Land reform, good governance and women empowerment can effectively eradicate poverty

Md Abdul Kader

We are proud of our nationhood and our independence, earned through a fierce struggle and enormous sacrifice. But the thought that the prevailing state of socio-economic and political insecurity is only pushing our goal of achieving a 'poverty-free Bangladesh' still further equally saddens us. Over the past three decades various development programmes have been undertaken and huge amounts of money expended on their implementation. The overall efforts although could diminish the scathing edge of poverty to an extent but the overwhelming number of the poor has kept growing day by day. It is, however, widely understood that whatever amount of local and foreign expertise is employed and money spent, overlooking the grassroots linkage of aspirations, it could bring little effective change in the lot of the masses.

The Bangladesh economy is still agro-based and it will remain so in the foreseeable future. Eighty per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture for livelihood, 54 per cent of them agricultural labour. But most of them do not possess land to till and of them the fishermen, no water bodies to fish in this riverine fertile country. The population is overwhelming no doubt. But then there is considerable amount of government khas land, abandoned property, ceiling-surplus land and char land as well as swamps and water bodies in unproductive and illegal occupation or lying unutilised, which could be distributed among the landless peasants for cultivation under an appropriate land reform programme. This could have increased the GDP vis-a-vis population growth and in the process reduced poverty by certain percentage. But lack of will on the part of administration and existing corruption no such reform has been made effective as a policy measure. Such apparently deliberate inaction however benefits the influential few, but to the peril of the masses.

Moreover exploited by social prejudices, money lender's trap and of late terrorism and fatwabazi the poor masses have been the victims of oppression. Money lander's trap and bureaucratic red tapeism lead to landlessness while fatwabazi takes its toll of women. Usurped of human rights and deprived of occupational opportunities the masses just add to the number of the poor.

Over the past three decades, so many development programmes have been undertaken but yielding only limited results and nothing significant vis-a-vis the prevailing level of poverty. However, one approach has become famous, rather world famous, that is "micro-credit." But this also could benefit only a very small number of the vast multitude. It could create only a few pockets of model beneficiaries across the country, and apparently two distinct classes 'credit givers' and 'credit receivers.' It is yet to be any integral approach to poverty reduction.

It is a matter of hope that over the past decade an environment of practicing democracy has been created implying empowerment of people according to the constitution. But it is a matter of sorrow that during the last two democratic government regimes little effective development initiatives have been taken to reduce poverty. The immediate past government took initiative to distribute khas land to the real landless people, which lost the pace in midway due to lack of political willingness and bureaucratic tangles. Land reform was an agenda in the election manifestos of some political parties, which is yet to be materialised. Now that the national election is approaching, it again assumes importance for all the political parties to incorporate the land reform agenda in their election manifestos in order to fulfil the demand of the deprived landless poor in the country. The strong local government of West Bengal in India is a good example of how land reform plays an important and significant role in sustainable development. In West Bengal, one political party is reducing poverty through reforming land and strengthening local government. As a result, this political party is being elected and forming government again and again.

In our country too, wherever the landless poor could create a strong movement and establish their right over the public resources, there occurred a significant change in the life of the people. For instance: Ghughudah Beel, Beel Chatra and Beel Kuralia of Pabna district. Still agriculture is the base of the country's economy. Land reform is needed to bring radical changes in agriculture. Only land reform could be the base of sustainable developments in the country. Therefore, it is our demand to all political parties to introduce effective and timely land reform and strong local government to ensure the access of landless people and fishermen over khas land and khas water bodies.

The political parties should incorporate such demands of the poor in their election manifestos as:

  • Undertaking and implementing in time land and agrarian reform.

  • Re-fixing land ceiling at 10 to 15 acres according to the fertility, nature and classification of land.

  • Completing the task of distributing the land included in the Khatian No 1 (khas land, khas water bodies, departmental unused land, abandoned property, ceiling-surplus land etc) among the genuine landless people on an emergency basis.

  • Amending the laws related to char land and distributing all the river accreted land to the landless people by conducting 'Deyara Survey," rehabilitating the people affected by river erosion on priority basis.

  • Distributing the earmarked canals, beels, ponds and other water bodies 'directly' to the landless and fishermen instead of distributing through say ministry of youth.

  • Ensuring proper implementation of 'National Water Policy.'

  • Stopping sale of urban non-agriculture government lands and distributing it to the city's needy slum dwellers on permanent settlement basis.

  • Ensuring the rights of sharecroppers and sugarcane farmers.

  • Re-fixing the minimum wage and working hours of agricultural labour.

  • Distributing the recovered vested properties among the landless and providing social as well as political securities to the lease holders.

  • Reviewing the RS record and keeping records/documents in a modern systematic way.

  • Changing the classification of land, annulling the false deeds and all the criminal and civil cases related to khas land.

  • Ensuring the land and other rights of the adivasi people and establishing a separate 'Land Commission' like that of CHT for the adivasi people living in plain land.

  • Ensuring equal rights for both male and female through fixing equal labour wage and amending the inheritance law.

  • Defining the duties and responsibilities and designation of the elected female Union Parishad members and increasing their honorarium.

  • Creating equal participation scope for female in the local government where they can be directly elected.

  • Ensuring proper implementation of the 'law against women and child torture' through removing all kinds of bureaucratic snags and sluggishness.

  • Implementing the judgement of the High Court regarding prohibition of fatwabazi.

  • Giving 10 per cent nomination from all political parties to the female candidates in the forthcoming election and creating provision in the national parliament for one female member per district to be directly elected by vote.

  • Making the local power structure accountable, pro-poor and strengthening the institution by increasing the access of the poor to these institutions.

  • Increasing the budget on education and social development activities on priority basis, if necessary decreasing the budget on comparatively less productive or unproductive sectors.

  • No election nomination for loan defaulters and persons known as owning black money.

It is already proved that Bengalis can do anything and every thing if they are determined and united. If we want to make our country free from poverty we need a group of skilled people who have a dream to build the country, which already we have. Now we need proper process/programmes to reduce poverty. Land reform, good governance and women empowerment can be the programme to effectively reduce poverty through establishing the rights of the poor. If we can successfully do that, we will be able to eradicate poverty from the country. Let's be determined.

Md Abdul Kader is an executive director of Samata, a national non-government development organisation.

Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, August 20,  2001


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