Homestead land is a basic necessity for a dignified life and livelihood. Every individual and family needs house for shelter and settled life for which homestead land is the precondition. The homestead land rights include both Record of Rights (Patta) and possession over the land.
It is reported by the Odisha Revenue Department that there are about three lakh families in the State are homestead-less. A majority of these homestead-less families belongs to the Dalit, Adivasi and other backward communities of rural and urban areas.
There are poor families in rural areas which have no homestead Patta-land to securely construct houses as a large majority of them is put up on the so-called Government lands or community lands since generations which have not been recorded in their names because there have been no survey and settlement initiatives carried out by the Revenue Department.
In many of the State’s coastal areas, there are tiny hamlets consisting of six to ten Dalit families living amidst paddy fields, coconut stretches and on banks of irrigation canals and rivers. Hundreds of years back, their forefathers came there to serve the landlords and since then got stuck there as bonded labourers and later on their family sizes grew numerically. But they have not yet got any legal sanction either from the ex-Zamindar or the revenue authorities to own that land though they have been staying there since the last 100 years or so, almost more than three generations!
Odisha has 52,551 revenue villages and about 4,091 Pada villages to be converted to revenue village as proposed by the Revenue Department. There are 104 urban locations including 63 Notified Area Councils (NACs), 37 Municipalities and three Municipal Corporations in the State. There are thousands of homeless families living in sub-human condition in the urban slums and outskirts of the city areas without the basic minimums for life.
The problem of housing and homestead land was well-identified in the anti-British and anti-feudal struggles in the State against the Gadajat Kings and the British in almost all 26 Gadajat areas which were later merged in Odisha in 1948.
The landless poor agricultural workers in the coastal areas, mostly the Dalits, had dreamt to get land of their own to build houses and liberated from the yoke of Zamindars.
The framers of the Constitution of India, recognising this problem, have made provisions of radical land reforms. land being a State subject much depends on the approach of the State Government though there are Central guidelines also.
In the post-1950s, the States like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal made specific provisions for ensuring homestead land. The Odisha Government brought two important legislations, i.e, the Odisha land Settlement Act, 1962 and the Odisha Prevention of land Encroachment Act, 1972 to settle homestead land with landless poor both in rural and urban areas. The laws worked very effectively during the 1980s in spite of their limitations, but they failed to reach out to all homestead-less families. Realising the situation, the State Government has launched a programme in a mission mode in the name of Vasundhara since 2007 with the objective to make the State homestead landless-free, though the programme is limited to rural areas only.
The approach of the Government includes both land settlement and wherever settlement in not possible the assigned land like ceiling surplus and wasteland would be distributed for homestead purpose. In addition to this, there is also Bhoodan land available for distribution among landless poor.
later in 2006, the Central Government’s Forest Rights Act also expanded the scope of forestland distribution for Adivasis and other forest dwellers. Very recently, the Union Ministry of Rural Development has issued an order to the States to purchase private land for prospective beneficiaries of the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), up to an area of 100 to 250 sqm within a cost of Rs 20,000 to be shared by both State and Centre in a ratio of 50:50, if Government land is not available for settlement or distribution. The Union Ministry of Rural Development also issued directives to all States, including Odisha, to bring a legislation integrating several laws to avoid confusion exclusively to solve the homestead landless issues and recognising the rights of landless people occupying Government land and to issue titles in the name of women.
The 12th Plan document of the Planning Commission of India strongly recommends continuing with this approach to ensure homestead land and housing for all landless poor. The National Rights to Homestead land Bill-2013 is about to be tabled in the Parliament. However in spite of all such legal provisions and programmes, the homestead land distribution process is very slow in Odisha.
The distribution process is very slow; even, the beneficiaries are waiting for years together to get the Patta. It is almost in all tehsils that numbers of landless families have only Patta and they have been waiting for demarcation of land since long. They often visit tehsil office but are harassed by revenue officials.
Though a Government order has been issued to provide ten decimals of land but in reality almost all the beneficiaries have got only four decimals. A provision of ten decimals of land was considered because along with housing the beneficiaries could have backyard vegetable garden to improve their livelihood.
The tehsil offices are demanding court fee from the landless applicants applying for homestead land under Form 1 of the OGlS Act, 1962. The poor beneficiaries have to come to tehsil office which demands almost a day along with the fee. It is a burden on a beneficiary. The revenue officials are not proactive rather in dealing with the process of submission of application. They work in a very careless manner and are not willing to provide acknowledgement receipt to the applicants.
The Vasundhara programme is limited to rural areas, but there are homestead landless urban poor in the NACs, Municipalities and Municipal Corporations who are leading a subhuman life in slums, urban outskirts and roadsides and also deserve home to stay in a dignified way. But there has been almost no attempt in this regard.
In recent years, the State Government has been busy evicting people from their homestead land to set up SEZ, industry and mining. Thousands of hectares of land were leased out to private companies in the name of employment generation and development while the basic life and livelihood of the poor and historically marginalised people are being denied decades on.
The land once demarcated to distribute among poor are being handed over to companies. land reform agenda has slowed down in the interests of private corporations using the power of the State as eminent domain.
It is now time to bring together the landless and the people having land to save land and also to pursue distribution of land. The homestead land is very much linked to compensation, and people being displaced without Record of Rights over homestead land are denied compensation and job in project areas. The homelessness has a lot of ramifications manifested in form of hunger death, poverty, discrimination, distress migration, child labour, burden on women and violence in social life. A State like Odisha should seriously think over it because a majority of homestead-less rural and urban families is under the BPl category and belong to Dalit and Adivasi communities constituting about 40 per cent of the State’s total population.
Therefore, the importance of homestead land needs to be recognised by the Government, various political parties and organisations working for the poor. They all together should have a combined effort in ensuring land which would bring a change in the lives of lakhs of poor and pave the ways towards an inclusive development of a backward State.
(The writer is Chairperson, Odisha Jami Adhikar Abhijan, firstname.lastname@example.org)