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Empowering the landless

Khas land redistribution for poverty eradication

Published : Friday, 14 June, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 263

Khas land redistribution for poverty eradication

Khas land redistribution for poverty eradication

Bangladesh has long struggled to lower the rate of poverty and raise the standard of living for its millions of disadvantaged people. Bangladesh has achieved notable strides in societal advancement and poverty reduction in the last several years. The distribution of Khas land is an effective strategy for lowering the poverty levels of those who are landless or almost landless.

According to Section 2(15) of the State Acquisition and Tenancy (SAT) Act 1950, Khas land refers to the lands which are in direct control and management of the government or in khas possession of any person through a lease not in perpetuity. After the enactment of SAT Act (1950), all types of rent receiving interests were abolished and lands exceeding 375 standard bighas held in possession by them were acquired by government as khas lands. According to Land Reform Ordinance, 1984 a person can hold 60 bighas of land otherwise the exceeding land shall be acquired by government. Agricultural khas land is legally reserved for distribution to landless people. More than 68% people are landless in Bangladesh.  The government of Bangladesh has started the program of distributing khas land in 1972 but it has been strengthened in 1987.

In Bangladesh, Agricultural khas lands and non-agricultural khas lands are settled by two instruments called The Agricultural Khas Land Management and Settlement Policy, 1997 and The Non-Agricultural Khas Land Management and Settlement Policy, 1995. Agricultural khas lands are given under settlement basically for homesteads of landless people. Non-agricultural khas lands can be made to the government departments or agencies if they apply and pay the appropriate consideration money.  There is other thirteen grounds where settlement of non- agricultural lands can be made such as to religious or educational institutions, to people who are affected by natural calamities etc. Government adopted the Jalmahal Management Policy-2009 for the settlement of khas water bodies to give priority to the provision of settlements in favor of real fishermen and conservation of biodiversity.

Still there are some challenges to access khas lands by landless people. The policy for agricultural khas land settlement provides three tier committees named National executive committee, District committee and Upazilla committee. The rampant corruption in khas land distribution can be seen at various stages by these government officials. A study conducted by the Transparency International Bangladesh shows that the tahsildar demands a fee for providing and completion or accepting the forms. About Jalmahal Management Policy 2009, Dr Moinul Islam, former president of Bangladesh Economics Society, stated that, "The genuine fishermen community will not be benefited with a management dominated by bureaucrats." Besides, some procedural complications arise from identification and survey. Local influentials occupy khas land illegally by paying govt. executives a share of the produce or something else. Although wide publicity has been the stated policy, the government officials are least active agents to disclose and disseminate the information about the availability and distribution of khas land.
Operational problem and administrative barrier stems from here. Though the landless people are eligible to receive agricultural khas land, the government has no policy framework in place to provide non-agricultural land to landless people so they can build houses to live in. The government has been leasing out non-agricultural khas land for industrial purposes. Official source claims that about 44 percent of the 803,308 acres of (identified) agricultural khas land has already been distributed among landless. In reality, not 44 but at best 26 percent of agricultural khas land has been distributed. The rest are illegally occupied by rich and powerful people in the society.

To make the distribution of khas land successful, non-agricultural khas lands should also be distributed among landless people. All khas land should be identified immediately. Information pertaining to the problems of identification of khas land should be published in the daily Bangla Newspapers, telecasted, broadcasted, and the same should be disseminated up to the grassroots level. The committee for the identification of khas land should be reorganized. The representatives of peasants organization, khet-mojur (agricultural labour), NGOs, social organization, should be included in the committees at all levels. The khas land distribution application form is a complicated one, which is difficult to fill-up even by an educated person. The form should be made easy and written in simple language. Intensive and continuous monitoring system should be developed to ensure transparency and efficiency of the land officials.

According to a recent study by Ministry of Land, approximately 62,537.38 acres of khas land are possessed by local influential and politicians all over the country. For the recovery of these khas lands, Govt. has taken initiative to enact a new law. Land Minister Saifuzzaman Chowdhury acknowledged the process of making a data bank to determine the retained khas lands by non-eligible people.

In fact, there is no accurate information on how much khas land is available at present. The actual amount of khas land would be higher than 3.3 million acres, as intimated by various stakeholders. In Bangladesh, the number of landless farm-households is 6-7 million. Thus, it is possible to give each landless household at least 0.50 acre of khas land. The distributions of khas land should be maintained principal pathway to benefit the poor, landless, marginalized and destituted peasants to improve their livings through their hard works and moreover for the betterment of the country.
The writer is a student, LLM in Department of Law and Justice, Jahangirnagar University







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