws
- Improve land rights of women
The draft policy is largely the result of the efforts of Ekta Parishad, an organization that helped lead a march of tens of thousands to Delhi last year. In an effort to stop the march, the Union Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh signed a 10 point agreement with Ekta Parishad. Several points of the agreement have already been completed, such as: sending recommendations on improving land issues to 13 states, the revision of a rural housing scheme and the presentation of a National Rural Homestead Act which entitles every rural landless family to 10 decimals of land (about a 1/10 of an acre). The draft National Land Reform Policy, published last month, is another step forward by the government in its efforts to fulfill its agreement with Ekta Parishad and the marchers.
While the policy no doubt is historic, many of its elements have been recommended by various committees for decades and some of the recommended programs have already been tested successfully at the state level.
The policy’s call for an end to rural landlessness, for example, builds off existing democratic and market-friendly land reform programs already operating in West Bengal, Karnataka, and Odisha. Already, more than 250,000 families have benefited through these state programs. The programs provide families with tennis court-sized plots—enough land to build a small home and a kitchen garden. Such a program would require less than one-half of one percent of the roughly 400 million acres of India’s present arable land to end landlessness.
Likewise, there has been renewed focus in many states on bolstering women’s land rights. Increasing evidence points to a strong association between women’s land ownership and myriad desired gains, including increased nutrition and schooling for children, and reduced domestic violence. West Bengal now ensures women’s names are included and come first on “pattas” (land titles). And Odisha is working with Landesa to address the needs of widows, abandoned women, and other women-headed households, many of whom are landless and vulnerable in dozens of Women Support Centers across the state.
To read the draft policy in its entirety, click here.
Ashok Sircar is India Program Director of Landesa, a global organization that partners with governments to help secure land rights of the poor. Follow us @Landesa_Global