Thursday, February 21, 2013

Gujarat's land-use policy favours industry, undermines rights of the poor, says document

A landless woman in the Little Rann
By Our Representative
A recent document, sponsored by the Union ministry of rural development’s department of land resources, on land rights of socially and economically marginalized communities of Gujarat, based on consultation with several voluntary organizations, has said that Gujarat is well-established as economically developed state, but regrets unabashed use of land “as one of the major resources” towards achieving this aim. Employing central laws for large-scale land acquisition, the document, prepared by senior activist Pankti Jog for Janpath, regrets, “Wherever the land was not available in one geographic area in large chunk, the government has acquired land through enacting executive orders during  2000s and a policy by the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) in 2010.”
The document says, “One of the major threats is large scale-land acquisition for industries to augment industrialization. The series of Vibrant Gujarat summits have started procedures like ‘single window’ and ‘fast track’ for land allotment to the industries.” However, this has led to a “dangerous move”, where the agriculture land is being used by the industry by getting the non-agriculture certificate with retrospective effect.
The industry has merely to prove that the land is used for “bona fide industrial purpose”. This is happening against the backdrop of several research studies and legal cases which show “land acquired for industries is much more than the actual requirement of the industries but never been returned to the original owners”, the document points out, adding, “In such situation, the sufferers belong to the socially and economically marginalized communities and majority of land allotted belonged to the wasteland, pasture land and some portion of forest land.”
The document quotes Gujarat government records to say that it has 32.37 lakh hectares (ha) of barren/wasteland, which has been distributed 10.81 per cent of the landless till 2011. Moreover, it has also distributed 1.46 lakh Acres of ceiling surplus land to about 33,312 persons. Also, 50,984 acres of ‘Bhoodan land’ has been distributed to 10,270 families. However, the NGO consultation suggested that “provision of allotment of land to land-less communities gets less priority in the series of tasks lying with district revenue administration. It is not looked as major ‘factor’ contributing to empowerment of marginalized by creating their access to ‘resources’”, the document says, adding, “Land allotted/distributed with titles, has to be physically identified, mapped and possession to be given to the beneficiary. This process is called ‘Khunta Mapni’, which is not observed. Thus, significant numbers of beneficiaries have not got possession of the land. Allotted land is encroached and beneficiaries have no capability to clear it and take the possession. Quality of the allotted land is very poor (non-cultivable, saline) and required lot of inputs to make it cultivable.”
The document says, a total of “1,03,530 acres of land was gifted by people under the Bhoodan Movement in Gujarat. Out of this over 50 per cent, or 52,586 acres, was left with Bhoodan Samiti and the government.” Physical verification of the left-over land has not been carried out. Available land should be distributed to landless communities”, it recommends, adding, “Gujarat government policy of identification and regularization of encroachment of government land for habitation/homestead or as primary livelihood source of most marginalized communities need to be implemented in true sense and spirit.”
The document underlines that there no decentralized and time-bound grievances redressal mechanism available for the protection of land of the Dalits, tribals, and marginalized communities. “There is no target based monitoring of implementation/violation of existing policies. Non-availability of data/disclosures village, block, district and state is another reason for large scale illegal, or false transfers of land”, the document says, adding, “As per RTI queries that are posted on the RTI helpline till Dec 2012, nearly 13.6 per cent of total of 1.12 lakh queries were related to land, where common citizen are filing RTI to acquire documents of their piece of land”, it says, adding, “Incidences of violations of procedures to cross check title, type of the land are increasing. Land dealers are becoming powerful and are playing key role in such cases.”
The document regrets, “In some of the cases land holders are not aware of such transfer of ownership rights, and once transfer procedure is completed, it becomes difficult for them to fight this out in the court. In some remarkable cases like self-immolation of RTI user Jabardan Gadhvi – Kutch, or case of Manjulaben Thakor or illegal transfer of land, the nexus between notary, land agent, and revenue officers at village, block and district level is seen clearly”.
The document says that a total of 85,176 acres of ceiling surplus land has been distributed to Dalit communities in Gujarat. “However, due to various social and political reasons, communities could not get possession of the same. Communities individually were struggling to get the possession. Last year, 200 families got possession of 6574 acres of land in Banaskantha and 2398 families got possession of 12438 acres of land in Surendrangar district. District administration of both the districts put pro-active efforts in giving possession of this land. This initiative and was facilitated and supported by civil society organizations”, the document says, recommending, “This initiative in Banaskantha district need to be documented and replicated for other districts by the government.”
It also recommends that land allotted by government to Dalit communities under various land reforms should not be acquired for any other purpose. “For example, during survey and settlement process of Wild Ass Sanctuary in Little Rann of Kutch, total of 1986 families received land received under land reforms policy and put their claims for recognizing their rights. Out of these 902 claims were rejected. Thus, the land allotted to these families will be re-acquired for the sanctuary”, the document says.
Coming to the Nomadic and De-notified Tribes (NT-DNT), the document says, these constitute over 8 per cent of total population of Gujarat, that is about 70 lakh. “Out of 40 NT-DNT communities around 25 communities are still to be considered as most marginalized ones. Their traditional occupations like providing original breed of cattle, snake charming, rope dancing , sharpening of knives, swords, taking our hair from cattle, providing mud for building mud-house, making bamboo baskets, play musical instruments, rope making, making idols out of mud etc. are becoming irrelevant with change in rural economy. Lack of pro-active approach in providing alternative livelihood, thus are caught in vicious circle of poverty and migration. Not more than 30 per cent of the communities have received benefits of development & welfare programmes of the state. There is a situation of acute food insecurity among NT-DNTs. Womenfolk of NT-DNTs, are forced to work as sex workers”, the document points out.
These NT-DNT communities, it emphasizes, “depend on common property resources like wasteland, pastures, fallow land, etc. in various ways. Their migration route passes through common property resource, they collect honey, make charcoal, they collect herbs/shrubs and sell them, they grow vegetable, seasonal fruits, collect bamboo to make baskets etc and mainly for habitation. The Gujarat government has passed resolution of allotting land to NT-DNTs for housing scheme. Also, there is a policy for regularization of encroachment for settlement by most backward communities. But neither the community is aware of it, nor there are pro-active efforts to reach to them by panchyats. Thus, when government decides to deviate ‘wasteland’ for industrial or bio-fuel purpose, there is no process or procedure by which such settlements can be regularized.”
In fact, the document says, the striking facts about pasture land are: “(a) out of 18,000 villages, not a single pasture land is without encroachment; (b) Of these villages, 400 villages have no pasture land left; (c) the Government Resolutions of 2004 allows allotment of pasture land for industrial purpose by charging 30 per cent extra cost (premium); and (d) there is no data available in public domain that provides information about extent of pasture land.” As reported in the media, 1.16 lakh sq metres of land have already been “given away for other purposes”. In the light of these facts, one finds that (1) there is no official data available regarding existing pasture land and its status; how much of pasture land have been turned into wasteland and have been allotted to the industries in last decade. (2) There is a violation observed of Government resolution that ensures survival of domesticated animals on grazing land, which snatches away traditional livelihood of about 7% of population (about 40 lakhs) that is engaged in pastoral activities”.
The situation is such that “no official data is available on use of common land wasteland, grazing land) by pastrolist communities in Gujarat. In the absence of mapping of and use, especially for pastoral activities, the use of land for various purposes like migration, temporary settlements, use of common property resources for fuel and other purposes are overlooked. And the overlooking of such basic necessary pastoral activities are then portrayed as ‘violation’ and ‘illegal activity’ by the state machinery and they are penalized for these activities“.

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