'Excess land with religious organisations, plantation owners and industries should be retrieved and given to the landless poor'

The Tamil Nadu government is showing lack of interest in helping the poor and the marginalised by not providing shelter to them. There is plenty of land in the State which could be distributed to the Dalits, adivasis and poor people, P. V. Rajagopal, president of Ekta Parishad, a people’s organisation, said in Madurai on Thursday.

Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of a meeting organised at Gandhi Memorial Museum to explain the agreement on land reforms between the Central government and Jan Satyagraha, Mr. Rajagopal, who is also a member of National Land Reforms Council, said, “Unless Tamil Nadu government shows interest in land reforms, the Centre’s agreement with Jan Satyagraha will not be implemented in the State. Vast tracts of land in Tamil Nadu are under religious organisations, plantation owners and industries. The excess land from them should be retrieved by the State and given to the landless poor,” he said.

Tamil Nadu should have a land policy, a legislation to provide shelter for the landless and should implement the Forest Rights Act.

After the Centre entered into an agreement with Jan Satyagraha to initiate land reforms, Mr. Rajagopal, who led a non-violent march, has been touring across the country to explain the agreement signed and to ensure implementation of the agreement.“The land and water resources from rural areas cannot be used to keep the cities alive. A considerate number of adivasis in Tamil Nadu are living on platforms and in slums. Forcing the marginalised people to live in slums and without shelter is a crime. Like right to education and information, every person is entitled to right to shelter,” he said.

According to him, the nation’s food security is put to risk by allowing builders to encroach upon agricultural land. “What is happening in Tamil Nadu is urbanisation and industrialisation in the interest of industries at the expense of the marginalised,” Mr. Rajagopal said. Rather than facilitating transfer of resources from the poor to the rich, the State should focus on helping the poor. “People in Tamil Nadu know how to work on land and they have the skill. By providing a marginalised family with land, the family will get employment besides adding to the strength of food security,” he further said. He also said that the fishermen displaced after the tsunami should be provided with shelter and land for livelihood.

Mr. Rajagopal also flayed excessive use of police force by the State to oppress various agitations. “The State should develop skill in dialogue. The government is misusing power to silence voices of people,” he said. The Dalits, fishermen and adivasis try to express their issues through agitations, which were oppressed by the State, he said, terming the act as undemocratic.

Towards destruction

“Foreign direct investment is a dangerous trend, which will basically lead to more poverty by pushing people out of their land and resources. It is a step towards destruction. It does not fit into Gandhian framework of economy,” Mr. Rajagopal said.

Later, at a public meeting on the museum premises, R. Rengasamy, vice-president of the museum, and M. Mariappan, secretary, explained the agreement and appreciated the achievement of Ekta Parishad in Jan Satyagraha. Participants of Jan Satyagraha from Tamil Nadu said that the non-violent protest was organised so well that the police had no need to enforce law and order. “Lot of people who took part in the march had no idea what they would do the next day. We marched on having one meal a day,” recalled a participant.