Land policy in India has been a major topic of government policy discussions since the time India was getting ready for independence from British rule.
‘Land to the Tiller’ policy of the Congress Party induced peasants of this country to back Independence movement in the hope that Independence would bring an equitable land policy for the common Indians.
British rulers had taken a cue from the then existing land revenue system and allowed the continuance of non-cultivating intermediaries. Parasitic, rent-seeking intermediaries and differential land revenue were major characteristics of the agrarian structure of the British regime.
The Indian National Congress incorporated the following in its Election Manifesto of 1946 as their agrarian policy – (1) abolition of intermediaries (2) existence of peasant farming and co-operative farming side by side and (3) development of industries for absorption of surplus labour from land.
Immediately after Independence, the Indian National Congress appointed the Congress Agrarian Reforms Committee.
The committee submitted its report in July 1949. The main recommendations of the committee were: (1) abolition of intermediaries, (2) creation of economic holdings and fixation of ceiling on land holdings, (3) encouragement of co-operative farming, (4) conferment of permanent, inheritable and transferable rights in land to tenant, (4) protection of tenants against rack-renting, (6) restriction on subletting, (7) improvement of the lot of agricultural labour and (8) provision of adequate credit facilities.
This Committee’s report recommended comprehensive agrarian reform measures.
These policies reflect the aspiration of the then political activists of this country who made their sincere effort to establish socialistic aspiration in every sphere of polity and practices.
The factors that influenced the evolution of all India land reform policy have also led to the formulation of land reform policy in Assam.
The basic idea of land reforms in Assam was based on the socio-political opinion in the country. The Reports of the Land Revenue Commission, Bengal and Famine Enquiry Commission had a great influenced in land reform opinions and therefore the Government of Assam decided to abolish Zamindari system and to protect the interest of adhiars (share-croppers).
Before the Planning Commission announced its land reform policy under the first Five Year Plan, one Bill was presented in the State Legislative Assembly in 1948. This Bill became an Act in 1951 and it incorporated the provision of abolition of intermediaries.
Another Bill was passed in the same year for the regulation of share tenancy. The subsequent land reforms Acts of the Assam State Legislative Assembly were based on the principles laid down by the Planning Commission and these were amended from time to time with a view to bring them in line with all India land reform policy.
The important land reform Acts like The Assam Adhiars Protection and Regulation Act, 1948,The Assam State Acquisition of Zamindaris Act, 1951,The Assam Fixation of Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, 1956,The Assam State Acquisition of Lands Belonging to Religious and Charitable Institution of Public Nature Act, 1959 , The Assam Consolidation of Holdings Act, 1960 etc are enacted in Assam since independence with an objective to redistribute the land to the actual tillers and landless people for enabling the Indian state to become self-sufficient in the food production.
The post independent land policies of Assam also reflects the similar intention of our legislatures and policy makers through which maximum of emphasis was given in land settlement as well as distribution among the landless.
The government land policies of the 1968, 1972 and 1989 had expressly acknowledged the failure of the government to address the land settlement problem and it was decided that as the total availability of cultivable lands in the state was limited, land allotment should be in a selective manner.
The land policy of 1989 has realized the growth of population and increase in the industrial and other development activities in the state. This policy specifically mentioned about certain factors that are responsible for scarcity of lands in the state.
These were: i) Increase in population due to (a) normal growth in the state and (b) influx of persons from outside of the state, ii) Occurrence of (a) floods in every year rendering land unfit due to silting and (b) erosions eating away both homestead and agricultural land at various places. iii) Rapid industrialization and urbanization causing decrease in agricultural land, iv) Acquisition of land for various development schemes and projects including construction of roads, bundhs, dykes and the like resulting in decrease in agricultural land, v) Establishment of various educational institutions and other social institutions of public nature resulting in decrease in agricultural land, vi) Acquisition of private land and transfer of government land for the purpose of central governments departments, corporation and other public undertakings/organizations like ONGC, OIL, P&T, Defence, Railways etc resulting in decrease in agricultural land.
The 1989 policy categorically assured to provide land settlement to the indigenous landless people in the state both in the urban and rural areas with certain stipulated conditions. This is the last land policy of the government of Assam which became obsolete as most of the promises of this policy have not been implemented by the successive governments of the state.
Now instead of revisiting these earlier promises, the present ruling government bypassing the constitutional premises of equity and social justice, is trying to evict the landless people from their dwelling and at the same time qualifying the government action as a positive stride for protecting the land of tribal belt and block, religious institution, wetland and other government land by evicting the illegal encroachers.
We must remember that due to the historical injustice done to the indigenous people of the region in the bureaucratic process of land settlement, as well as depriving their community rights over the land and other natural resources made these people landless in their own homeland.
Before embracing any eviction drive against theses local people, Government should tender apology for its historical failure in implementing the successive progressive land policies adopted after Independence.
Moreover, government moves are obviously aimed at facilitating a corporate takeover of agricultural land and thereby deprive the marginal poor people of this country from their basic right of life and settlement.
The process of liberalization has already faded out the land reforms from the public consciousness and vested interests of landed elite and their powerful nexus with the political –bureaucratic system have blocked this process.
Hence, a progressive and proper legislation is very much essential to prevent land grabbing by the big corporate and to fulfil the constitutional commitment.
Kishor Kumar Kalita is a commentator based in Guwahati and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org