Theme 2017-05-27T19:15:16+00:00

Reclaiming Land as a Source of Life and Livelihood

Land is not merely a source of livelihood but it should be recognized as the matrix in which life is sustained. Hence, the culture represented by “Agri-culture”, of diversity, relationship and mutuality must be lifted up as one that re-produces, sustains and enhances life on this earth. Land and agriculture should not be viewed solely in terms of productivity and profit but rather as the backbone of the livelihood security system for 70 Crore of our population and a basic requisite for food sovereignty and national sovereignty. More over, they should be seen as essential to the survival of the human race, and the earth.

The post independence slogan of “Land to the Tiller” was not motivated by any socialist intentions, but rather reflected the enlightened self-interest of a society that was facing the pressures of industrialization. Land and its productivity were important to even the non-producers of food. It was in their interest that land was to be given over to those who would till the land and that they were encouraged to produce a surplus. Thus, the industrial and business classes ensured that their food requirements would be met by the surplus production by the farming community. Naturally, farmers also began to look upon agricultural not only as a means of livelihood but also as engaging in surplus production and associated value production. Thus, we have traveled much from subsistence farming to market and export oriented agro-business and hence, a romanticized view of land and agriculture does not hold much water. Nobody will engage in agriculture unless it rewards him with good profit. This is the economic and cultural backdrop in which we try to look at the issue of Land.

There is no longer a land issue in the abstract, but the groups that are fighting for it and the location of these groups decide its meanings and contours. Today, particularly in urban areas, a large section of the employees and the industrial workers simply need a place to stay. With growing urbanization and migration of the rural poor to the urban areas, the need for house sites for the poor will increase. While “land to the tiller’ is still a live issue, “land to the dweller” is going to assume increasing importance, especially in urban areas with associated class tensions and conflicts.

For the Dalits and tribals in rural and forest areas, land is still a means of livelihood, a means of survival, and more importantly, a means of gaining social status as they have been denied the right to own land for centuries. Thus, land ownership reflects or determines the existing social relations within a rural society. Control and management of land for them is a question of reclaiming their life and dignity as human beings.

For the real estate business, land is something that would appreciate in value and hence to be sought after as a commodity in the market. Taking advantage of the rural distress, they appropriate prime farm lands close to the metropolitan cities, often classified as land under agricultural use. These lands are then converted into housing sites, high-rise apartment complexes, palatial farm houses surrounded by manicured gardens and lawns, as well as the sites for their occasional rest and recreation. They are also turned into shopping malls, and other facilities that serve the interests of this elite section of society.

For the proponents of neo-liberal economic agenda, land and its resources are seen as basic requirements to establishing mega industries, and thereby attract investments. What we witness today is the government’s role in acquiring large acres of farm lands and even forcibly evicting farmers from their lands to be given over to private corporations at nominal price for their industrial initiatives to create their own private enclaves (SEZs) where they are protected from most of the laws of the land. In fact, this leads to the further marginalization of a sizable population from land and livelihood resulting in growing class tensions. Initially, in the context of the agrarian crisis, the small farmers may find the price of land very attractive and may be willing to sell the land at a “good” price, but once the amount that they got from the sale is frittered away in consumption and is not used in ways that will sustain themselves over time, they also end up as ‘the garbage heap’ in the outskirts of the metropolises. It is these conflicting interests and pressures that make land issue so complex and volatile. Hence, today, it cannot be brought under the rubric of one slogan, “the land to the tiller”

Hence, it is important to clarify Chethana’s slogan “Reclaiming Land as a Source of Life and Livelihood”. The slogan defines our constituency, our perspective and our commitment. Dalits, tribals and the rural artisans were the original people of the land.  Their life was intrinsically related to land and its resources; land represented life for them – life as embedded in a relationship of interdependence and mutuality. They acknowledged earth as the matrix of their existence. In relation to land, agriculture represented a way of life, a culture marked by respect for diversity, inter-relationship and interdependence. Land, agriculture and associated industrial activities (rural arts and crafts) have been for them a means of livelihood. Today, not only are they unable to take advantage of the liberal economic policies, but are also displaced from land and their livelihoods and left to face the brunt of agrarian crisis sweeping through rural India. We would like to reclaim the very understanding of land as a living system, as the vary basis of our life, as a means of survival and livelihood, and as essential to food sovereignty and national sovereignty. In short, Chethana is taking up the challenge of ensuring the rather difficult balance among livelihood security, ecological conservation, and sustainable income generation.

Around 65% of the population lives in rural areas. Land is at the center of rural life in India. Land is inherently valuable, and it generates value. Land can provide a household with physical, financial, and nutritional security. It provides a laborer with a source of wage. It enhances one’s credit worthiness. Land provides the base for many farming and non-farming livelihood options. It is a basis for identity and status. Most of all, it acts as the support base for a wide variety of flora and fauna and a sustainable and life-enhancing ecosystem.

Landlessness and rural poverty are closely linked. India has the greatest concentration of rural households that are totally landless – 60 million households. Another 250 million rural residents live in households that own less than 0.2 hectares of land. The absolute landless and small land holders (those owning less than 0.2 ha of land) account for as much as 43% of the total peasant households. Between 31% and 35% of the total agricultural labor force is landless. Landlessness has been institutionalized, with Dalits, tribal people and women being kept out of ownership of land, thus forcing them to eke out a living in agricultural labor. This entrenched and systemic caste and patriarchy is furthered through their landlessness.

According to the 1991 census, 64% of Dalits and 36% of Adivasis (tribal population) are agricultural laborers, who do not own land and have to work as unregistered sharecroppers, unrecognized temporary tenants and agricultural laborers for subsistence without any security. The majority of the tribal people live by collecting and selling minor forest produce (MFP) and producing articles out of forest produce like bamboo and cane. Millions of women in India critically depend on land for livelihood. Even when men have moved from agriculture to non-farm labor, women have typically stayed with agriculture. Hence, a disproportionate number of women still depend on land for livelihood. In India, while 78% of all women workers and 86% of all rural female workers are in agriculture, only 58% of all male workers continue in it.

For women, land is not just for agriculture or ensuring food and nutritional security; it is linked to a whole lot of other basic needs like firewood, water, rearing cows, goats, hens, horticulture, and a base of operation for a number of diverse non-farm livelihood activities, which are all part of an ecologically sound and sustainable lifecycle. While they may not be producers of profit, they play a crucial role in the sustenance and regeneration of life. Evidence also shows that women from poor households spend most of their earnings to meet household needs, while men spend a significant part of their earnings on personal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, etc.

Of the Indian poor, 40% are landless agricultural laborers; 45% are small or marginal farmers (60% of Indian farmers own less than an acre of land). This means that 85% of the poor are either landless or marginal farmers whose survival and livelihood is related to land. Hence, Chethana’s campaign for livelihood will be carried forward by the rural constituency of Dalits, tribal, women, small and marginal farmers and rural artisans on the issues of land and water and other natural resources and the livelihood options depending on them with the special emphasis on agriculture and enhancement of the life and dignity.

The Campaign and associated slogan, focusing on ‘Reclaiming Land as a Means of Life and Livelihood’, becomes more poignant in the context of acute rural distress characterized by abysmally poor agricultural growth (2%), declining employment especially in agriculture and allied sectors, migration in large numbers from villages, fall in prices of agricultural commodities, growing debt and farmers’ suicides and putting up of whole villages for sale. The rural distress has shown drastic spurt during the liberalization years, during and after ‘90s, with declining government spending in public expenditure, rural development, and agriculture and reduced access to cheap and easy credit facilities in rural areas.

Making the situation worse and taking advantage of the rural distress, under the active agency of the government, large tracts of agricultural lands are acquired for SEZs, mega industrial projects, IT parks, mining, and so called developmental activities. The real estate agents and the beneficiaries of the ‘economic boom’ are also buying up large areas of rural lands, both for speculative investment and also for developing housing sites with all the paraphernalia for their luxurious living and spending. While, these result in displacement of a large section people from their hearth and home, what is often forgotten is the livelihood impact they have on large sections of the landless, unorganized laborers who eke out a living from agriculture and allied mini-business and industrial activities. Displacement from land also means alienation from natural resources, even from something as basic to life as water, which negatively impacts their lives and livelihoods which are based upon such natural resources. What we witness today is a spatial, social, economic and political marginalization of a large section of the Indian population from their hearth, home and livelihood; they are turned into “internal refugees”.

This is the context in which Chethana undertakes the campaign focusing on Land as source of life and livelihood with a three pronged strategy of

  1. Mobilizing people on the issue of land rights: Since landlessness and rural poverty are linked, according to Chethana, providing entitlement to land for the majority of the landless is a necessary pre-condition for removing rural distress. It is also necessary to meet the goals of social justice, human dignity and a livelihood base for the most deprived. Though this in itself may not be sufficient to remove rural poverty or make agriculture a viable economic activity, it will provide the economic and ecological base for a sustainable agricultural entrepreneurship. The issue of landlessness has been dealt with in post independence period through the redistribution of land using legislated land ceilings, tenancy reforms, and abolition of the intermediaries. However the land reforms were not properly carried out in many states mainly due to the lack of political will and the collusion of the administration with the propertied caste elites using many loopholes in the land reform acts.

Hence, our efforts would involve putting pressure on the government to implement land reforms in letter and spirit and address the issue with a renewed focus on revising the ceiling limits and exempted categories, improving land revenue administration, quality of land, and meeting the challenge of miniscule holdings. We also must work toward identifying fraudulent and illegal land holdings by the rich and work towards its distribution or access to the poor.

The concern for land entitlement has taken on a new dimension in the context of land alienation that is taking place in two fronts. One is the forced displacement of people from land, from hearth and home, and livelihood through such initiative as Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Coastal Management Zones (CMZs), Agro-business, and such other developmental initiatives prompted by neo-liberal economic considerations to bring in foreign or national direct investment. The other is migration of people from rural areas in search of employment and even selling of the whole village and people moving out to urban centers in search of livelihood with associated social costs in the context of mounting agrarian crisis.

It is important that the government involve in the lives of people with ‘crisis intervention strategies’ that will address the issues of hunger, severe malnutrition and death primarily of women and children and death, which prompt people to migrate to urban centers with associated consequences. It is in this context that the governmental schemes such as NREGA and FFW become very significant and that Chethana’s involvement with facilitating their mobilization around these programs become necessary.

NREGA, in addition to giving 100 days of labor and thus enhancing their income, increases the bargaining capacity of the worker, establishes the concept of minimum wages and gender parity. It also provides for a platform for people to come together and addresses the needs of the community for roads, canals, water reservoirs and such other basic infrastructure needs for further development.

  1. Promoting of sustainable and ecologically sound agricultural Practices Chethana is committed to promote an evergreen revolution that would enhance productivity of land in perpetuity without associated ecological harm. It is not to go back to the past but to integrate the past into the present with adequate scientific basis so that agriculture is made economically rewarding and intellectually satisfying and undertaken with social and ecological commitment. Small and marginal farmers, who constitute 25 percent of the global farming population, have to lead this revolution. This would involve linking scientific and research and Training institutions with sustainable and organic agriculture practices and evolving more and better practices that can stand the scrutiny of scientific investigations and can be applied to larger areas of land and made acceptable to greater number of people. The goal is to make organic and sustainable agriculture a movement with participation of people (small and marginal farmers) both in the development and maintenance of land, water and other essential natural resources and also their conservation with the formation of farmer’s collectives. Attempts must be made to make the state an equal partner in this endeavor, with making available the services of agricultural extension officers, subsidies, credits and marketing mechanisms.

The components of this strategy include:

  1. Soil enhancement with particular reference to soil organic matter and micronutrients. Soil health cards should be issued to farmers.
  2. Diversity of cropping instead of Mono and cash cropping.
  3. Rain harvesting, conservation and efficient use of water through water budgeting.
  4. Use of technology and inputs for conservation/sustainable farming; production and use of organic manure, pest replants, seeds and     crops that suit the land and weather conditions.
  5. Enhancement of the knowledge and skills of farmers through “Farmer Schools”.
  6. Producer oriented and socially conscious marketing mechanism.
  7. Promotion of rearing of poultry, cows, goats and such other animals as integral to sound ecological farming practice and supplementary income generating activity.

Here again, Chethana would like to translate ecological and livelihood concerns into holistic development of the quality of life of the people and the community

  1. Promoting Women’s Alternative Livelihood Initiatives While improving small farm productivity, concurrent attention must be paid to on-farm and non-farm employment which has a base in the natural resources specific to an area.  The small and marginal farmers and the farm labor cannot sustain themselves by farming and the income generated from it alone, but they have to rely on other income generating activities and other productive endeavors using readily available natural resources and the traditional skills. These skills have to be updated and thus, value must be added to the time and labor of the poor, particularly women.

The Women’s Alternative Livelihood program is aimed at promoting an agro-processing, agro-business and non-farm employment revolution in the rural areas with small women’s groups as the basic unit of operation. The “alternative” nature of the program is defined as per the following norms given below:

  1. It will be a collective effort of women with women’s empowerment as one of the crucial components
  2. Their productive activities will be agro-based or local natural resource based
  3. Their activities will always keep in focus the enhancement and conservation of local resources
  4. Their work environment will be more domestic, casual and less time bound, with sufficient space to take care of the needs of children and family and also one that facilitates inclusion of children and the elderly in the labor.
  5. Community needs will be the basis of production, but surplus production will be distributed through socially committed market mechanisms.
  6. There will be a profit sharing mechanism, which ensures that community needs are also met from the profit that the quality of life of the community in general is enhanced.

This livelihood initiative is to be built on the already developed social infrastructure of women’s co-operatives. Emphasis will be given to up-gradation of skills and product diversification, so that value is added to women’s time and labor and the products meet the needs of the community. These groups should be networked within states and across states to create market linkages and outlets, take up questions of women’s rights, land rights and human rights issues and also resist the withdrawal of the state from its role in providing food at reasonable price (rationing of basic food items at fair-price). They can also be a pressure group against government’s attempts to withdraw from meeting primary health care needs of the community and providing quality education for their children.

Since, women are the best agents of social change in a society, it is expected that questions of quality of life, gender parity, responsible parenthood, food and nutrition, alcoholism, prevention of HIV/AIDS and such other vital issues could be discussed and acted upon. This is seen as a means of general empowerment of women. They can also be in the vanguard of women’s participation in decision-making and decentralization of power by devolution to local governing institutions.

The following action plans and a set of demands have been evolved to form the basis of our campaign, our negotiations with the state and also networking with other groups that work for the same cause.

  1. Identify the nature of ownership and possession of land in every revenue village using land records such as A-register, Adangal, and SLR (settlement land record). Right to information Act can be effectively utilized for the said purpose.
  2. Identify the lands distributed under the Land Ceiling Act and the Bhoodan Movement and ensure that they had been distributed as per the records.
  3. Identify DC /Assigned Lands and ensure its distribution to the landless Dalits.
  4. Identify the lands under Co-operative Land Societies and rejuvenate the original societies or establish new ones to manage them.
  5. Mobilize people against any introduction or trial of G.M. seeds and foods.
  6. Be vigilant regarding government notifications to convert agricultural land to any other category or classification.
  7. The Two Acres Land Distribution Scheme (Tamil Nadu) must be evaluated by the groups and recommendations made for its effective implementation.
  8. Make use of Jama Banthi (Sittings of Revenue officers at each Taluk head quarters, once in a year) proceedings to settle land disputes.
  9. Use the protection of SC/ST atrocities Act to prevent encroachments on Dalit lands.
  10.  Help those who have titles but do not have lands to locate and take possession of the land.
  11.  Put pressure on the government to distribute lands/lease out lands which are now in the hands of ineligible rich.
  12.  Help to evolve people’s movements to take up these land-related and human rights issues and build alliances with other organizations and networks so that state wide and national level campaigns can be initiated on these issues.
  13.  Mobilize the Rural poor to avail the benefits of NREGA and FFW and ensure its proper implementation.
  14. Mobilize people’s power around issues of displacement so that such attempts are resisted. It is also important to ensure that justice is done to the displaced, its social costs and livelihood impact is studied and taken into account before initiating such projects are finalized and also compensation package is worked out taking these aspects into account.
  15. Migration is to be resisted by making agriculture a means of sustainable livelihood and also increasing non-farm employment opportunities in rural areas. This also becomes the context of our active involvement in  NREGA and FFW and such other schemes initiated by the State.
With the following Bill of demands as the basis for rallying people together, it is proposed that Chethana groups will facilitate the formation of people’s organizations in their respective constituencies and locations. Associated with this, Chethana leadership will provide a platform for these people’s organizations to meet and further network with state level and national level movements to campaign for these demands with the central and state governments.

  1. Review and amend the Surplus Land Ceiling Act so as to reduce the land ceiling and also bring within its purview religion and Trust Lands.
  2. Enact legislation to initiate suo motto legal action to redeem the D.C. land (assigned land) to its original owners or reassign them to landless Dalits.
  3. Establish land information center in every revenue village office.
  4. Implement the Forest Rights Act of January 1, 2007 regarding the protection of Tribal lands in letter and spirit so that tribals have rights over forest land and Minor Forest Produce.
  5. Pass government G.O. so that title deeds of land distributed for agricultural purposes shall be registered in the name of the wife of the household.
  6. Enact special laws to ensure that agricultural land shall be used only for agricultural purposes or other agro-based cottage industries. Conversion of Agricultural land for any other purpose shall have the prior approval of the local governing authorities.

Amend the existing Panchayeti Raj Act so that any acquisition of land for any development project or industrial or commercial purposes shall be effective only with the prior approval of the Gram Sabha or corresponding local governing authority.

  1. a. Special orders must be issued that bank loans and subsidies shall be given to organic farmers through specified mechanisms such as land development bank, primary credit co-operative banks, etc.
  1. Loans shall not be tied to buying of seeds and other inorganic/ chemical agricultural in puts.
  2. In government-sponsored markets, special stalls must be opened for organic produce and premium support price must be provided.
  3. Government shall constitute a special authority or board to promote organic farming, research, training and development in this area, and marketing of the produce.
  4. Government shall ban G.M. seeds and foods.
  1. Constitute Water Resource Management Committees at the Panchayat level with farmers, NGOs and other technical experts to monitor, budget, conserve, and thus, ensure efficient utilization of water and maintenance of water resources.
  2. Enact laws regarding the consumption and use of water for commercial purposes.
  3.  Special land courts must be constituted for the speedy disposal of cases involving land disputes.

In conclusion, Chethana would like to make it clear that this three pronged strategy, in the final analysis, is meant to resist neo-liberal economic policies that leave out the poor- the dalits, Adivasis, Rural Artisans and women- completely from the main stream economic activities. Its aim is to empower them to claim their human rights and rights over land and its resources, create livelihood options based on agriculture and other natural resources specific to their environment, add value to the time and labor of these people through up-gradation of their skills, and preserve and conserve earth and its diversity as the very basis of life. In short, we would like to address the question of development within the larger framework of the quality of life. We want to be proponents of an alternative model of development that affirms justice to both humans and the earth, the responsibility of humans in the creation of a “new heaven and a new earth” and the essential interdependence of our existence as the very matrix in which our live is sustained. This will form the basis of our campaign for Land as a Source of Life and Livelihood.

The member organizations of Chethana are expected to further prepare in detail their action plans in the three strategic areas of our campaign.