Gujarat’s focus on private landownership does not take into account customary rights, traditional uses of land

land2By Pankti Jog*

Over the last 10 years Gujarat is known as an economically developed state, where land has been used as one of the major resources. The state government has employed central laws like those on special economic zones and land acquisition for large-scale land acquisitions. Wherever the land was not available in one geographic area in a large chunk, the government acquired it by enacting executive orders during the decades since 2000 and a policy by the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) in 2010.

All these initiatives and moves have established two points which have been reinforced over and over again—one, land is a resource that is owned by the government exclusively, and second, the government can change the use of land for economic advancement, even undermining the poor and marginalized peoples’ need for land for survival. In doing so, these processes have undermined food security, users’ rights and land dependency in various ways such as, growing vegetables and fruits in river beds, to collect vegetation-based produce, for grazing animals that have a symbiotic relationship with agricultural practices, to cultivate salt and using land for traditional occupations like leather processing, lime making and pottery and as habitation for nomadic, semi-nomadic and de-notified tribes.

All these uses of land by poor and marginalized communities have been sidelined deliberately; the biodiversities have been neglected and have become extinct; livelihoods of all such families have been badly affected; and their problems of habitation have worsened. The discourse on landownership, use of land as a resource, land economics and politics of land need to be articulated, debated and should be examined from the social justice and distributive perspectives.

Several research studies and legal cases have shown that land acquired for industries is much more than their actual requirements, but has not been returned to the original owners. In such a situation, the sufferers belong to the socially and economically marginalized communities and a majority of the land allotted was wasteland, pastureland and some portions of forestland. The government thus typified wasteland as not usable for agriculture production, but it actually covered three different types of land-padtar (fallow), karabo (shallow and marshalled, including river beds and kofar) and some unused land like hills and lakes. The government needs to be categorical about protecting lives and livelihoods of the people who have been dependent on land for traditional occupations and for habitation.

Out-dated land records and limited functioning of e-records have been major concerns and, therefore, many development activists have been demanding updating of land records. However, we need to look into the process of existing land records from the perspective of marginalization. The existing land records focus mainly on private landownership and other land like wasteland, pasture land and forest land under revenue generation categories, but do not consider customary rights and traditional uses of land for habitation and livelihood in totality. This is one of the causes of inequalities and injustices leading to social conflicts and hegemony over land as an important resource.

Though the government has taken some initiatives for promoting and ensuring private landownership among women, there are several administrative and procedural lapses which need to be resolved. Moreover, the land allotment processes of the government promote privatization of common property resources (CPRs) and undermine adverse impacts on the lives of women, depriving them of day-to-day household needs, nutrition, medicinal use and healthcare.

Land market is at its peak in Gujarat. As agriculture seems to be less profitable for farmers, and under various circumstances it also becomes non-viable, agricultural land has been sold. These are private landholdings and owners have got prices that were earlier unimaginable. However, the agriculture labour force, depending on the land for employment, does not get recognized as affected and, obviously, does not get any returns or rehabilitation. This is leading to distress migration. This can be clearly observed in south Gujarat.

Industries are invited to Gujarat for investments. Various procedures, like converting agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, have been liberalized to attract these industries. Salt, chemical, mining and energy industries are consuming huge tracts of land and are also demanding more. The government does not have a ‘Land Use and Land Management’ policy.

Biodiversity Act (2002) has not been implemented. Hence, privatization of CPRs is done without recognizing communities’ dependency on biodiversity for food security and livelihood.

Distribution/Assignment/Allotment of Land by the Government: Existing Policies

Government wasteland, uncultivated fallow land, ceiling surplus land, land acquired under the Gujarat Land Ceiling Act (1951) and land received as part of the Bhoodan movement is allotted to landless communities for agriculture/horticulture purposes. Such land is also allotted to individuals or collectives of individuals, on lease for cultivation. Data from the Revenue Department of the Gujarat government shows that the state has 32.37 lakh ha of barren/wasteland and till 2011 it had distributed 10.81 per cent of the TGA of wasteland. It had also distributed 1.45 lakh acres of ceiling surplus land to about 33,312 persons and 50,984 acres of Bhoodan land had been distributed to 10.270 families,

Land allotted/distributed with titles has to be physically identified and mapped and possession has to be given to the beneficiary. This process, called khunta mapni, has not been observed. Thus, significant numbers of beneficiaries have not got possession of land. The allotted land is encroached upon and the beneficiaries have no capabilities to clear it and take possession. The quality of the allotted land is very poor (non-cultivable, saline), which requires a lot of inputs to make it cultivable.

Protection/Restoration/Development of Land of Dalits, STs and Marginalized Communities

Under land allotment procedures, there is a provision in the policy to extend support for cultivation on given land. In addition, there are separate welfare schemes that support marginalized famers with subsidized seeds, fertilizer kits, etc. But, once the land is allotted, there is no mechanism by which a beneficiary is linked to the existing assistance programme in agriculture. Thus, most of the time without extension of other facilities, like access to water resources, formal credit, crop insurance and capacity building, it becomes difficult for the beneficiary to sustain himself, defeating the objective of providing sustaining livelihood and food security to landless communities. Land received under ceiling surplus/Bhoodan/wasteland cannot be sold or transferred as per conditions in the allotment letter.

The priority list for land allotment excludes two most marginalized categories: NT-DNTs and women. Also, there is no specific provision for allotment of land in joint names of husband and wife, depriving the wife of property ownership. In the case of leased land, the renewal procedure is tedious. There are cases where the community has worked hard to make barren land cultivable and the government is refusing to renew the lease.

Women and Land Ownership

The Gujarat government accepted the Gender Equity Policy (GRP) in 2005. A provision has also been made for 2 percent concession in stamp duty for women buying property. After amendments to the Hindu Succession Act, daughter and son are given equal share in ancestral property. Also, there is a separate GR which mentions that a house allotted under the Indira Awas Yojana will be in a woman’s name.

Several land issues need to be looked into from the gender perspective, especially where women’s land rights are violated or not exercised, and women’s status is deteriorated due to various social, cultural and political reasons which are deterring this process. For instance, privatization of CPRs deprives women of livelihoods, day-to-day household needs, nutrition, medicinal use and healthcare.

Women are seen as a monolithic group by the state government and, therefore, issues of single women, or female-headed households, and women belonging to socially and economically marginalized communities are neglected, or not given due importance, or priority for land allocation, or land use for livelihood purposes. No sex-aggregated data on landownership is available. As a result, women are not able to prove their ownership or right over land or over shelter. Not having assets in a woman’s name tends to contribute to increasing violence and crime against women and deterioration in their socioeconomic status. Not updating latest landholder titles leads to social conflict and corruption, with women suffering the most. Overall, women’s landownership is very low, and single women face a typical set of issues for not possessing land allotted to them in the past under land reforms.

Though the government has taken some initiatives for promoting and ensuring private land ownership among women, there are several administrative and procedural lapses and hassles, for example, a nominal number of varsai is done where women’s names are registered; very few cases of joint ownership of land in the husband and wife’s name are registered; and review and monitoring of and given to female-headed households under land reforms has not been done.

Nomadic and De-notified Tribes

NT-DNTs constitute over 8 percent of the total population of Gujarat, that is about 70 lakhs (7 million). Out of 40 NT-DNT communities, about 25 are still to be considered as most marginalized. Their traditional occupations, like providing original cattle breeds, snake charming, rope dancing, sharpening of knives and swords, taking out hair from cattle, providing mud for building mud houses, making bamboo baskets, playing musical instruments, rope making and making mud idols are becoming irrelevant with changes in the rural economy. There is no proactive approach in providing them alternative livelihoods; thus these communities are caught in the vicious circle of poverty and migration. Not more than 30 percent of the communities have received benefits of development and welfare programmes of the state. There is a situation of acute food insecurity in NT-DNTs. Women from NT-DNTs are forced to work as sex workers.

A separate department – Vīkasati Jati  Kalyan Khatu – looks into the welfare of backward classes. There are various schemes being implemented by the department for the welfare of backward classes. In 2003, the government passed resolution No JMN/332003/454/A dated 5/6/2003, that gives authority to a district collector to allot a housing plot, free of any cost, to NT-DNT communities, irrespective of their BPL status. There is a separate resolution for regularizing settlements on government waste land by charging a token amount, as decided by the government.

Because of their nomadic lifestyle, none of the NT-DNT communities possess any land; they also do not have civil identification. They are settled on wastelands and/or pastureland in the village. The GR of 2003 does not talk of allotting housing plots from village-side land to these communities. Thus, villagers oppose their settling down near villages, thereby depriving them of basic facilities like education and health services. The Gujarat government passed a resolution allotting land to NT-DNTs for a housing scheme. There is also a provision for regularizing encroachments for settlement by most backward communities. But the community is not aware of this and nor are there any proactive efforts to reach to them by the panchayats, or the concerned department like Vikasati Jati Kalyan Khatu. Thus, when the government decides to deviate wasteland for industrial or bio-fuel purposes, there is no process or procedure by which such settlements can be regularized

NT-DNT communities depend on CPRs like wastelands, pastures and fallow land in various ways. Some striking facts about gauchar (pasture) land are:

  1. out of 18,000 villages, not a single pastureland is without encroachments;
  2. of these villages, 400 have no pastureland left;
  3. GRs of 2004 allow allotment of pastureland for industrial purposes by charging 30 percent extra costs premium; and
  4. there is no data available in the public domain that provides information about the extent of pastureland and the extent that has been converted to wasteland and allotted for industrial purpose.

The Indian Express reported that 1.16 lakh sq. mt of land is given away for other purposes (April 22, 2012). There are violations of the GR that provides for the survival of domesticated animals on grazing land, which snatch away traditional livelihoods of about 7 per cent of the population (about 40 lakh) that is engaged in pastoral activities.

No official data is available on the use of common land (wasteland, grazing land) by pastoralist communities in Gujarat. In the absence of mapping of land use, especially for pastoral activities, the use of land for various purposes like migration, temporary settlements and use of CPRs for fuel and other purposes are overlooked. The overlooking of such basic necessary pastoral activities is then portrayed as violation and illegal activity by the state machinery and the people are penalized for these activities,

Common Property Resources – Existing Policies

Privatization of CPRs is an issue of great concern. A huge amount of land is being allotted to industries under the fast track-single window clearance system. To avoid administrative hurdles, the fast track system bypasses the cross-checking mechanism that may have recognized user rights or livelihood dependency of the marginalized communities. The district administration admits huge political pressures for speeding up procedures during allotment of land to industries.

The second biggest challenge is huge encroachments for mining, salt making and other activities by socially, economically and politically powerful elements. No data on illegal mining or encroachments of barren land for industrial purposes is provided in the public domain. Such illegal use is done without following any norms for conserving the environment. Eventually this not only contaminates the land used, but also nearby resources like water and agricultural, cultivable land. Lack of transparent, consultative procedures for deviating CPRs for industrial purposes deprives communities of their right of being heard.

Lease tenures on CPRs to industries is very long (as long as 99 years). Most of the time the communities are not aware of the fact that the land has been given on lease and has not been allotted permanently. There is no effective monitoring by the government for violations. The biggest issue is the lack of transparency in procedures. The conditions of the lease are not known to the panchayat, nor are they disclosed on the website (though giving details under RTI is mandatory).

Forest Rights Act, PESA and its Implementation

The Forest Rights Act and the Gujarat Panchayati Amendment Act are two historic legislations that recognize land rights of tribal and forest-dwelling communities. There is a high rate of rejections of IFR claims across the state. In their initial presentations to the State Level Forest Rights Committee, government officials had explained that in the initial phase of implementation, mass publicity and political activism resulted in a large number of false or duplicate claims as also fresh encroachments, and that subsequent verifications through satellite imagery resulted in their rejection – out of 1.82 lakh claims, 1.15 lakhs were rejected.

The state has not started implementing the Forest Rights Act in non-scheduled areas. Hence, even the first step of forming FRCs, sub-divisional level committees (SDLCs) and district level committees (DLCs) has not been taken. Problems will start appearing only after the process of implementation begins. An issue on which a clarification needs to be issued, is the status of salt-pan workers. Many agariyas have been making (‘cultivating’) salt in the Little Rann of Kutch (part of the Wild Ass Sanctuary) for the last many years and hence, their right to do so needs to be recognized under this Act. But, it is not clear as to which provision of the act would appły to this.

In Gujarat, 13 districts have talukas, which fall under Schedule 5 of the Constitution. The PESA (Panchayats Extension for Scheduled Areas) Act (1995), gives powers to tribal panchayats and gram sabhas in Schedule 5 areas to take decisions on matters relating to the development of local areas and the community. In accordance with the PESA Act, the Government of Gujarat came up with the Gujarat Panchayat Amendment Act (GPAA) (1998), which integrated the Gujarat Panchayat Act (1993), and the provisions under PESA Act (1995). However, the state Act of 1998, unlike the central Act, included sentences and words that undermine the independent functioning of tribal panchayats.

PESA Act makes it mandatory to consult the gram sabha or panchayat at the appropriate level for granting concessions for the exploitation of minor minerals by auction. The Gujarat Panchayat Amendment Act (GPAA) does not incorporate any provisions regarding grant of licenses, mining leases for minor minerals or grant of concessions for the exploitation of minor minerals by auction. Provisions under PESA – like land-based or CPR-based incomes should be deposited with the concerned village panchayat – are not observed. In districts like Daang and Surat, such income has been asked to be deposited with the district panchayat, which is in contradiction with the Act.

*Excerpts from Chapter 4, “Gujarat: Land Rights of Marginalized Communities”, in the just-released book, “Land to the Tiller: Revisiting the Unfinished Land Reforms Agenda”, published by Action Aid

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