Dr PK Agrawal, former Additional Secretary to the Government of West Bengal, has widely written in the field of land reforms and poverty. His latest book, “Land and Poverty Alleviation”, demystifies the land problem by explaining the legal provisions and procedures involved and is written in a simple and lucid style.
Dr PK Agrawal has defined land as the thing rooted in earth, imbedded in the earth or attached which is meant for permanent beneficial enjoyment as explained in the Transfer of Property Act and is recognized world over.
According to him, the definition of land enshrined in Section 2 (7) of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955 is appropriate and should be adopted by all other State Government so as to plug loopholes in the land ceiling law. Section 2 (7) says, “Land means land of every description and includes tank, tank fisheries, fishery, homestead or land used for the purpose of livestock breeding, poultry farming, dairy or land comprised in tea garden, mill, factory, workshop, orchid, hat, bazaar, ferries, tolls or land having any other public interests and any other land together with all interests and benefits arising out of land and things attached to earth or permanently fastened to anything attached to earth.” The UN Guidelines have also included forests and pisciculture in the ambit of land.
Dr Agrawal’s book provides a readymade solution of mutation and conversion problems which were hitherto considered complex ones in the field of land reforms. The writer appreciates the Land Reforms Ordinance of Bangladesh, 1984 promulgated by the then President, Lt Gen Hussain Muhammad Ershad, which fixes a much lower land ceiling limit almost on a par with that in India.
The writer highlights how tactfully the provisions of law were twisted through procedure to record 15 lakh sharecroppers in West Bengal. He also highlights how the precarious problems of settlement and rehabilitation of land evictees have been addressed in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
The book points out how the revolution in urban areas regarding the housing of the urban poor has been triggered by the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Public Interest Litigation case (also known as Olga Tellis case) in which the apex court made it mandatory for the States to construct houses for the poor people.
The book cites Article 39 (b) & (c) of the Constitution of India, Article 19 of the Constitution of China and the Constitution of Japan to explain how human rights of the poor are protected by the State.
The writer stresses the need of making legal aid available to the land poor. Law without access to target groups has no meaning. In Bangladesh, land reforms have been brought about by NGOs. In Peru, legal pluralism is enshrined in the Constitution. Informal but legitimate and recognized justice institutions, including community assemblies, peasants’ civil squads, city civil squads and “neighbourhood presidents” play an important role in settling disputes for the roughly 50 percent of the population in rural areas. But after losing their cases in these courts, some clever people take advantage of the formal judicial system which doesn’t recognize the informal system of justice dispensation since it is biased in developing countries where there is no special consideration for poor persons.
Dr Agarwal’s book is a commendable work as it carves a new approach to solve the land problem. It explains complicated legal provisions and how these can be implemented easily in the interest of the poor people.
(KN Chaturvedi is a former Secretary, Ministry of Law and Justice. He is currently based in Mumbai.)