A recent ordinance by the Government of Odisha published in the Odisha Gazette on May 26 last, entitled ‘The Odisha Land Grabbing (Prohibition) ordinance, 2015’ has raised doubt among organizations engaged in land rights movements.The ordinance does not differentiate between potential land grabber and poor land grabber. The latter grabs a piece of homestead and agriculture land for a shelter and livelihood while the former does it for more prosperity and wealth. The apprehension is that by using thelaw a poor landless person occupying a piece of Government land may be arrested by police as the ordinance aims to prohibit activities of land grabbing in the State.


The Government land includes land of Government, local authority, and a statutory or non statutory body, owned, controlled or managed by the Government, the Bhoodan Yagna Samiti, a religious or charitable institution or endowment including a WAKF. It is defined that land grabbing means every activities of grabbing of any land by a person or a group of persons without any lawful entitlement and with a view to illegally taking possession of such land. The ordinance has provision of punishment for land grabbing with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year and may extend to seven years and with fine which may extend to Rs 20,000. There is  a provision of a special court consisting of a Chairman, Judge of a High Court and four other members, two district judges  and other two not below the rank of Collector. They all will hold office for a period of three years.


There is no need to explain how land is important for shelter, housing for life and for people dependent on land based livelihood. It is the State Government which has to ensure an entitlement record over the land through survey and settlement by issuing Patta and allow possession through demarcation. It is evident that landless poor mostly belong to poor Dalit, Adivasi and other marginalized communities. 


They have been staying over Government land since generations. Many of them are also cultivating Government land without a record of rights over the land.  It is unfortunate that land being a State subject, in the last 65 years since Independence the Governments have not yet ensured homestead land for lakhs of land less families across the nation. There has been no proper database about the volume of homestead less families under different revenue circle in spite of regular circulars by the Revenue Department for enumeration of homestead less families in both rural and urban areas. In a recent letter by the Revenue Department to all Collectors, the Department has raised the annual income ceiling from Rs 24, 000 to Rs 40, 000 for the purpose of the definition of homestead landless person under Odisha Government Land Settlement Act, 1962 (OGLS) and Rules, 1983 and Odisha Prevention of Land Encroachment Act (OPLE), 1972. 


It has been instructed to all the Collectors to survey the homestead less families in a campaign mode and identify eligible homestead less families and also do the survey to identify leasable and non objectionable Government land for settlement. The settlement of land for homestead purpose has to be maximum ten decimals in rural areas which have to come under the provision of OGLS and OPLE Acts and Rules. It is told that the whole exercise may be completed by October 31, 2015. It has been the demand of the people in anti-feudal and anti –British struggle that land rights should be given to all, specially the landless farmers, share croppers in rural villages. The post independent Governments have made provisions in law to carry out the land reform agenda but unfortunately the entitlement rights over land has not been completed till date. In Odisha, the process of homestead and agriculture land distribution was started since 1974-75 but unfortunately this has been continuing with new deadlines in each few years of interval. Why our State Revenue administration has been taking such a long time to fulfill its duty towards the landless poor?


Who are these landless poor? They are mostly the Dalit, Adivasies, displaced and migrant workers who are not aware and mostly ignorant about land laws and were never told about their land entitlements.They are landless because the State Government has not recognized their legal ownership over the land in spite of their self declaration of continued possession over the land since generations. Even today lakhs of families have been staying over either Government land or private land of ex-Zamindars or land lords without a record of right.


In a number of cases, their applications for an entitlement record have been purposefully delayed and many dishonest revenue officials from top to bottom asked them for bribe to settle the land. There is evidence of harassment in a number of cases. Many poor people have been unnecessarily harassed in revenue courts and not getting the desired support in terms of legal aid to present their cases.


The mega projects in the State have been directly and indirectly displacing lakhs of families from their homestead land based livelihood and in the process many become landless migrant workers.There has been huge distress migration of poor to urban locations where they land in slums without a shelter. They do not have the capacity to purchase private land or take house on rent and are forced to occupy the city outskirt area as shelter in sub-human condition.


It has been observed in mining and industrial belts that the Revenue Department has been more alert in responding to the needs of the corporate and busy in giving possession and demarcation of the land to companies. But the same spirit has not been exhibited for the land less poor people who have been routinely visiting Revenue Inspector and Tehsildar offices to get a Patta and demarcation of their land.


The landless rural poor are mostly illiterate and unaware of their rights and entitlements. The political parties and CSOs, while opposing land acquisition of people with land, are not so active in the same way for the cause of landless visibility to the cause of the land less poor and land distribution in their favor. 


The land distribution agenda of the landless poor has been downsized as agenda of few poor social groups and remain unattended in order to give the issue a political visibility in legislative bodies.The Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India has made provision of financial support to the State to purchase private land to distribute among homestead landless families but unfortunately the Government of Odisha has not yet implemented it in any tehsil where as many other States have used this opportunity to getting land for the landless by utilizing central assistance. 


The Government of Telengana has allocated Rs 1,000 crore to purchase homestead and agricultural land for landless Dalit families. It is the duty of the Revenue Department to ensure land for land less while protecting Government land but, as evident from every day media reports, in spite of favorable land laws, the SCs and STs have been brutally evicted in many parts of the State



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