In pursuit of allotted lands

By Manzoor Chandio
Published in Dawn on April 29, 2013

SOAN Bai of Kunri taluka had never imagined that one day she would own a piece of land. She received an allotment order that gave her hope, but no land to till. She was one of the many who were grantees under the Landless Harees Programme of the last PPP government.
An informal survey revealed that many poor peasants who had been given lands met the same fate because of the power structure in rural Sindh. On mounting complaints, the government promised to constitute a legal aid committee to assist the distressed allottees. The promise remains unfulfilled so far.
There is no doubt 56,187 acres were distributed. However, many of the grantees failed to get possession, as their claim was contested by cronies of influential people of the area. The scheme was later suspended on the ground that that the benefit was not reaching the targeted poor farming community, said an informed source.
Launched in 2008, the project envisaged distribution of 212,864 acres (136,784 acres pacca land irrigated by canal network), 45,358 acres katcha or deforested land along the Indus river, and 30,757 acres barani or rain-fed land (not irrigated by canal network) among the landless, especially women farmers, across the province.
Studies conducted by some NGOs showed that the land given to about 6,100 peasants remained uncultivated because of lack of possession and availability of water.
In Sindh, according to an estimate, 62 per cent farmers are landless, and most of the land is owned by a miniscule number of landlords. Skewed landholdings have often been identified as the major hurdle keeping the rural economy from achieving its real potential. It is also said to be responsible for the sense of alienation and discontent in the rural population, which is condemned to live a subhuman life.
“The Board of Revenue identified state land, and the PPP government, ignoring ground realities, rushed in to distribute it to score political points,” said a land rights activist, Sattar Zangejo. It needed more homework and a better action plan.
Different land ceilings, ranging between four to 25 acres, had been set for distribution. The grantees were supposed to get Rs50,000 for seed, fertiliser, and water for cultivation of four acres as well.
According to a study conducted in Umerkot district by the Participatory Development Initiative (PDI), over 60 per cent grantees could not benefit from the project.
PDI’s Faheem Mirani said several grantees failed to acquire land because tapedars (revenue officials) changed records and demanded hefty bribes for giving them possession.
“The success of the programme would have somewhat reduced the power of big landholders. So they colluded with tapedars to ensure that it failed.”
Mirani said several appeals were filed all over Sindh to contest allotment orders. This led to litigation, which the poor people could not afford. Around 87 land grantees were thus affected in Bustan, Nabisar, Sher Khan Chandio, Araro Bhurgari, Samaro and Satryoon union councils of Kunri and Samaro talukas.
In some cases, water was sanctioned by the irrigation department but landlords demanded Rs10,000 to allow its use, said Mirani. In Mahi Ghahlro village, one female farmer, Rani, complained that the tapedar had demanded Rs5,000 from her to sanction water.
Khamiso, a farmer in Araro Bhurgari village in Samaro taluka, complained he had been dragged into litigation because someone had filed an appeal against him. Maryam of Sanjar Lanjwani village in Samaro taluka said a local influential, Tahir Ghahlro, had appealed against her allotment. Meera of Kunri taluka informed that a local landlord, Malik Dino Khaskheli, had bought her allotment file for a paltry sum of Rs4,000.
Meanwhile, Waheed Jamali of the Sindh Agriculture and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation felt that the allocation of katcha land was a bad idea. “Such lands should be converted into forests, which have depleted to 2.5 per cent against the 10 per cent that is required for sustainability.”
Regarding allotment of irrigated and barani lands, he suggested that “legal aid committees should be formed to help farmers to take possession of their allotted lands. The government must intervene.”
Jamali also quoted Article 38 of the Constitution, which says, “The state shall secure the well-being of the people… by preventing the concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest…”
“Even the Sindh Tenancy Act ensures farmers’ right to land occupancy, and the cases should have been referred to tribunals set up under the Act, instead of leaving them at the mercy of the mukhtiarkar (taluka revenue official),” said Jamali.
Although a Landless Harees Programme official did not admit that the scheme stood terminated, he did concede that there was a pause after the three-year agreement with distribution organisations — the Sindh Rural Support Programme, Thardeep Rural Development Programme and the National Rural Support Programme —came to an end on June 30, 2012.
The official claimed that Rs110.58 million had been given so far to allottees for farm inputs like seed, fertiliser and ploughing through these organisations. “The programme took off well, but ran into problems after the 2010 and 2011 floods.”

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