A draft of national land reforms policy will be developed within six months by a task force chaired by the rural development minister
Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, on Thursday 11 October, signed a 10-point agreement with the leader of the movement PV Rajagopal of NGO Ekta Parishad, resulting in the dispersal of the massive protest march to Delhi. Thousands landless farmers, who were marching to New Delhi demanding land for the landless and shelter for the homeless, dispersed from Agra after the agreement was reached. The agitators had started their march on 2 October from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh to make their grievances heard by undertaking what soon became the first ever movement of its kind in recent times.
“We are calling off our march as the government has agreed to set up a task force which will draft a national land reforms policy within six months,” announced Rajagopal to approximately 20,000 people assembled on the COD grounds at Agra.
The task force, which will comprise 11 members including the chairperson, will meet first on 17 October and Ramesh has proposed that it meets every day till the draft is ready. The representatives of Ministry of Panchayati Raj and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs will also be its members along with civil society experts on land reforms. “Most of the acts such as Right to Information, Forest Rights Act etc took time to take shape. We are starting a process for a similar statutory backing for land,” said Ramesh.
In his address to the agitators, Ramesh said that the task force in consultation with the state governments and the civil society will try to evolve a policy that would ensure agricultural land and homestead rights for the landless and the homeless respectively. “The Centre cannot run away from the political responsibility of bringing about land reforms, but you should continue to put pressure on the state governments,” he said pointing to the fact that the Constitution of India has given the responsibility of taking decisions about land to the state governments.
The rural development minister has also agreed to bring a proposal before the Cabinet to increase the funding twice over for homestead under Indira Awas Yojna and create fast-track tribunals for speedy disposal of land related cases. Provisions for providing legal aid to Dalits, tribals and other vulnerable communities in need of help has also been agreed on and the Central government is likely to issue an advisory to state governments soon for enhancing access to land for marginal communities by better implementation of the existing acts.
After the agreement was signed, most of the people marching in the rally celebrated the symbolic win by waving the green and white flags of Ekta Parishad and dancing and singing to indigenous songs. Most of them were hopeful of getting a piece of land for themselves in six months despite Ramesh asking them to be cautious about it. Binny Bai, a woman in her 60s and living with her daughter in Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh) said, “If we don’t get land in the next six months we will come again to march to Delhi whenever Rajaji (Rajagopal) calls us.”
Prakhar Jain is a Correspondent with Tehelka.