Conflicts over land on the rise in India

A forum discusses the need to stop illegal land transfers and land alienation of the poor.
22 Oct 2019
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The maldharis from kutch on their own road trip (Image: Malay Maniar, Flickr Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The maldharis from kutch on their own road trip (Image: Malay Maniar, Flickr Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Land-related conflicts in India are on the rise despite some of the most progressive legislations to protect people’s rights over land and forest. Land and forest rights experts and activists from 13 Asian countries including India attended the annual Asia Land Forum, organised by the International Land Coalition Asia. The forum is organised every year, this year’s theme being ‘Land reform for peace and justice in Asia’. The forum, organized at Udaipur in Rajasthan from September 30th to October 4th 2019, discussed issues related to land governance.

Experts from India at the forum insisted that the national land reform draft policy drafted by the Government of India should be opened up for public discussion. The policy should ensure special provisions for the poor, adivasis, dalits, pastoral and nomadic communities, fisherfolk, single women, the landless, small and marginal farmers and other vulnerable communities.

They further maintained that the National Land Acquisition Policy 2013 should be implemented in spirit, especially the provision of ‘consent’ which mandates that 80 percent of the affected people should give their consent to acquisition apart from the formal ‘consent’ of the gram sabha. Fair compensation should be assured to the communities who are directly or indirectly dependent on the land.  

There is also a critical need for state governments to collect and declare gender-disaggregated land data for different caste and communities. Firm steps should be taken to stop illegal land transfers and land alienation of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities. Related policies should be implemented effectively and a dedicated commission should be formed to investigate such cases.

“Land is a political issue and many forces are competing for it with the help of governments,” said Nathaniel D Marquez of The Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC) from the Philippines. As per a land conflict monitoring study conducted by ANGOC, more than 2,100 land conflicts took place in six countries - India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Philippines and Indonesia – from 2012 to 2018, affecting more than 11.2 million people dependent on more than 4 million hectares of land.

Between 1960 and 2004, some 60 million Indians have been displaced due to large government projects, according to the ANGOC study. “Government complicity with these forces is quite visible. On many occasions, governments too have engaged in violent acquisition of land in the name of development, causing large scale displacement, especially of indigenous people,” said Marquez. 

Pastoralists suffer from shrinking grazing lands

The forum discussed the problems facing pastoralists across South Asian countries; these are primarily that common lands are shrinking and there has been a rise in conflicts over the right to graze, which is integral to the survival of pastoral communities. Land rights are protected by laws such as the 2006 Forest Rights Act, but few have been able to claim these rights, as they often lack documentation because of their nomadic status.

“Village commons that herders use for grazing are vulnerable to being grabbed by authorities and village elites for industrial use and other commercial purposes. Herders are not legally recognized, and receive few state benefits,” said Anu Verma of the Maldhari Rural Action Group (MARAG), a herders’ advocacy group that along with other organizations has been mapping rangelands and pastoralist migration routes in South Asia to help secure herders’ rights and reduce conflicts.

Without a national commons policy, and with only a few Indian states having grazing land policies, 35 million pastoralists – mostly in the west, in the Himalayan mountain range, and the Deccan Plateau in the south face growing conflicts over land. They are faced with challenges such as climate change, disruption of migration routes, conflicts and threats from mining. With severe droughts in South Asia, pastoralists are being forced into new migration routes and have to break into smaller groups. This renders them more vulnerable and may force them to settle down.

The forum’s demands and proposed solutions

The forum demanded that the state should, as per the national PESA (Panchayat Extension to Schedule Area) Act 1996, ensure the rights of people over natural resources for their livelihood. CAMPA funds should be used in the interest of people. Further, there is a need to initiate the process of land allotment to tenant farmers who have occupied revenue land for years. Priority should be given to landless farmers and single women.  

A white paper should be prepared based on the analysis of land transactions and the implementation of a land ceiling act in all the states. A National Homestead Land Rights Act should be implemented in all states of the country to ensure land to all the homeless people. A land tribunal should be formed at district and state levels for immediate disposal of land dispute cases. 

Among the six Asian countries, the kinds of land conflicts being seen are most alarming in India, followed by Indonesia. The experts called for special legislation and quick response systems to provide protection and support to defenders of land rights. They also urged for cooperation between countries facing this situation.

Apart from plenary sessions and parallel workshops on land issues, field visits to four different locations near Udaipur were organised, where the participants met local communities. On the last day of the Forum (4th October), Ekta Parishad launched the Jai Jagat 2020 Campaign, a year-long global peace march from India to Geneva that aims to promote non violence in the wake of the deepening social, economical and environmental crises.

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