Takeover bid

Bihar government has fresh designs on Bhoodan land

By Sopan Joshi
Published: Friday 15 August 2003

with Bihar's revenue minister Ramai Ram informing the legislative assembly on July 7 that the state government was actively considering an amendment to the Bhoodan Act, the battle for control of such tracts has intensified in Patna. At stake is more than 160,660 hectares (ha) of land, which is still in the hands of the Bhoodan Yagya Committee for distribution but has not been verified by officials of the revenue department. Ramai Ram has long argued for the abolition of the panel to bring this land under the direct control of revenue authorities.

Bhoodan, a land reform movement started in the 1950s by Gandhian leader Acharya "Vinoba" Bhave, resulted in the large landowners of Bihar pledging more than 809,370 ha of land for distribution among landless farmers. In 1954, the Bihar Bhoodan Yagya Act laid down the procedure for collection and distribution of donated land. The committee, an autonomous body with an annual grant of Rs 16 lakh, was an outcome of this legislation. The Bhoodan movement petered out in the 1960s and Bhave died in 1982, leaving behind a lot of land. Most of it has not been distributed for various reasons.

The arithmetic of the current political drama involving Bhoodan shows how the Bihar government, which actually controls all land transfers through the district administration, has shown little initiative to distribute Bhoodan land. No government records were available for 26 per cent of the land that was pledged. More than 20 per cent was found to be hilly land or forestland, which was unfit for cultivation. Thirty-four per cent was distributed by June 1999 and 19 per cent is still with the committee for distribution but has not been verified by the revenue authorities. Of the 34 per cent distributed tracts, more than half are disputed. Either the allottees haven't got possession of land or the revenue authorities haven't given them title deeds, which is known to require payment of bribes.

The chairperson of the committee, Bhavesh Chandra Prasad, has several complaints ranging from non-payment of salaries to the committee staff to non-availability of government surveyors to mark out plots for distribution.

Pradeep Priyadarshi of the Bihar chapter of Ekta Parishad says that they want an independent task force to draw up a comprehensive plan to distribute Bhoodan land to the landless. Ekta Parishad is a network of grassroots organisations that campaigns to bring land reform back on the political agenda in five central Indian states.

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