By PS Krishnan*
A national centrally-funded programme of universal agricultural land distribution to all rural scheduled caste (SC) or Dalit families, and also all rural scheduled (ST) or Adivasi and non-SC-non-ST landless agricultural labour families – and along with them, to all rural landless and poor agricultural labour families – would fulfill the promise of “land to the tiller” of the pre-Independence nationalist movement for Independence.
The decade-old Governors’ Committee Report under the Chairmanship of the late Dr PC Alexander, which has been put on the backburner, has shown that there is enough agricultural land with the government to provide a viable extent of agricultural land to all rural SC families. Some of these lands are alkaline/saline, like the large extents of usar lands in Uttar Pradesh, and they can be reclaimed by available technology and MNREGA labour.
The report of the Group of Ministers on Dalit Affairs (2008) set up in 2005 under the Chairmanship of the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee also made a recommendation in this regard, but it too has been consigned to the backburner.
To complete this long neglected and long-delayed task, essential for striking at the plight of the vast majority of SC families, the Task Force method suggested and detailed in the Report (dated August 1, 2011) of the Sub-Group-I (with myself as chairman) of the Planning Commission and Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment’s Working Group on Empowerment of Scheduled Castes during XII Plan (hereafter “Sub-Group-I”) should be adopted.
Briefly, the Task Force method involves setting up in each Tehsil/Taluk of a small group of empowered officers, namely, a special Tahsildar, a Surveyor and, where necessary, a police officer, with all functional facilities like a jeep, who will go to each village and provide land for every landless SC family by:
- Giving patta to those SC families which are in occupation of Government land for cultivation; and along with them also to landless ST and non-SC-non-ST landless agricultural labour families.
- Evicting ineligible occupants of Government land and giving patta with possession to landless SC families; and after providing for SC families, to all landless ST and non-SC-non-ST agricultural labour families.
- Taking stock of all Government lands which can be straightaway assigned / allotted to landless SC families (locally called by names like Assessed Wastes, Gair-mazaruva-Aam), Bhoodan lands etc, and after providing for SC families, to all landless ST and non-SC-non-ST agricultural labour families.
- Where publicly owned lands are not adequate, by purchase of private land and land acquisition (for latter, a small amendment in the definition of “public purpose” in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 will be required.
This is extremely important for SCs as they have historically emerged as a collectivity of castes prohibited from owning land and, therefore, even now are the largest component of rural landless labour families.
Along with SCs, all rural ST agricultural labour families and non-SC-non-ST rural landless agricultural labour families should also be provided, using Task-Force method on a village to village basis.
Irrigation for all unirrigated but irrigable Dalit, Adivasi lands
These measures along with legislative and other measures for prevention of grabbing of SC lands by others will, at one stroke, enable rural SC families to become economically self-sufficient; liberate themselves from humiliating wage-labour; prevent exposure of their women to labour in others’ fields and compulsion to fall back on child labour to supplement the meagre family income; and improve nutrition, especially that of pregnant and lactating mothers and children, reduce birth underweight and child malnutrition, sharply reduce neonatal, infant and child mortality and release all their children to go to schools where they should be – in all these parameters the figures for the SCs and STs are worse than those for many sub-Saharan African countries and, therefore, the overall figures for India are shameful.
This will also enable them to resist “untouchability” without fear for the next meal. At present if they cross the line of “untouchability” or complain against illegal discrimination, they have to face social and economic boycott and sometimes even atrocities including massacres as in Kilvenmani, Tamil Nadu, Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe, both in Bihar, in all of which all the accused were acquitted, and numerous other instances in different States.
The additional production from their lands will remove all doubts and anxieties about adequacy of supplies of subsidized food under the recently enacted National Food Security Act, 2013.
There is sufficient number of successful examples of this transformation in parts of the country, but what is required is a nation-wide comprehensive programme which can be completed in a short period if the political and administrative heads of the Central and State Governments are determined and goal-oriented.
The programmes above were included in the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of 2004 and were also solemn commitments of the President of India in his Address to the Joint Session of the Parliament in 2004, but no attempt has been made to undertake them and accomplish them till now, despite my periodic reminders.
Restoration of Adivasis’ lost lands
Unlike the SCs, the STs are not a landless class. They have traditionally been owners / collective owners of lands in their territorial homeland. But, after the commodification of land during the colonial rule, their lands are being grabbed by non-tribals. The pace of this dispossession has increased after Independence. On account of tribal revolts like the Santhal rebellion in Bihar (now Jharkhand) and Rampa Fituris in the tribal tracts of coastal Andhra, certain protective regulations prohibiting transfer of ST lands in tribal areas to non-tribals were enacted.
Subsequently in some States legislation to the same effect were enacted. These regulations and legislations now cover 12 States. Such regulations and legislations have to be enacted where they do not exist. Where they exist and where they will be enacted in future, the provisions have to be tightened.
Restoration of lost lands of tribals needs to be completed in one or two years. It will be possible if the Task-Force method is adopted, with a Special Tehsildar and Surveyor for every Tehsil/Taluk in the country which are in the tribal areas or in which there are tribal areas.
Land Banks for Dalits, Adivasis
Once education at all levels is made really accessible and affordable for SCs and STs, and once health and medical care is made universally available, accessible and affordable for all SCs and STs, and once economic measures are fully in position to give them adequate economic competence, there would normally be no reason for SC and ST families to sell their lands under distress conditions.
However, even after this, and in spite of the legislation proposed for prohibiting purchase or occupation of SC lands by non-SCs and the Scheduled Tribes Land Transfer Regulations/ Legislations, existing and proposed, there may be situations in which some SCs, and STs, may have inevitably to sell their lands. To provide for such contingencies, a land bank should be established by the Government of India in each State for buying such lands from them at the market rate and making such lands available to other SCs and STs so that the total pool of lands with SCs and STs is not depleted. Credit