Bihar's marchers for land reforms now in Patna
Patna: After passing through many villages and small towns, hundreds of poor and marginalised landless men and women who began a "land march" earlier this month arrived here Tuesday - demanding land reforms.
The march began at Bodh Gaya in Gaya district Dec 18 and covered around 110 km through wintry cold of the plains to Patna.
"The land march will end here Tuesday with a public meeting demanding land reforms in Bihar," Satyanarayan Madan, an activist said.
ActionAid Bihar region manager Vinay Ohdar, who actively supported the march, said he appealed to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to implement land reforms as demanded by hundreds of landless and poor people.
Madan said a petition would be handed over to Nitish Kumar either Tuesday or Wednesday, demanding immediate implementation of the D Bandopadhayay Commission report on land reforms in the state which was submitted to the state government last year but has not led to any action so far.
Madan said after Nitish Kumar made a historic return to power last month, the poor were expecting a lot from him.
"The implementation of the commission's report will benefit the landless in a big way. It will be a turning point for Bihar's development," he said.
According to Ashrafi Sada of Mushhar Vikas Manch, who was one of the marchers, land reforms are a must for Bihar's development. "Without it, the state will continue to lag behind in overall development."
The "land march" under the banner of Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan started with a mass meeting of around 5,000 people at Bodh Gaya. It passed through the villages of Gaya and Jehanabad districts, attracting lot of public attention.
Karu, a land activist, said the march is passing through areas where land battles and even massacres have occurred. These areas are dominated by upper caste landlords with private armies that unleash terror among the landless.
The march received an overwhelming response from Dalits, other backward communities and women.
The D Bandopadhayay Commission set up in 2009 has recommended that the state government bring in a new act to protect sharecroppers. It also proposed a cap on land ownership and computerising of land records.
Its report said the root cause of social and agrarian unrest in Bihar was the lack of forward-looking land reforms. It said once land ceiling is implemented, the state can provide 1.10 acre of land each to the landless families.
The report has been kept in cold storage. It was presented in the Bihar assembly, but no follow-up action has been initiated. None of the political parties took up the issue in the assembly elections concluded last month.
The marchers also have other demands, such as allocating 0.10 acre land to all homeless, making all the new titles in the name of women and distributing Bhoodan land - the land donated during the Bhoodan movement launched by Acharya Vinoba Bhave in April 1951 - among the poor without delay.
According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, landlessness in Bihar increased from nine percent in the early 1990s to 10 percent at the end of that decade.
In a survey conducted in 12 villages, the figure was 52 percent. Ekta Parishad, an organisation working among the landless poor, says that even though the survey is not representative of the whole of Bihar, it is indicative of the depth of the problem.
Nearly 50 percent of Bihar's 83 million people live below the poverty line, the highest in India, according to a World Bank report.